Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 12/11/2010 (3998 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There's no sign of any student in the public school system suffering from the disability of extreme exam anxiety -- at least, not yet.
Officials with city school divisions say they've had no students asking for alternatives to regular exams on the basis of debilitating exam anxiety.
Nor will they speculate whether coverage of the ongoing controversy at the University of Manitoba over the awarding of a PhD in math to a student suffering from extreme exam anxiety could lead to K-12 students seeking such accommodation.
Math Prof. Gábor Lukács has taken legal action alleging that dean of graduate studies Jay Doering waived doctoral graduation requirements for a math student who claimed extreme exam anxiety after twice failing his mandatory comprehensive exam. Lukács wants the courts to withdraw the student's doctorate.
The U of M has suspended Lukács for three months for allegedly revealing the student's confidential health information. Last year, the U of M's disability services office registered 136 students diagnosed with extreme exam anxiety.
Dr. John Walker, director of the anxiety disorder program at St. Boniface General Hospital, said he's seen children as young as kindergarten age being treated for school anxiety.
"We see it right across the age ranges, even the youngest ages," Walker said. "The thing we see in kindergarten is problems with perfectionism." Kids will rip up page after page because they don't think a drawing is perfect, he said. In older students, the more critical the exam, the more stress, Walker said.
But educators say that so far, no student has cited a stress disability in asking not to write an exam or to have an exam taken in some other manner, such as writing individually in a "quiet room" under supervision, or as happens at university in some cases, substituting a written project or an oral test for a written exam.
"I'm not aware anyone has brought this forward as a disability in any way, shape or form," said Julie Smerchanski, the Winnipeg School Division's director of assessment and instructional support.
"We prepare them ahead of time -- we know students get nervous. The system has done what it can to shift, to alleviate that," Smerchanski said. Students look at previous years' exams, they practise writing the upcoming test, they may write in a classroom instead of in large groups in the gym.
"The more children practise something, the less angst they feel when it comes to the real thing," she said.
Even in Grade 12, provincial exams in math and language arts are worth only 30 per cent of the final mark, Pembina Trails School Division superintendent Lawrence Lussier said.
"Test anxiety is an issue for some people, and it exists in K-12. When we become aware of it, we do accommodate in appropriate ways, including such things as teaching test-taking strategies, teaching self-control of emotions, providing alternate forms of assessment, and where appropriate, providing third-party assistance during the taking of tests," Lussier said.
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River East-Transcona and Seven Oaks school divisions similarly reported no incidence of stress disability.
Still, doctors are seeing younger students seek help, Walker said. And the older they get and the higher they go in education, the more that is at stake.
"Sometimes exams get to be do or die. Some exams have very dire consequences, so that adds to the stress," Walker said. "We've seen students vomit before an exam."
Exam anxiety can interfere with concentration and memory, so that students are unable convey knowledge they have learned and understood, Walker said.
"What we try to work on is building up their confidence and resilience -- evaluation is a way of life. Certainly, anxiety problems in the population are quite common," Walker said.
Dean in the wrong: association exec
Canada's national professors' union says the PhD student in math at the centre of the University of Manitoba controversy is being unfairly treated.
"I'm concerned about the focus on the student. I feel badly about how much news coverage is blaming the student," said Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
Students always have the right to seek accommodation and have the right to appeal if universities do not grant it, Turk said.
Turk was a professor for 20 years and had many students seek accommodation. "Sometimes they're legitimate and many times they're not, and if they're legitimate, you accommodate," he said.
The real issue is what dean of graduate studies Jay Doering did, Turk said. "What the dean did is not accommodation; he waived the requirements." If the student's condition was legitimate, "they should have found a way to accommodate that and still fulfil the requirements. The only thing being brought into question is the judgment of the dean of graduate studies."
Turk said CAUT is not becoming directly involved in the U of M issue, because the faculty association is representing math Prof. Gábor Lukács in his three-month suspension. The U of M suspended Lukács for allegedly divulging the student's private health information.
Turk said that because the university's senate has refused to grant Doering sweeping powers to waive requirements for graduation, CAUT does not need to get involved. "The University of Manitoba senate seems to be on top of that. I would suspect it's something that wouldn't be allowed to happen again," Turk said. "The wrong action was not taken by the student; the wrong action was taken by the dean."
Turk said he's never seen the requirements waived anywhere else.
"In a university, decisions are to be made collectively. People are not supposed to act unilaterally," he said.