Psychiatry Interpersonal and Biological Processes

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Classroom Teachers as Paraprofessional Therapists in Group Systematic Desensitization of Test Anxiety Arreed F. Barabasz To cite this article: Arreed F. Barabasz (1975) Classroom Teachers as Paraprofessional Therapists in Group Systematic Desensitization of Test Anxiety, Psychiatry, 38:4, 388-392, DOI: 10.1080/00332747.1975.11023867 To link to this article:

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Date: 31 August 2017, At: 11:58

Classroom Teachers as Paraprofessional Therapists in Group Systematic Desensitization of Test Anxiety Arreed F. Barabasz


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EACHERS are well aware of students' complaints that they know the answers but somehow "blank out" on tests. Research has demonstrated the negative effects of such anxiety responses on test scores (Baldry and Sarason, 1968; Barabasz, 1973; Borkowski and Mann, 1968; Cowen et aI., 1965; Paul and Eriksen, 1964; Sarason, Pederson, and Nyman, 1968; Sarason, Hill, and Zimbardo, 1964). In a study involving fifth- and sixth-grade levels, test anxiety apparently affected the test scores of 50% of the students (Barabasz, 1973). This investigation employed physiological measures to determine anxiety levels, thus avoiding the many pitfalls of verbal assessment of degree of anxiety through self reports, questionna"ries or interviews (Paul and Bernstein, 1973). Systematic desensitization as a technique of psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition has been demonstrated to be very successful in treating test anxiety. Paul and Shannon (1966) desensitized college males by a group method and found a significant improvement in grade point average. Cohen (1968) desensitized undergraduates who had scored in the upper 30% on the Test Anxiety Scale. Experimental subjects showed a significant decrease in test anxiety scores and a significant improvement in grade point average. Children have also been treated successfully while in their regular classroom settings (Barabasz, 1973). High test-anxious subjects showed significant reductions in physiologically measured anxiety scores and significantly improved criterion test scores. Subjects identified as low test-anxious, who participated in the desensitization sessions, and high and low test-anxious controls, who did not participate, showed no significant score changes on either measure. Implementation of classroom programs for test-anxiety desensitization was therefore apparently simplified, since there was no indication that low test-anxious subjects would have to be segregated from treatment. The severity and scope of the problem has been demonstrated. Professional therapists using systematic desensitization have been highly effective in treatment. Since it is unlikely that school systems will hire teams of psychotherapists

Dr. Barabasz (EdD, SUNY, Albany 69) is Director, Behavior Therapy Programs, Genesee Psychiatric Center, Flint, Michigan. This project was supported by a grant and faculty fellowship from the Research Foundation of New York State-Contract No. 21-7126B. At the time of the investigation the author was Director of the Child Study Center and Associate Professor of Behavioral Studies at State University College at

Ruffalo, N. Y.




Novelllber 1975


solely for desensitization of test anxiety, schoolwide programs still lack feasibility. The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether or not classroom teachers, given short-term training, could function effectively as paraprofessional desensitization therapists in the area of test anxiety.

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The subjects consisted of fifth-, sixthand seventh-grade students enrolled at the Campus School, State University College at Buffalo, N.Y. (N = 102). The sample represented both middle and lower socioeconomic levels, as determined by occupations of the students' fathers, and both blacks and whites. The reading comprehension subtest Form A of the California Achievement Test was used as the pre-treatment criterion measure and was administered to all groups of students simultaneously in their regular classrooms via video taped instructions. The students were told that the test results would be placed on their permanent record cards. Mild threat in academic and test situations serves to elicit anxiety (Diamond, 1965; Meisels, 1967; Winkel and Sarason, 1964). The students were divided into high test-anxious and low test-anxious groups by means of the Lafayette 7603-2A Polygraph. Galvanic skin resistance measures were transmitted via stainless steel finger electrodes. Electrodes were attached to the first and second digits on the right hand of each student. The students were then exposed to an audio tape recording which asked them to visualize the following 16 situations (10-second pause between each stimulus) (Barabasz, 1973): 1. Picture yourself sitting in front of a fireplace on a cold winter's day. 2. Picture yourself by the ocean on a summer day with a warm breeze blowing through your hair. 3. Picture yourself in your favorite chair watching television. 4. Picture yourself resting on the couch after a large meal. 5. Picture yourself Iy i ng on the grass fishing in Ii t;LIll pond.

