The Cost of High Stakes Testing

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Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 1.41.09 AMBy Lina Acosta Sandaal, MA

Our expert counselor Lina A Sandaal resides in Miami and and refers to the local school board. The information related in the article can be applied anywhere in the United States and we encourage you to find local resources like what she suggests.

Many schools are having parent-teacher meetings, sending emails and parents are hearing about mandated tests that will begin in the coming months.   The Dade-County School board (Miami, FL) is also assessing and thinking this through as the teachers begin to implement this new process. Back in September the superintendent of schools wrote an opinion piece in the Miami Herald about the current debate on “high stakes testing”. I enjoyed what he had to say and like his way of asking all of us to take multiple point of views into account. However, he did not touch upon the piece that makes me get up in the morning to work 12 hour days, following my passion: the necessity for our sons and daughters to have peace, growth and security in their emotional and social health.

The brain needs to be in a receptive state for optimal learning and to maintain the physiology of the person. High stakes testing has created an atmosphere that induces a reactive state. When the brain is reactive, it uses its primitive mechanisms to overcome that state. Primitive responses turn on the “danger” response of flight, fight, and freeze. Too many teachers, preoccupied about whether test scores will result in a pink slip or a raise, are anxious and in this danger/reactive response mode. All children ages 0-17 take their cue of safety from the caregiver and at school the teacher is this secure base. If the teacher is anxious, concerned and unavailable emotionally due to the strains and constraints of this system at our schools, the students become reactive, diminishing their ability to learn. I have seen a 6-year-old gifted student with panic attacks (fight/flight) and gastrointestinal problems. I have seen teenagers with suicidal ideation (freeze) and substance use (flight/freeze) because they provide a way to deal with the work pressure and testing given at their schools. My hope is that the district will take into account the mental and social health of their students.

There are signs of hope. There is an amazing movement in education to bring social emotional learning and mindfulness meditation to education. As parents we all need to be informed and ask our leaders to help our kids, and there are groups and organizations doing just that. A good high school friend of mine is part of a Facebook group called Opt-out Miami Dade County (, where you can find information and learn how to advocate for your children.   On the front of mindful meditation and education there are many local programs offering help for children (Mindful Kids Miami, Super Yogis at Rina Yoga, & At home let us take the advice of Superintendent Carvalho,“Assessment of students should serve the strict purpose of informing instruction, not simply provide a variable into a teacher’s performance evaluation formula, as is the case of the new state-mandated, district-designed end-of-course K-12 exams.” Let us inform ourselves and advocate for the emotional and social health of our children.

Carvalho Miami Herald- Opinion posted 9/2/14 Read more here:

If you have questions, be sure to share them below and Lina will provide answers or connect with us on the Los Tweens & Teens Facebook page. 

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