students, with federal funding and other rewards contingent on performing at a certain level. Some states have added other forms of high-stakes testing, such as high school exit exams, which impact individual students more directly.
Requiring schools to regularly assess student progress can help various stakeholders—including parents—put pressure on schools and school districts to do a better job of providing quality education. In practice, however, NCLB and other forms of high-stakes testing have been controversial (National Research Council, 2001b; Posner, 2004; Advancement Project, 2010). Whatever else may be said, however, it is clear that the act’s testing requirements particularly impact low-performing students and students of color. Failure to pass the high school exit exam—a particular challenge for African American and Latino youth—greatly increases the odds of school dropout (Jacob, 2001), a major risk factor for involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Schools have an obligation to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment and to discipline students who undermine these goals. Since the 1990s, one of the main approaches to school discipline has been “zero tolerance.” Zero tolerance is a label given to a collection of school discipline policies that began when Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act in 1994. That legislation required states to enact laws mandating expulsion of students found with firearms on school property. Most states and school districts responded to the federal mandate by adopting so-called zero-tolerance policies requiring expulsion or suspension of students not only for possessing firearms but also for possessing other weapons, possessing drugs, or committing any serious violations on or off school. Surveillance of students also increased with the implementation of school resource officer programs; the installation of hardware, such as metal detectors and cameras; and more intrusive searches. Thus far, however, the research on the impact of these practices on school safety has been mixed—ranging from reports that they enhanced school security to findings that they actually led to more school disorder (Theriot, 2009). The connection between school-based arrests and referral to the juvenile justice system is also less established (see Chapter 3).
What is clear is that rates of suspension and expulsion have increased dramatically. For example, the U.S. Department of Education reported that there were 250,000 more students suspended from school in 2006-2007 than there were four years earlier, and the number of expelled students increased by 15 percent (Advancement Project, 2010). In large urban school districts, such as Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, increased suspension and expulsion rates greatly exceed the national averages.