How Do You Encourage Kids Who Are Fearful of Standardized Tests?

Our team of experts tackle the anxieties of standardized testing for St. Louis students.

Last week, we wrestled with the issue of helping to prevent allergies in children. This week, we're moving up the age bracket. Here's the question we posed to our Moms Council this week:

Q. Your child comes to you and says, 'I hate taking the standardized tests at school. They unnerve me, and I never seem to do very well.' What advice would you give your children for approaching these tests?

Mary Konroy, Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch mom

As a mom of an 18 year-old who is now planning his exit to college, I thought I would ask my son, Joe, for some advice. After all, he and his peers have recently taken and (sometimes) retaken the game-changing ACT and SAT. These kids know test pressure. So here goes, with some minor edits by me:

"Just don't focus so much on the test. Don't push its importance or overburden your kid with your comments or questions. He/she already knows it's important. And do NOT ask them about it as  soon as they get in the car."

"Give your kid some space. If they need/want to review material, suggest studying in spurts, like 45-minutes. Then suggest a break. .. You (as the parent) need to walk the line between giving your kid too much and not enough attention."
It's not the end of the world. "Some kids  test better than others. That doesn't mean they're better students or that they know the subject better."

P.S. Make sure your child gets a good night's sleep, has a good breakfast, gets to school in plenty of time on test day—and let him/her know that you love them.

Nancy Pasternak, Frontenac mom

I haven't been in such a situation—but having been in many potentially anxiety-producing situations, I hope I could draw on my life experiences to help my child work through their anxiety. With standardized tests, the only preparation a child can do is do a practice test and if he/she would like to do that to be better familiar with the process, we can do that. However, the most important thing I can do as a parent is help them prepare and let them know I love them unconditionally regardless of results. I also might share that I often found exercise to be a good stress-reliever and might suggest he/she and I take a walk or run or do something the morning of the test to relieve extra stress.

Dr. Cindy Haines, Ladue mom

If you think you can or you think you can't: either way, you are correct.
I apply this to my own life, and I strive to teach and model this for my children. My experience is that adopting this attitude as a lifestyle helps you take some of the power back over inevitable challenges. One of the inevitable challenges of our school systems is the hurdle of standardized testing. Not every student—or even every good student—does well on these exams. And it can often be a matter of psyching themselves out. My recipe for success is to approach these challenges with a positive, can-do (or at least will-try) attitude, and lots of preparation.
I would encourage my child to practice, practice, practice and, if needed, get additional help to overcome any remaining barriers to successful testing. And one final note: these test scores are not the final word on deciding any child's future. Having open dialogue with my child on all the pieces of the puzzle that go into making a person a success would be key in my approach as well. I also recommend highlighting the individual's talents and past successes. Self-confidence tends to beget success.

Jayne Langsam, Ladue mom
Standardized tests only test what you know about the content they choose on that particular day. It in no way test your ability to learn. And I believe you have the ability to learn what you need to. Standardized tests are only one tool of many to assess how schools and children are doing. It is a part of the game, and you have to play the game.  Think of it as an endurance test, and do the best you can.  This test does not define who you are. I believe in you.

Laura Falk, University City mom

My children are still a bit young for standardized tests, so I'm going to fall back on my own experience here. The strategy that helped me most when I was a student was taking practice tests. This provides you with a good idea of what types of questions will be on the test, how much time to allot for different sections and areas that need brushing up.

We decided to expand on the topic and engage the school community to find out how it works from their perspective.

Dr. Joan Oakley, assistant superintendent of educational leadership and student services for Ladue School District

There is a great deal of intense feeling around standardized testing in our district.  Under No Child Left Behind,  all districts are held accountable and evaluated based on our federally mandated state assessments. We are fortunate that we have many students that score well on tests, but for many other students, any type of standardized testing is a difficult experience.  

Many students do not take the Missouri Assessment Program seriously, as it does not have an immediate impact on their grade. In contrast, high school students feel tremendous pressure to score well on the ACT. A strong ACT score is critical for admission to the highly competitive process of college acceptance. When students score in the average range, they often feel that they don't measure up and are not as capable as their peers in Ladue's highly competitive environment.  This can be very upsetting to parents and students who can perceive being average in academic ability as detrimental to future success.  This creates unnecessary  pressure on students and can create lifelong self-esteem issues.

I would encourage students to remember that any single test is only one measure of ability.  Standardized tests measure specific knowledge and skill in certain academic areas and give a national comparison on academic achievement.   

Students and parents need to remember that many strengths and talents are difficult to measure in a quantitative manner and won't show up in a standardized test. We need to remind students that they each have potential and abilities within their grasp that can go beyond a test score.

Editor's note: You can join the discussion by posting a comment below or by interacting with more moms on .


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