The Washington Post

How test anxiety affected a young boy

In this era of high-stakes standardized tests, a subject that gets short shrift is test anxiety and how it affects young students.

Text anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, and it can severely affect a student’s ability to do well. Here is one mother’s story of how test anxiety affected her elementary school son and what she did about it. Written by Kathleen Muthler, who is a teacher in Pennsylvania, this appeared on the website

By Kathleen Muthler

Just three years ago when my son was in 3rd grade, I started to notice some anxiousness in him right before he took his very first PSSA [Pennsylvania System of School Assessment] test.  The night before the test, he second guessed himself on whether he was prepared to take it.  He didn’t feel that he knew everything he needed to know for the test.  We were up until the wee hours reassuring him that it would be okay, that these tests do not mean anything to him, and that he would still be allowed to go to 4th grade regardless.  However, he knew that his teacher and the school were relying on him to do well.  He felt the pressure on him to succeed for others, not just himself.  This happened every year afterward as well.  However, it had gotten worse in 4th and 5th grade.  The anxiety toward what he felt he knew and did not know in preparation started much earlier with every passing year.  By 5th grade, he was worried about every assignment, every lesson, and every new concept.  The night before each test was sleepless for the child, therefore, sleepless for the mother.

Fast forward to today.  My son is now in 6th grade, and I have officially decided to opt him out of all testing now and in the future.  No more PSSA’s and no future Keystone Tests.  His attitude towards learning is so different these days.  He does not have the anxiety leading up to the tests because he knows that there is no pressure to perform and do well (mostly for the approval of others).  It is wonderful as a mom to know that I have my son back, the son that loved school and learning in the years prior to PSSA testing.  I can see the littlest changes in him and his attitude toward learning.  When he doesn’t grasp a concept right away now, we discuss it and work through it without panic and anxiety.

I am also a teacher, so I know the pressures placed on the school, the teachers, and the students to perform and do well.  I know that my son’s school will miss counting his (and his older brother) advanced scores in the quest to achieve AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress, an accountability measure in No Child Left Behind].

However, as a mom, I know that I am doing what is best for my children and their future.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
Play Videos
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Learn to make this twice-baked cookie
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
Play Videos
Syrian refugee: 'I’m committed to the power of music'
The art of tortilla-making
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Circus nuns: These sisters are no act
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Cool off with sno-balls, a New Orleans treat
Next Story
Valerie Strauss · January 18, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.