Testing, Stress, and Performance: How Students Respond Physiologically to High-Stakes Testing

39 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2018

See all articles by Jennifer Heissel

Jennifer Heissel

Naval Postgraduate School

Emma Adam

Northwestern University - School of Education and Social Policy

Jennifer L. Doleac

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics

David N. Figlio

Northwestern University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jonathan Meer

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 2018

Abstract

A potential contributor to socioeconomic disparities in academic performance is the difference in the level of stress experienced by students outside of school. Chronic stress – due to neighborhood violence, poverty, or family instability – can affect how individuals’ bodies respond to stressors in general, including the stress of standardized testing. This, in turn, can affect whether performance on standardized tests is a valid measure of students’ actual ability. We collect data on students’ stress responses using cortisol samples provided by low-income students in New Orleans. We measure how their cortisol patterns change during high-stakes testing weeks relative to baseline weeks. We find that high-stakes testing does affect cortisol responses, and those responses have consequences for test performance. Those who responded most strongly – with either a large increase or large decrease in cortisol – scored 0.40 standard deviations lower than expected on the on the high-stakes exam.

Suggested Citation

Heissel, Jennifer and Adam, Emma and Doleac, Jennifer L. and Figlio, David N. and Meer, Jonathan, Testing, Stress, and Performance: How Students Respond Physiologically to High-Stakes Testing (November 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w25305, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3294873

Jennifer Heissel (Contact Author)

Naval Postgraduate School ( email )

Graduate School of Business and
Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, CA 93943
United States

HOME PAGE: http://sites.google.com/site/jheissel/home

Emma Adam

Northwestern University - School of Education and Social Policy ( email )

Evanston, IL
United States

Jennifer L. Doleac

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

5201 University Blvd.
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jenniferdoleac.com/

David N. Figlio

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jonathan Meer

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

5201 University Blvd.
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States

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