Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Test Anxiety in Adolescents with Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Test Anxiety in Adolescents with Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders

Article excerpt

Test anxiety in children has been associated with depressed academic performance (Bryan, Sonnefeld, & Grabowski, 1983; Guttman, 1987; Plass & Hill, 1986; Zatz & Chassin, 1985) and self-defeating intrapersonal and interpersonal behavior patterns (Hill Eaton, 1977; Sarason & Koenig, 1965; Sarason & Palola, 1960; Wine, 1971). The debilitating effects of test anxiety on performance in school and on intelligence tests, achievement tests, and classroom exams have made this an area of critical concern (Bryan et al., 1983; Sarason, 1972). Children with learning disabilities and behavior disorders exhibit higher levels of test anxiety than do their peers without disabilities (Bryan et al., 1983; Hill, 1972; Rizzo & Zabel, 1988). Little research exists, however, concerning the causes, effects, and treatment of test anxiety in this population. Therefore, the present study was designed to identify components of test anxiety in a group of adolescents with learning disabilities and behavior disorders.

Previous research on test anxiety in children indicates that high levels of test anxiety contribute to the development of detrimental motivational, coping, and task strategies (i.e., dependence, self-deprecation, and conformity (Sarason & Koenig, 1965; Sarason & Palola, 1960); proneness to cheat or make careless errors (Hill & Eaton, 1977); and, negative self-evaluation, difficulty concentrating, and off-task thoughts (Zatz & Chassin, 1983, 1985). These detrimental strategies are likely to exacerbate the interference with learning and performance that children with learning disabilities and emotional disturbance experience. These strategies may actually lead to further increases in test anxiety (Phillips, Pitcher, Worshan, & Miller, 1980). Evidence suggests that the debilitating effects of test anxiety on performance increase over time, if untreated (Hill Horton, 1986).

Meichenbaum and Butler's (1980) work with adults provides a theoretical structure for investigating test anxiety. According to these researchers, developing an effective treatment program depends on treatment of the components of test anxiety specific to a person or group of people. Similarly, in designing an intervention program to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders, we need to investigate the components of test anxiety present in these students.

Researchers have associated many factors with test anxiety in adults and children. For instance, fear of negative evaluation seems to be an important element of test anxiety in children (Hill, 1972). This fear is accompanied by a narrowing of the range of cue use in testing situations, with increased concern for evaluative cues and self-esteem and decreased sensitivity to task-related cues (Green, 1976). Decreased attention to task-related cues may result in decreased task performance.

Similarly, Wine (1971) suggested that decrements in performance that occur with test anxiety have an attentional basis and proposed that test-anxious students are concerned about competence and preoccupied with self-oriented negative thoughts. This cognitive interference hinders task-relevant processes needed for optimal exam performance (Sarason, 1972; Wine).

Zatz and Chassin (1983) investigated the cognitions of low, moderate, and high test-anxious children. Generally consistent with Wine's (1971) cognitive interference model, high test-anxious children demonstrated the highest number of task-debilitating cognitions. However, a positive relationship between on-task and off-task thoughts was found for low, moderate, and high test-anxious children. For boys, poorer performance was associated with task-debilitating associations. For girls, performance was associated with positive evaluations. Zatz and Chassin suggested that a multifaceted model of test anxiety like Meichenbaum and Butler's (1980) is applicable.

Culler and Holahan (1980) suggested that poor performance is due to poor study and exam-taking skills rather than to anxiety. …

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