PSYCHIATRY, Vol. 38, November 1975

6. Picture yourself lying under a tree listening to a little brook. 7. Picture yourself in front of a fish tank watching the fish slowly swim by. 8. Picture yourself lying on the beach watching the sea gulls glide slowly in the sky. 9. Picture yourself watching large snowflakes drift to the ground. 10. Picture yourself watching a kite fly in the sky. 11. Picture yourself lying on a rug listening to the radio. 12. Picture yourself watching two rabbits play in the backyard. 13. Picture yourself lying in bed and looking out your window watching a robin build a nest. 14. Picture yourself lying in a leaf pile watching the leaves spiral on an autumn day. 15. Picture yourself taking a difficult test and your score on the test will be placed on your permanent record card. 16. Picture yourself taking a difficult examination that determines whether you pass or fail.

Stimulus items 1-12 were employed to provide an opportunity for the students to become comfortable with the taped presentation mode and to allay possible fears of the apparatus. Mean deflections (in millimeters) for items 13 and 14 (designed to be neutral stimuli) were contrasted with items 15 and 16 (designed to arouse test anxiety). Significant anxiety reactions were observed in 54 students, who were, therefore, classified as high test-anxious. The remaining 48 were classified as low test-anxious. The Campus School teachers for grades five, six and seven participated in a onehour seminar on test anxiety with the investigator CAFB). The entire group supported the proposed project and three teachers, one from each grade level, were randomly chosen to participate in four onehour training sessions in the desensitization of test anxiety. rJ'he training sessions Wflffl given on four consecutive days immedi389

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ately prior to the experimental period. The first session was devoted to the theoretical foundation for psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition and included a question and answer period. The second session included a review and discussion of the special audio tape of relaxation instructions l that was to be administered to the experimental subjects. The remaining two sessions involved role-playing experiences for each teacher, utilizing relaxation instructions that would follow the tape, and procedures for introducing visualization stimuli from the following hierachy developed by the investigator. TEST ANXIETY HIERARCHY

Low to High Sequence 1. Picture yourself at the beach in the sun just relaxing and the thought briefly crosses your mind that you will return to school in two whole months. 2. And when you're back in school in two months you will eventually have to take exams. 3. Now just picture yourself in the warm August sun just relaxing at the beach and you happen to think about school and exams beginning a whole month away. 4. As you relax, etc.--picture yourself two weeks before school begins and thinking about being tested. 5. And now it's one week before . . . . 6. And now it's five days before . . . . 7. And now it's four days before . . . . 8. And now it's three days before . . . . 9. And now it's two days before you return to school and you are fully relaxed and at ease as the thought of being tested crosses your mind. 10. Just picture yourself at home watching your favorite TV program as the thought of taking exams crosses your mind one day before school begins. 11. Now it's the morning of the first day of school and you are fully relaxed and at ease, your muscles loose and heavy as you think of taking exams. 12. Second day of school, thinking of final exams a whole school year away. I A transcript of the relaxation instructions is available from the author.


13. Now it's mid-November and you're fully relaxed, etc. 14. Mid-December, etc. 15. Early January, etc. 16. And now it's February and you're taking an easy quiz in your favorite subject and you are fully relaxed and at ease. 17. Just picture yourself at your desk in school in early spring as your teacher explains about a test you will take some three weeks off which will have results that will be entered in your records. 18. Although you know the exams are very important and that they will be on your records you are fully relaxed as your muscles just switch-off at ease and in control. 19. Two weeks before exam, etc. 20. One week before exam, etc. 21. Five days before exam, etc. 22. Three days before exam, etc. 23. Two days before exam, etc. 24. One day before exam, etc. 25. Morning of the day on which you are to take an exam that will be recorded in your permanent records. 26. Now you're walking down the haH toward the room in which you are about to take the exam. 27. You are getting seated and you take out your pencils. 28. The teacher is passing out the exams and answer sheets. 29. You read the test instructions and begin working through the test questions.

The experimental groups consisted of one fifth, one sixth, and one seventh grade comprised of high and low test-anxious students. The groups were exposed to the desensitization program by their homeroom teachers, in their regular homeroom settings, on five consecutive days. On the first two days the teachers discussed systematic desensitization and exposed the students to the relaxation training tape. Stimuli from the test anxiety hierarchy were gradually introduced during the remaining three days. Each teacher's progression through the hierarchy was modified by the students' input. Students indicated feelings of anxiety in response to a stimulus on the hierarchy by raising their hands. If a stimulus visualization evoked PSYCHIATRY, Vol. 38, November 1975

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more than two hands raised (total for the group) the teacher repeated the prior stimulus emphasizing relaxation. Repetitions of relaxation stimuli were then reintroduced until the two-hand maximum was attained. Control groups consisted of one fifth, one sixth and one seventh grade comprised of high and low test-anxious students. These groups were not exposed to the desensitization treatments. Upon termination of treatments, Form B of the Reading Comprehension subtest of the California Achievement Test was administered to experimental and control groups via video taped instructions. Once again the students were told that the results would be placed on their permanent record cards. All students were then retested for anxiety reactions via GSR recordings as previously outlined. RESULTS

