Do High Stakes Have to Mean High Stress?


Canter-c120x148Formerly a teacher, now an administrator-in-training, Chris Canter blogs about his yearlong assistant principal internship at Fulton County Public Schools in Atlanta, Ga.

As cherry, dogwood, and pear blossoms dot springtime landscapes, testing bubbles dot the desks of our students. At the high school at which I am currently placed, we have just completed the state’s required High School Graduation Test. At the beginning of May, we will also administer the state-required End of Course Tests in select courses. The middle and elementary schools are preparing for the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. In spring, it seems the testing never ends.

With that testing also comes a great amount of stress. One metro schools system in my state is undergoing a major investigation in regards to a standardized test cheating scandal, along with some schools in other systems. In the midst of this tense and high-stakes testing climate, precaution and accountability with testing seem to be key issues.

To be quite honest, standardized testing completely stresses me out. I worry about trying to ensure that nothing I do even has the appearance of wrongdoing. Fortunately, the administrator I’m paired with is excellent at modeling a no-stress approach to testing. As he organizes materials and creates plans for testing checkout and check-in, he appears calm, cool, and relaxed.

In conversation with him, I learned that a great deal of that confidence comes from proper planning and thinking through how to respond to potential scenarios before they become major issues. During the graduation test process, I noticed that methods such as organizing plastic boxes with precounted, prelabeled tests and using department chairs to help facilitate easy test check-in appeared to help the flow and distribution of test materials.

Should testing stress me out as much as it does? How do you handle the stress? What methods and strategies do you use to minimize, as much as possible, the stress that comes with standardized testing?


  1. Hi, Chris!
    I think high stakes equals high stress when teachers feel they alone are responsible for students’ test scores. Most districts don’t place much emphasis on accountability for students and parents, and if schools don’t offer pull-out classes, free tutoring, etc., teachers feel as if the burden rests solely on them.
    That said, test pressure doesn’t have to be passed on to students. In fact, if teachers take a low-key approach, not only will the kids be more relaxed, but the teachers be more relaxed as well. High levels of stress don’t correlate with high test scores. 🙂
    Here are some specific strategies I’ve shared for managing test stress:

  2. Hi Chris,
    This will be my first year actually having to participate in the state standardized testing. I, like you, have been feeling my stress levels rise and fall. I am completely worried about the do’s and don’ts of standardized testing. I have already been playing scenarios in my head and my response to them. I hear a lot of the veteran teachers in my school talk about different situations and how they would respond to them. This has really helped me out! Not only am I concerned about what all I can and can’t do, I am concerned about the student’s scores. A lot of pressure has been added to the teachers to ensure that student’s scores reflect the learning that has been taking place throughout the school year. I often struggle with the questions of my teaching styles. I am currently planning out the next month and incorporating a lot of review and mini lessons that will help gage where the students will need the most help in before testing. To eliminate stress, I am constantly seeking advice from some of my colleagues and utilizing the internet and other reading materials that refers to lowering stress levels and the do’s and don’ts of testing.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Testing is very stressful to both teachers and students. I had a young man recently in my school district shoot himself because of all the testing stress. I’ve learned that when it comes to testing to teach my students all that I can during the year and help them to relax as we venture toward the days of testing. I try to make testing more fun than constantly reminding my students that testing is approaching. I also provide afterschool tutoring for my students and students from other classrooms. We as adults dislike being stressed as much as our students do. Lastly, I always breath a word of prayer the night before that each of my students do well.

  4. Stephanie:
    I am so sorry for your loss. How tragic and senseless! I agree with you that we must teach kids to relax and take some of the anxiety off of them…we often forget how stressful the tests are for the kids because we only focus on our personal stress.
    And, I must concur….a word of prayer is always a wise route! Thanks for reminding us of that!

  5. Krystal:
    I think you make a great point in that we need to work collaboratively and help one another through the testing process. I will never forget how stressful the first year of standardized testing (in my first year of teaching) was for me. Keep using those networks of support! Good luck to you and your students!

  6. Angela:
    I have never considered how we pass on the stress to students until this blog entry. Isn’t it sad that we often wind up stressing students out more than we intend? I love your ideas! Thanks for sharing and good luck to you and your students.

  7. Hi Chris, I am with you. The most important is to remember how did you feel when you’ve been at the other side. But if you the fact that you are thinking about it says a lot about the passion which you got as a teacher. My cure about stress is music and the time spent with my love ones.
    Great post!


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