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Relax, It’s Only a Test

In the 12 years since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, frequent high-stakes exams have become the norm at every public school in every state in the country. Standardized testing programs cost states a total of $1.7 billion yearly, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution. Poor performances on these exams can have severe consequences: students with low scores can be held back, teachers whose students do poorly can be fired, and schools with below-average overall results can be closed entirely.

“Schools and teachers are under a lot of pressure to meet standards, and that pressure gets passed on to students,” says Nathaniel von der Embse, a psychologist at East Carolina University who studies tests and their stresses.