Undue punitive policies are driving students down a path toward prison, according to a study from the Advancement Project, an organization founded by veteran civil rights lawyers dedicated to racial justice. "Test, Punish, and Push Out," released January 20 as part of the group's Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track project, details the impact that high-stakes testing and zero tolerance policies have on graduation rates and students that enter the criminal justice system.
"High-stakes testing and the pressure placed by tests creates the incentives to push out low-performing students, and zero tolerance is the way to do that," says Jim Freeman, staff attorney and director of Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track initiative with the Advancement Project. "These policies have been widespread, in particular since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002."
According to the study, 250,000 more students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2006-2007 school year than four years earlier when NCLB was signed into law. During that same time frame, expulsions rose by 15 percent.
"Zero tolerance and high-stakes testing have changed the culture of many schools around the country and created an alienating environment," says Freeman. "They drive a wedge between educators, students and parents."
The Advancement Project advocates eradicating the policies that they feel treat students as if they're disposable. "There is no research to prove they're improving the classroom environment, but we know prevention and intervention programs work," says Freeman.
The study suggests the following: (1) replacing high-stakes testing—the "test and punish" approach—with qualitative assessments; (2) including classroom instructions beyond the tests and drills associated with standardized testing; (3) reevaluating zero-tolerance policies to determine what effect the criminalization of students has on the community; and (4) providing young people the opportunities to correct problematic behavior.
For more about this study, visit www.advancementproject.org.