High Test Percentages Equals High Stress

Butterflies start to flutter in the students’ stomachs as the teacher announces that the tests have been graded and unclips a stack of nicely ordered papers from the desk. The student chatter comes to a halt as an overwhelming silence washes over them.  The teacher slowly places each test face down on the students’ desks as the fear of failure and anticipation consumes them.  As students begin overthinking how the test grade might affect their overall average on Pupil Path, they slowly turn over their papers to view the results that may make or break their grade since it weighs so much on their grade point average (GPA) and consequently their future.

Some students at Francis Lewis are experiencing these very emotions as test percentages can weigh as high as 85% of their overall grade point average for particular classes. 

“In Geometry class, tests make up 85% of my grade,” freshman Amaris Olazabal said. “Taking tests adds to my stress because tests are counted for a lot in my grade and if I don’t pass the test, it would affect my grade massively, which is very scary.”

AP Mathematics Mr. Chiu explained why tests count for such a high percentage of a student’s grade in math classes.  

“Tests count for up to 85% of a student’s grade in Math because the mental model we have about mathematics education is that it’s not a subject class, it’s more of a discipline,” Mr. Chiu said.  “And in any discipline, perfect practice makes perfect. Formative assessments like tests are rigorous and a good indicator of how much students have mastered. Some teachers argue that is also the most objective for mathematics content.”

Mr. Chiu added that test percentages for each course are decided by teachers collaboratively.

“Teachers that teach the same course sit together at the beginning of the year and decide on the grading policy they would use,” Mr. Chiu said. “There was a time when tests were just 100% of the grade for Regents level classes. Now we also portion off percentages for class participation and homework. The homework and class participation are the opportunities to do the practice.”

Some teachers have noticed the anxiety that students experience before and during a test.

“I noticed that at the beginning, everybody was kind of adjusting so they were more scared and timid,” math teacher Ms. Voyiatzoglou said. “Now it seems like everyone is comfortable again.”

At Francis Lewis, the weight of test grades varies between 25-85% of a student’s overall grade point average.  In the Math Department, tests can account for 70-85% of the overall grade and the Science Department has assessments including tests, quizzes, and other tasks worth up to 70%.  In the English Department, assessments count for 25% while performance task can weigh up to 40%.  Assessments in the History Department can weigh up to 60%.  

“I think students are still stressed out to the level of thinking, especially if a student is high achieving,” said Mr. Brown, a guidance counselor at Francis Lewis. “There are those students who are still thinking in their heads that they have to attain a certain grade. Well, we try to help students realize to not put a mark on a test as far as success. Success doesn’t always have to be dictated by a number.”

 The transition from remote learning back to in-person learning may also have taken a toll on learning and test taking for students. According to Rise and Shine Children’s National, the adjustment of students going back to in-person learning after spending almost a year and a half at home will involve some “hiccups” and will take some time to adjust back into the “new normal.”  Junior Maryam Bater has noticed an increase in stress from this transition.  

“I think that just coming back from being home and being relaxed to [coming] into school that is full of people and a lot of work,”  Bater said. “It’s overwhelming but it’s ok. I feel like I’m getting an exam every week. I think it’s because they think that the more exams they give the better you have of getting your grade higher if you do bad on the previous exam.

“It makes me feel really upset and lowers my confidence level. I start to doubt myself and overthink a question I may know.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 39% of parents (four in ten parents) felt that their child fell behind academically because of the pandemic, and about three in ten claimed that their child has experienced mental health issues. Parents whose children mostly attended school remotely were more likely to feel their child fell behind academically compared to parents whose children had in-person learning.

“I feel that remote learning has resulted in many children falling behind academically,” said Maria Papageorge, a parent of a student attending Francis Lewis High School. “As teachers are trying to get the students back at the level where they should be at, the kids are struggling to adjust both mentally and academically with all of the tests and assessments being given to them.”

According to the report titled “Anxious for Success: High Anxiety in New York’s Schools” by the New York Association of School Psychologists and the New York State School Boards Association, there have been many studies that have found effective ways to overcome test anxiety, focusing more on changing how students think, behave and develop skills to ease this academic anxiety.

“What are we teaching students if we make it ‘Easy’ or ‘spoon feed everything’ or ‘let kids give up’? Mr. Chiu said. “What we really should be talking about is why we don’t have systems in place to teach students the skills to handle the stress, to manage the stress, to thrive under stress, and to find ways to take good care of their mental health?”

“Sometimes you can not take everything seriously,”  Mr. Brown said. “It’s a marathon, not a race. You can’t basically put everything into that one test and think that if you don’t do well on this one test that things are going to fall apart. That’s what I like to tell students: make time for yourself and if it is something where you didn’t do well on this test, sometimes you just got to shake it off and say ok, I had a bad test or say that I just didn’t do well on this exam. You will be ok, even though I know that it is hard for us to process that at the moment.  In the grand scheme of things you will be ok.”

Mr. Chiu expressed words of encouragement for students who are struggling this year with the stress of taking exams.

“Mental health is an important part of today’s environment and has been more prominent in conversations than ever before,” Mr. Chiu said.  “Life is stressful, taking math tests is stressful, but it’s all a part of life and the journey.”