Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Katherine Greenberg

Committee Members

Howard Pollio, Gary Skolits, Ralph Brockett


The purpose of this study is to understand the lived experience of students taking a high stakes test. The phenomenological method developed by Howard Pollio (Pollio, Graves, and Arfken, 2005, Thomas and Pollio, 2002, Pollio, Henley, and Thompson, 1997) at the University of Tennessee was utilized to explore the perceptions of the experience of fourth and fifth grade students who took the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Achievement Test, an end of the year criterion-referenced, standardized achievement test given to students in Tennessee.

Nine students from two schools in East Tennessee were interviewed about their experience of taking the test. Based on the student’s own words, a Ground and three themes were identified: (Ground) the test as different from other tests; It just felt like another test, but like more important/ weird; (Theme 1) reactions to the actual test: It was kind of hard and kind of easy; (Theme 2) strategies that help you on the test: Yeah, you have to really try hard; and (Theme 3): The purpose of the test: It decides, well, I don’t know, but it seems…..

This study shows that asking children about their experience can enlighten our understanding of standardized testing practices that impact test scores schools rely on so heavily to prove their efficacy as an institution. If we are to support our teachers and our schools in this era of high stakes, we should acknowledge the voices of our students who are taking them, and adjust our policy and practices accordingly. Considerations for practice and recommendations are also included.

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