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Research Library

What High‑Stakes Testing Means for the Emotional Well‑Being of Students and Teachers

    • Published: 2006 IND
    • Laurie Schroeder
    • Ph.D. Dissertation, Graduate Faculty of Education, Claremont Graduate University, 2006.


Standardized high-stakes testing has become an established part of the grand narrative of America’s public school system; America’s students are tested at a rate that far surpasses that of students in other industrialized nations. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has prescribed an increase in high-stakes testing of students that has created the most stress-filled learning environment in this country’s history.

This case study of the piloting of the TestEdge National Demonstration Study (TENDS) focuses deep inquiry on the process of implementing an alternative curriculum and pedagogy that seeks to address the impact of high-stakes testing on students and teachers. The TestEdge curriculum emphasizes emotional restructuring and the enhancement of resilience in students and teachers as a foundation for lowering test anxiety, increasing student test scores on standardized high-stakes tests, and improving student emotional stability and behaviors in the context of classroom dynamics and interactions. The pilot study was conducted in the summer of 2004 in a high school in Southern California; participants in the study included academically and behaviorally "at risk" students enrolled in a mandatory remedial summer school program and their teachers.

Through classroom and campus observations, student drawings, teacher reports, and comprehensive community and school profiles, the study triangulates results of both quantitative and qualitative measures used in the pilot study, while providing supplementary contextual information about the study participants. The study is also intended as a vehicle for allowing the voices of students and teachers involved in the project to be heard.

Classroom behaviors, patterns of communication (both nonverbal and verbal), and changes in social interactions revealed the tremendous pressure that students and teachers felt to prepare for and perform well on standardized tests and surveys. Student and teacher anxiety and depression were common themes in classroom observations, student drawings and teacher reports. Deep reflections and critiques are offered from both clinical and pedagogical perspectives, contributing to a clearer understanding of the impact of high-stakes testing on the emotional, physical, social and academic well-being of students and teachers in America’s schools.