Student anxiety about school assessments relates to how supported they feel by teachers and schools. That’s a key finding to emerge from a recently-released OECD report.
For the first time, OECD”s Students’ Well-Being: PISA 2015 Results examined students’ motivation to perform well at school, their relationships with other students and teachers, and their home life. Its findings are based on a survey of 540,000 students in 72 countries and economies, which also completed the main OECD PISA 2015 test on science, mathematics and reading.
According to the report, on average across OECD countries, 59% of students reported often worrying that taking a test would be difficult, and 66% reported feeling stressed about poor grades. On top of that, 55% of students said they were very anxious about a test even if they were well prepared.
“Students’ anxiety about schoolwork is not so much related to the frequency of tests, but rather [to] students’ perceptions about the consequences of the mistakes they make or are afraid to make,” said OECD’s Mario Piacentini, the principal author of the report.
The impact of supportive staff
Piacentini told The Educator that when students feel that their teachers are supportive – be it because they can easily seek help when they need it or perceive that their teachers pay attention to individual students and adapt instruction to a class’ capacities – they also report lower levels of anxiety towards tests and assignments.
“For example, students were, on average, 17% less likely to report that they get very tense when they study for a test if they perceive that their teacher provides individual help when a student has difficulties,” Piacentini explained.
A possible reason, he says, is that students with supportive teachers are more likely to realise that everybody makes mistakes, that one mistake rarely impacts a student’s career, and that there is much a student can learn from mistakes.
“Given the very strong link between school anxiety and overall life satisfaction, we also observe that schools were students perceive that teachers are supportive are also ‘happy schools’ – schools where students have high levels of life satisfaction,” said Piacentini.
Training and professional development
The report says that because teachers play such a vital role in creating the conditions for students’ well-being at school, governments should not define their role solely by number of instruction hours.
“The report shows that teachers are central figures for students’ feelings of psychological and social well-being,” Piacentini said.
“Teachers’ work is more effective if they can establish rewarding relationships with students. Most teachers care about having positive relationships with their students; but some teachers might be less prepared to deal with difficult students and classroom environments.”
Piacentini said that this is why targeted training and professional development might be particularly effective.
“For example, specific training can be offered to teachers so that they can identify those students who suffer from anxiety and teach these students how to learn from mistakes,” he said.
“Such training should provide teachers with practical tools they can use in their daily teaching, such as taking the most common mistakes that the class made on a test or quiz and let the students analyse them together.”
Piacentini said that targeted training can also improve teachers’ bullying-intervention skills and their self-efficacy in working with students to prevent bullying.