I recently came across an article in Education Week where Stanford mathematics education professor Jo Boaler highlights a number of research studies that establish something those of us who pay attention have known for a long time: timed testing causes math anxiety. Can you say “Duh!”
The article and its sources describe the results of various studies of the cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and neurological effects of timed testing, which I will summarize below. Not to scare you or anything, but
- Timed testing creates math anxiety that disproportionately affects the highest and lowest performing students
- Math anxiety tends to persist and grow over time with repeated exposure to negative stimuli, leading to lasting consequences, including limitation of career options
- Math anxiety actually has measurable neurological effects that inhibit the recall of known facts as well as the acquisition of new knowledge – that’s right, sending your kids to school can actually prevent them from learning and lead to lasting brain damage
- Math anxiety causes emotional distress that can contribute to self-image issues that persist throughout adult life
- Math anxiety is on the rise and is directly correlated with common public school teaching policies
- Timed testing kills curiosity and enthusiasm and leads students to see math as a matter of performance and competition rather than as a fascinating subject with intrinsic value, which corresponds to am immense loss of value for society
- Timed testing leads students to equate effectiveness and achievement with rapidity, which is so far from the truth it’s not even funny
This article just goes to highlight two things I have always said, that more fear = less learning, and that the public school system is accomplishing the exact opposite of what it should be doing, at an alarming rate. It just adds more evidence to the pile that for many students, school actually does more harm than good, and sane alternatives are needed, like, yesterday.
So what is the solution? The article and its references also highlight the positive changes that need to happen, specifically that learning needs to take place in an emotionally uplifting, stress-free environment that uses positive reinforcement and encourages exploration, imagination, and creativity, and that develops divergent thinking skills alongside convergent thinking skills.
For kids who are suffering under the yoke of public schooling, I always do my best to control and counteract the psychological damage caused by such practices as timed testing, and empower them to discover and use their innate mental superpowers.