Date of Award

Fall 1-6-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

Dr. Kris Varjas

Second Advisor

Dr. Catherine Cadenhead

Third Advisor

Dr. Gary Bingham

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Kenneth Matheny

Abstract

With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001), students are regularly faced with high stakes tests and classroom-based assessments to determine if they are meeting grade level educational standards. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of children may experience significant anxiety surrounding evaluations (e.g., McDonald, 2001; Turner, Beidel, Hughes, & Turner, 1993) and research shows that this test anxiety can negatively impact school performance (e.g., Abu-Rabia, 2004; Putwain, 2008) and mental health (e.g., Barksdale-Ladd & Thomas, Weems et al., 2010). As a result, test anxiety has become a topic of concern for researchers, educators, and mental health practitioners. The construct of test anxiety can be defined as the experience of marked psychological distress when faced with evaluative situations (McDonald, 2001). While researchers have discussed effective methods used to reduce test anxiety symptoms, much of this literature has focused on intervention within clinic settings rather than within the school environment (Gregor, 2005). Research in this area also tends to concentrate on older children and adults instead of elementary-aged students (Gregor, 2005; Weems et al., 2010). To address these gaps within the intervention literature, the purpose of the current pilot study was to develop, implement, and evaluate a school-based small group intervention designed to reduce test anxiety and increase coping skills in third grade students. The intervention was hypothesized to increase students’ awareness and use of stress management strategies, improve cognitive flexibility and inhibition of automatic anxious thoughts, decrease symptoms of anxiety, and increase confidence in their ability to face evaluative situations. Results of paired-sample t tests indicated that students reported significantly increased knowledge of test anxiety reduction strategies and a greater willingness to implement these strategies. Trend level gains in cognitive flexibility were discovered, though results were not statistically significant. Despite growth in student knowledge and cognitive flexibility, anxiety was not significantly reduced. Quantitative and qualitative findings suggested that the intervention was implemented with integrity and was acceptable to participants and facilitators. Results are discussed and implications for future directions in research and practice are suggested.

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