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Remedies for Test Anxiety

 by Mary Ellen Sullivan, WVHEA State Testing Coordinator

Itís all part of the standardized testing experience. As the test date approaches, anxiety levels rise and the rhythm of learning is disrupted. A normally happy homeschool suffers as parents focus on what they havenít done and children sense some vague suggestion of failure. Learning patterns and enriching activities are altered to make room for test preparation. If this sounds familiar to you, stop, relax, and recheck your priorities. 

To help quell the anxiety in your homeschool, try some of these:

Consider how relatively unimportant those few hours of testing are to your childrenís real education. Remember that the tests are just one small window into the progress of their education. Donít cancel other learning to meet a test score hurdle.  

  • Understand the purpose, proper use and interpretation of standardized test scores. Percentile scores represent a comparison to a norm group of school students, not a comprehensive assessment of achievement.  
  • Donít pressure your child or yourself to clear any particular hurdle (like the 50th percentile). Just encourage your child to make his best effort and be confident.
  • Remember that this is not a test that is passed or failed, and does not translate to grade promotion. Fifty percent of all students in any grade are expected to score below the 50th percentile, so being part of that 50% does not mean you have failed. And remember, under current WV law, a score below the 50th percentile is just a starting point for improvement and wonít keep you from homeschooling.
  • Accentuate the positive to yourself and your child. Used as a periodic assessment tool, the test is likely to show a lot of progress. While it is also useful in identifying areas in need of improvement, donít forget the achievement it will show. Remind yourself and your children of what they are doing well, and have confidence they will do well on the test.  

Is testing the best choice? 

  • Remember that standardized tests are based on a traditional school model of education. Many homeschoolers have withdrawn from school because they donít believe that model is the best way to enhance learning for their children. If tests are foreign to the learning process in your childís life, donít use them. Find a better way to evaluate learning: organize a portfolio, or be creative and convince your local superintendent to accept your own unique evaluation. 
  • The performance of younger children on standardized tests is notoriously unreliable. A six-year-oldís score on any given day does not necessarily reflect what she really knows. Trust how your young child is learning, keep samples, and get a portfolio evaluated if possible. If you do choose to test your K-through-2d-grader, approach it as a learning activity rather than a critical assessment.   
  • Donít frustrate a struggling child by insisting on testing at an age-bound grade level. Pick the level appropriate to the work your child is doing. The child who takes two years to finish his first-grade work may later whip through third and fourth grades in six months. 
  • Some kids (and adults!) are just not great test-takers. Use the energy spent on testing to put together a great portfolio.  
  • If you plan to return your children to a conventional school, a test score above the 50th percentile can document progress to a particular grade level, but there are other ways of documenting progress and placing the child appropriately. Keep good records and use them to make sure you help your children get what they need both in school and out. 

Keep testing in its proper perspective

Test anxiety is not unique to homeschoolers. The schools are under enormous pressure to improve test scores. Standardized test scores are not designed to evaluate quality of teaching, to award promotions or diplomas, or to decide whether a school should close, though these misuses are common. Many educators criticize the dependence on standardized tests because of their effect on teaching and learning. Join the crowd of those who oppose the overemphasis on test scores! 

Probably your best defense against test anxiety is that same faith that led you to homeschooling in the first place. Do you really think your child is doing better at home that she would be in school? Do you and your child both agree that home is the best place from which to base learning? Do you think your child is learning and progressing? Do you feel your childís growth is progressing in other equally or more important areas than just those particular facts on this particular standardized test? If so, quit worrying! Indulge in test-taking practice if you like, but donít let the pressure overcome your goals. Donít make the mistake of viewing a test score as the final word on your homeschooling. 

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