GSR polygraph output was scored on the basis of mean millimeters deflection from baseline in response to the stimuli designed to arouse test anxiety (items 15 and 16). Baseline GSR was established from stimulus items 8 through 14. An analysis of variance was performed on the pre-post GSR scores for high and low test-anxious students in experimental and control groups with ad hoc contrast specification. A significant univariate F of 5.86, p < .01, was yielded for experimental students pre-test classified as high testanxious. A univariate F of 1.84 was found for experimental students pre-test classified as low test-anxious. Although the score was not significant (.10 > p > .05), a tendency toward significance in the same direction was evident. No significant differences were found for controls at either high or low pre-test anxiety classification levels. Analysis of variance was performed on the Pre-Post California Achievement


as, November 1975

Reading Comprehension subtest scores for high and low test-anxious students at each grade level. Separate analyses by grade level were necessitated by the use of sequentially advanced test forms according to grade level. Three significant F's were yielded for pre vs. post test scores, fifthgrade experimental high -anxious (F = 6.43, p < .01), sixth-grade experimental high-anxious (F = 8.21, P < .01), and seventh-grade experimental high-anxious (F = 6.02, p < .01). No significant F's were found for experimental low test-anxious students pre vs. post at each grade level, nor among controls at each grade level. DISCUSSION

The administration of a structured systematic desensitization program by classroom teachers resulted in significantly lowered physiological measures of test anxiety for students pre-classified as high testanxious as compared with controls, and a tendency toward lowered anxiety responses for students pre-classified as low test-anxious. Criterion measure results were also favorable. High-anxious experimental students demonstrated significantly improved California Achievement Reading Comprehension subtest scores while low-anxious students and controls showed no significant changes. While it is unlikely that these short-term group treatments given by paraprofessional therapists have resulted in cures for test phobic children, the significant overall group improvements in criterion test scores at each grade level are encouraging. Given the scope and severity of the test anxiety problem, future teacher preparation programs might well benefit from such training. Additional research is needed, however, utilizing larger numbers of teachers in various school settings. GENESEE PSYCHIATRIC CENTER

2110 W.



RD. 48507



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REFERENCES BALDRY, A. 1., and SARASON, 1. G. "Test Anxiety, Preliminary Instructions, and Responses to Personality Inventories," J. Clin. Psychol. (1968) 24:67-68. BARABAsz, A. F. "Group Desensitization of Test Anxiety in Elementary School," J. Psychol. (1973) 83: 295-30 1. BORKOWSKI, J. G., and MANN, T. "Effects of Anxiety and Interference on Short-term Memory," J. Exper. Psychol. (1968) 78:352-354. COHEN, R. "Group Densensitization of Test Anxiety," PhD thesis, Syracuse Univ., 1968. COWEN, E. L., et a1. "The Relation of Anxiety in School Children to School Record, Achievement, and Behavioral Measures," Child Develop. (1965) 36:685-695. DIAMOND, L. "Effects of Anxiety and Stress on Children's Performance," doctoral dissertation, Catholic Univ., 1965. MEISELS, M. "Test Anxiety, Stress, and Verbal Behavior," J. Consult. Psychol. (1967) 31:577-582. PAUL, G. L., and BERNSTEIN, D. A. Anxiety and Clinical Problems: Systematic Desensitization and


Related Techniques; Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1973. PAUL, G. L., and ERIKSEN, C. W. "Effects of Test Anxiety on 'Real-Life' Examinations," J. Personality (1964) 32:480-494. PAUL, G. L., and SHANNON, D. T. "Treatment of Anxiety Through Systematic Desensitization in Therapy Groups,"J. Abnormal Psychol. (1966) 71:124-135. SARASON, S. B., HILL, T. K., and ZIMBARDO, P. G. "A Longitudinal Study of the Relation of Test Anxiety to Performance on Intelligence and Achievement Tests," Monogrs. Society for Res. Child Develop. (1964) 29:4-49. SARASON, 1. G., PEDERSON, A. M., and NYMAN, B. "Test Anxiety and the Observation of Models," J. Personality (1968) 36:493-511. WINKEL, G. H., and SARASON, 1. G. "Subject, Experimenter, and Situational Variables in Research on Anxiety," J. Abnormal and Social Psychol. (1964) 68:601-608.

PSYCHIATRY, Vol. 38, November 197!)

Classroom teachers as paraprofessional therpists in group systematic densensitization of test anxiety.

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