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

Jennifer Heissel, Emma K. Adam, Jennifer Doleac, David Figlio () and Jonathan Meer ()

No 25305, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

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.

JEL-codes: I21 I24 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ure
Note: CH ED
References: View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: View citations in EconPapers (4) Track citations by RSS feed

Published as Jennifer A. Heissel & Emma K. Adam & Jennifer L. Doleac & David N. Figlio & Jonathan Meer, 2021. "Testing, Stress, and Performance: How Students Respond Physiologically to High-Stakes Testing," Education Finance and Policy, vol 16(2), pages 183-208.

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