TCAP: How to Help Your Child

Third grade was a big year for my childhood. For the first time, I left the safety of elementary school to enter the middle school filled with 3 rd -8th grade students. As an 8-year-old, it’s an understatement to say this was intimidating to be walking the same halls of young teenagers deep in the throes of pubescent peach-fuzz and raging hormones.

With the entry into third grade came all new experiences of a new building, new teachers, and the eminent acronym test that determined if you would move forward to the next grade; The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program; a mouthful that is better known as TCAPs. 

Just hearing someone say TCAP transports me back to the florescent-lit hellscape better known as my third-grade classroom. A room half-way full of 8-year-olds forced to sit in oversized desks uncomfortably situated on hard linoleum floors. On the first day of class, we learned the rules of the school (when to talk, stand, learn, think, breathe) as well as ways to raise our anxiety about TCAPs. 

Now as a 30-something adult who works with children, I often hear the anxieties and pressures that my clients have regarding the end-of-the-year assessments. I hear them talk about how they worry that they won’t be in class with their friends next year or how they aren’t worthy of being loved if they can’t test well. All this on top of their pre-existing mental health, issues in the home, and being forced to grow up in a society that is polarized.

So, what do we do, what should we know?

Our kids are already struggling:

The pressure of state testing can exacerbate underlying mental health issues. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting around 31% of adults and 25% of adolescents. This means that many students who are taking the TCAP are already struggling with anxiety or other mental health concerns.

Research has shown that state testing can increase anxiety and depression in students. A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students who reported high levels of test anxiety had lower academic achievement and were more likely to drop out of school. Another study published in the Journal of School Psychology found that students who reported high levels of academic stress and anxiety had higher levels of depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-24. Additionally, the American Psychological Association reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder among children and adolescents, affecting around 10-20% of youth.

What can we do?

  1. Talk to your child: It’s important to have open and honest conversations with your child about test anxiety. Let them know that it’s normal to feel a little nervous, but that there are ways to manage those feelings. For more tips on this, check out my blog about coping skills. (link)
  2. Practice relaxation techniques: Help your child practice deep breathing and visualization techniques. Encourage them to take a few deep breaths before the test and imagine themselves feeling calm and confident.
  3. Talk to your child’s teacher. Teachers can help alleviate some of the pressure on students by creating a positive and supportive classroom environment, providing students with study materials and resources, and helping students manage their time and expectations.
  4. Parents play a role in helping their children cope with the pressure of testing. You can encourage your child to take breaks from studying, engage in physical activity or other stress-relieving activities, and provide emotional support and encouragement. 
  5. Rest! Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep before the test. Being well-rested can help them feel more alert and focused.
  6. Stay positive: Keep a positive attitude and remind your child that they have been working hard and doing their best. Let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that one test does not define them as a student.
  7. Provide a healthy breakfast: Make sure your child eats a nutritious breakfast on the day of the test. Eating a healthy meal can help them feel energized and ready to go. Especially if you know they hate school cafeteria food!
  8. “Your worth is not determined on a test!” If your child is feeling anxious or stressed, provide them with support and encouragement. Let them know that you are proud of them for doing no matter the outcome of the exam.
  9. Ask for help. If you feel that they need additional support talk to a professional or their therapist.

By using these tips and tricks, you can help your child approach test anxiety in a positive way and feel more confident on test day. Remember that it’s important to support your child, but also to help them learn to manage their own feelings and cope with stress.