Thursday, February 7th, 2013
Some kids handle the pressures of their young lives–chiefly their abilities to score well on standardized tests in school–while others crumble under the anxiety of the pressure to succeed. An article in this weekend’s New York Times magazine looks at this fact through the lens of what it can teach us about anxiety and panic in children. The article chronicles a growing body of research on this question and concludes that though biology plays a role in a child’s ability to manage anxiety, it is far from the only factor in the equation:
An emerging field of research — and a pioneering study from Taiwan — has begun to offer some clues. Like any kind of human behavior, our response to competitive pressure is derived from a complex set of factors — how we were raised, our skills and experience, the hormones that we marinated in as fetuses. There is also a genetic component: One particular gene, referred to as the COMT gene, could to a large degree explain why one child is more prone to be a worrier, while another may be unflappable, or in the memorable phrasing of David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, more of a warrior.
Understanding their propensity to become stressed and how to deal with it can help children compete. Stress turns out to be far more complicated than we’ve assumed, and far more under our control than we imagine. Unlike long-term stress, short-term stress can actually help people perform, and viewing it that way changes its effect. Even for those genetically predisposed to anxiety, the antidote isn’t necessarily less competition — it’s more competition. It just needs to be the right kind.
Read the full New York Times article for details on the new research into childhood anxiety.
Image: Standardized test, via Shutterstock
Monday, November 26th, 2012
An alarming cheating scandal has parents in 3 Southern states learning that their children may have been taught by unqualified teachers who had sent a stand-in to take their qualifying exams in their names. MSNBC.com has more:
“For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. — himself a longtime educator — to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis.
Authorities say the scheme affected hundreds — if not thousands — of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.
Mumford faces more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges that claim he created fake driver’s licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.
The hired-test takers went to testing centers, showed the proctor the fake license, and passed the certification exam, prosecutors say. Then, the aspiring teacher used the test score to secure a job with a public school district, the indictment alleges. Fourteen people have been charged with mail and Social Security fraud, and four people have pleaded guilty to charges associated with the scheme.”
Image: Pencil test, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Children who are the youngest in their school classes are more likely to score lower on standardized tests, and to receive medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). From The New York Times:
The findings suggest that in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child’s age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.
The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, the researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest decile on standardized tests. They were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D. The differences diminished somewhat over time, the researchers found, but continued at least through the seventh grade.
The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used data from Iceland, where health and academic measures are tracked nationally and stimulant prescription rates are high and on par with rates in the United States. Previous studies carried out there and in other countries have shown similar patterns, even among college students.
Image: Girl with prescription drugs, via Shutterstock
Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
French President François Hollande has made a promise that kids are likely to love–as part of a sweeping package of changes to the country’s education system, Hollande proposed a ban on homework. “Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” Hollande said. Time.com has more:
He also proposes reducing the average amount of time a student spends in class in each day, while stretching the school week from four days to four and a half. It’s a bid to bring the country more in line with international standards and to acknowledge some of the current system’s shortcomings. Even the homework isn’t just an empty populist gesture — it’s meant to reflect the fact that many of the lowest-performing students lack a positive support environment at home.
Monday, May 14th, 2012
A standardized test given to New Jersey third-graders will no longer include a question that asks students to reveal a secret and write about why it was difficult to keep. NBC News reports that the school board decided to remove the question after parents voiced concern that the question was intrusive and inappropriate:
“We’ve looked at this question in light of concerns raised by parents, and it is clear that this is not an appropriate question for a state test,” [Department of Education spokesman Justin] Barra said, adding that about 4,000 students in 15 districts had the question.
Marlboro dentist Richard Goldberg was among the parents who had raised concerns about the question.
Goldberg said he was appalled when he asked his twin 9-year-old sons about the standardized tests they were taking and they told him about the question. He said he felt it ventured into topics that would best be kept quiet and it could raise some serious complications, so he wasn’t surprised to hear the state decided to eliminate it from future tests.
“I got a lot of feedback from parents who also were outraged” about the matter, Goldberg told Neptune’s the Asbury Park Press newspaper. “All of a sudden now you have thousands and thousands of children possibly revealing things that now these people have to report, when the purpose of the exam was to see what the children’s critical reading skills were.”
Image: Students taking test, via Shutterstock.