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Test Anxiety

It's presumptuous to advise parents about how to address their children's test anxiety, but I wonder if they've sufficiently thought through the matter ("How test anxiety affected a young boy," Education News, Jan. 21). By opting out of all testing in order to spare their children, for example, they are inadvertently reinforcing the anxiety, not only for now but for the future.

Long after children graduate from high school, they will be faced with situations in the workplace that are the equivalent of a test, except that the stakes are higher because jobs depend on the evaluations received. If children have never learned how to manage their anxiety in school about this issue, how will they be able to do so at work when they are adults?

That's where cognitive behavioral techniques come in. Its practitioners frequently treat patients with anxiety in all of its various manifestations. As a result, they're acutely aware of how painful and crippling the disorder is. Yet they report impressive results when patients are taught skills to confront the anxiety. They rarely counsel patients to absent themselves from situations that have the potential to provoke an anxious reaction unless there is a clear and present danger.

The mother who refused to let her 6th-grade son take the standardized tests mandated by state law rationalized her decision by saying that her son is more positive about learning. I'm sure that he is because he no longer has to take the dreaded tests. But why couldn't the boy be gently guided to face his fears beforehand? I'm not talking now about toughing it out because sensitive children do not respond well to this approach. Nor am I talking about medication, which is way overused.

Instead, parents can teach their children to challenge and dispute the thinking that triggers their test anxiety. They then can learn alternative ways of thinking and coping. Once these strategies become internalized, students not only feel relief from testing, but they also feel empowered to handle other events that ordinarily would cause them to flee.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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