CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When it comes to testing, it’s not just students who notice the stress.
Teachers have known for a while to watch for pupils who have testing anxiety, which can negatively affect their performance, said Tracey Kinney.
She is assistant superintendent of instruction for Laramie County School District 1.
“Teachers do recognize it pretty quickly,” Kinney said. “They’ll see the performance on homework and they’ve observed proficiency through informal ways.
“Then when (students) go to demonstrate that proficiency on a test and there’s such a disparity from how the student was doing, that may be attributed to the anxiety of the testing environment.”
Some of learning to spot anxiety also comes from knowing students by building relationships with them, said Jerry Becking, principal at Burns Junior and Senior High.
“When you have a student in your classroom for three or four weeks and you’ve been through quizzes and tests, you can see (their) body language,” he said. “It’s just building that relationship.”
While there is no formal training to help teachers spot test anxiety, it is a topic in buildings, area administrators said.
“It’s something that teachers and administrators just come up with in their buildings,” said Brent Bacon, special services director with LCSD2. “Principals get together and talk about it — nothing really formal, just a natural part of our duties.”
And some students recognize that anxiety can be a problem for them, Becking said.
“If you’re in a school setting, you hear students say things like, ‘I get nervous when I take tests.’ You hear that and it’s kind of a red flag,” he said.
Some parents have seen information come home about test anxiety and how to better prepare students for exams.
“We get a newsletter about the middle years,” LCSD1 parent Liz Jefferson said. “In there are tips for dealing with all kinds of things. One of the things included is how to deal with test anxiety.”
But other parents, like Mistie Woods, said they haven’t run into information from schools on the topic.
Students’ testing anxiety and strategies to manage it also are topics in professional literature, said Todd Sweeter, principal of Pine Bluffs Junior and Senior High.
“(They talk about) the things you can do to help students prepare because assessments are becoming such a big deal, and there’s so much accountability with it.”
Administrators say there are several ways to help students keep calm for exams. For most schools, the focus is on making sure students are as prepared as possible.
“You lessen anxiety when you’re prepared for things” said Steve Newton, principal of Cheyenne Central High. “So we do as much as possible to make sure that students are prepared for things.”
More than just focusing on the subjects, for several schools preparation also looks at the thinking style required for exams. Some also look at commonly used words and question types in their preparation for students.
At Cheyenne South High, students get monthly articles and questions to help prepare and to improve their reading comprehension in multiple subject areas, Principal Phil Thompson said.
Teachers also take versions of the tests they give so they can better understand what they’re teaching, he said.
There are non-test-based stress busters as well. Those include breathing exercises, making positive statements, calisthenics and stretching.
“We try to get kids to physically flow and mentally become relaxed,” Becking said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes along with making a positive mental (space).”
In other schools there is a focus on getting physically active prior to tests.
“We’ll do stretches and try to get the blood flowing,” Sweeter said. “It’s pretty typical, but every teacher has their own spins on it. Especially between tests, (it’s) giving them a breather and let them shake it out a little bit.”
Regardless of the method used, administrators say the goal is to have students mentally prepared.
“(We) want to give them the best opportunity to be successful,” LCSD2 Superintendent Jack Cozort said.