Do High Stakes Have to Mean High Stress?

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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?