By Sally Absher

The testing window for Part One of the TNReady assessment has closed, at least for students in Knox County. The (revised) testing window is officially February 22 – March 18, but with KCS on Spring Break now, Knox County students finished up Part One by March 11.

So it was timely that on March 8, Parents Across America (PAA) issued a press release, announcing the endorsement of its position paper, “Parents Stand up Against Test Stress.” Prominent educators including Alfie Kohn, Dr. Mark Naison and Nancy Carlsson-Paige have signed on as endorsers of the position paper (

PAA noted they have also contacted the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics asking that they “investigate our concerns that high-stakes standardized testing has become a health hazard for our nation’s public school children.”

The position paper addresses the recent jump in test anxiety among school-age students that many parents and educators have noted. “Across the nation, children of all ages are showing a jump in test anxiety. As high-stakes standardized tests have multiplied, growing percentages of students have begun to report test-related stress. More are seeking test-stress counseling. Media reports of psychological and physiological symptoms tied to testing have increased.”

PAA notes that some students are able to manage the pressures of high-stakes testing, but others are overwhelmed. If your child is in the group of overwhelmed students, you might recognize symptoms including nausea, dizziness, crying, vomiting, panic attacks, asthma attacks, tantrums, headaches, sleeplessness, refusal to go to school, “freaking out,” meltdowns, depression, suicide threats and suicide attempts.

Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor in the department of Psychology, Boston College, said, “The evidence is overwhelming that our national mania for testing–and for so much time in school and at schoolwork–is damaging the physical and psychological health of our children. I appreciate the work of Parents Across America and sincerely hope that the educational powers that be start to listen. What we have today is, essentially, state-mandated child abuse.”

Testing in the early years, which is strongly opposed by early childhood professionals, is taking a toll. According to Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, “As we see testing increasingly edge out play and active learning in classrooms for young kids, we also see more and more children who don’t like school, who feel way too much pressure, who don’t want to go to this place that feels so uncomfortable and out of synch with who they are and what they need.”

A research paper recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics suggests a correlation between the increased academic pressure on young children and the significant increase in ADHD diagnoses.

Much of the literature on test anxiety focuses on how to help children cope with the stress. In contrast, PAA believes the cause of the stress itself must be addressed. No child should be exposed to prolonged, intense stress, which can inhibit brain function and take a toll on mental health.

PAA is not simply asking for an end to high-stakes, one-shot testing. Parents are demanding that no child be harmed in the assessment process. “We know that test publishers and education entrepreneurs are already developing new ways to label, sort and profile students through high-tech devices now taking over classrooms.” This may not create as much stress but carries other dangers such as:

  • Constant collection of student data via online websites, apps, and programs without parental notification.
  • Embedded or “stealth” assessments – students are not even aware that their work is being used for high-stakes purposes.
  • A significant increase in the amount of screen time children are exposed to – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a two hour per day screen time limit for children.

What is the solution? PAA makes the following recommendations:

End high-stakes standardized testing: A switch from high-stakes testing to a systematic review of actual student work, which would

  • lessen excessive test stress that undermines learning,
  • provide superior evidence of academic progress, and
  • enrich classroom experiences.

Rely instead on regular teacher-generated reports of student progress which

  • look at students’ work over time and across all areas of learning and growth,
  • are prepared by experienced, qualified adults who personally observe each student, and
  • are accessible to parents, unlike secretive standardized test scores.

De-emphasize The Tests: JUST SAY NO to test pep rallies, test prep worksheets that replace meaningful class-work and homework, constant messages about the consequences of test “failure,” prizes for test-takers, etc.

Recognize opt-out rights: Parents are opting their children out of testing in record numbers, in part to protect them from the stress caused by misuse and overuse of standardized tests. Tennessee does not have an “Opt Out” law, but parents can “Refuse” for their child to participate in high-stakes testing. Federal and state law must support this decision by parents.

Advocate for local and state assessment policies that align with professional standards for assessment.

To learn more about testing or PAA, visit