Homework & Studying

Stressed about Tests

“I feel worried all the time these days.” High-stakes standardized testing takes a toll on my sensitive kid.

Boy with ADHD studying
Boy with ADHD studying

With springtime came the most stressful time of year for many of our children, their teachers, and consequently their parents. Because I had been busier than ever with marathon training and school-related volunteer activities this year, the actual timing had sort of snuck up on me. I was enjoying my time in “La, La, Things Are Good Now” Land. That is, until a ride through carpool one morning.

“Mom, my anxiety is an issue lately,” Holden told me as I pulled into the parking lot. I asked him what he meant, specifically how he was feeling. I hadn’t noticed anything was particularly different with him.

I feel worried all the time,” was the way he explained it. He added that sometimes his stomach hurt, too. Those classic signs of anxiety reminded me how sensitive Holden is to stressors in his environment and change in routine. These are the two things that are the hallmark of Testing Season. I was then taken back to my memory bank to realize that every year, from April through May, my children seem more tired, more stressed, and a lot of their ADHD symptoms are greatly increased.

In Texas, our children take the STAAR tests, which are our state-mandated assessments. Holden is a seventh-grader, which means that he has four days designated towards testing in the month of April. Two days are spent on a writing test, and the other two days are math and reading. Yet many more academic days are spent on those tests, by way of practice exams and teachers specifically targeting test items during normal curriculum time. The teachers and administrators are undoubtedly more stressed, worried about their students’ performances, which can be sensed by the students.

Not only are the numerous prep days stressful, the actual days of testing are our children’s worst nightmares. On test days, schools become fortresses of “Stay quiet, kids!” Recess is tossed aside for indoor quiet and sit-still time, and even normal lunches, where they can talk with their friends don’t happen on testing days.

While this year Holden was able to make it through the actual testing days relatively intact, the fallout has been difficult. Upon his return home from two straight days of the writing test, where his dysgraphia was challenged, he complained that he was completely exhausted. It showed, as the anxiety symptoms have swung into full gear and getting him up and going in the morning has become increasingly impossible.
As a parent, it is so difficult for me to see my child go through this, and it’s also difficult to be in the trenches, trying to make him do his homework and manage his anxiety. I know that we’re not alone with these struggles. This leads me to wonder, how do other parents see test-taking for their children with ADHD? Does it lead to higher anxiety? What are your solutions for easing the tension that these high stakes cause? Because our school is supportive, we were able to work out some agreements that allowed Holden to take a break, or as we call it, a mental health day, following the testing. While this has helped somewhat, I’m still eager for summer vacation and a break from the stress of school.