FairTest Written Testimony on School-to-Prison-Pipeline Bills Before the MA House

To: Joint Committee on Education, Hearing on Bills Related to Student Issues

From: Lisa Guisbond, Policy Analyst, 617-730-5445, Guisbond@mit.edu

Re: Written Testimony in Support of H177, H178, H1949, and S238.

Date: September 27, 2011

Dear Members of the Joint Committee on Education:

I am here today to speak on behalf of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. You may wonder why FairTest, which focuses on assessment issues, is taking the time to testify in favor of bills to address school discipline.

In fact, over the past two years, FairTest has collaborated with national civil rights, education and juvenile justice organizations --  including the NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Advancement Project, and others -- to address this issue. We jointly prepared a paper, titled “Federal Policy, ESEA Reauthorization and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” (A fact sheet appended to this testimony includes a link to the paper.) It has been endorsed by more than 100 organizations, including Citizens for Public Schools and the national ACLU. These organizations understand there is a pernicious link between the overuse and misuse of school discipline policies and the overuse and misuse of high-stakes testing.  

What is the school-to-prison pipeline? The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the set of policies and practices that make the criminalization and incarceration of children and youth more likely and the attainment of a high-quality education less likely. It is the emphasis of punitive consequences, student exclusion, and justice-system intervention over students’ right to an education.

FairTest is alarmed by growing evidence that zero tolerance school discipline and high-stakes testing policies work hand in glove, reinforcing each other and creating a downward spiral, actually accelerating the pace of school exclusions. As we’ve heard, zero tolerance imposes harsh penalties for nonviolent infractions, needlessly pushing students out of school. Meanwhile, high-stakes testing policies like the federal No Child Left Behind law have raised the stakes attached to test scores, especially in urban, low-income districts, which face sanctions for poor results. So NCLB creates an incentive to remove low-scoring students and improve a school’s test score bottom line, and zero tolerance provides the pretext for removing the low scorers.

The joint report’s recommendations include:

  1. Provide funding and incentives aimed at improving school climate, reducing the use of exclusionary discipline, and limiting the flow of students from schools to the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
  2. Facilitate reenrollment and proper education of students returning to school from expulsion and juvenile justice system.
  3. Create a stronger and more effective school and student assessment and accountability system capable of recognizing success in a variety of forms and providing useful information for school improvement.

We recognize these bills do not address testing. We support them because they address critical aspects of the school to prison pipeline and will therefore help ensure equity and high-quality education, which are cornerstones of FairTest’s mission.