According to the American Psychological Association, “exclusionary discipline encompasses any type of school disciplinary action that removes or excludes a student from his or her usual educational setting” (American Psychological Association Services). Several studies (Girvan, E. J. et al, 2017; Monahan K.C. et al, 2014; Welch, K. et al, 2014), including research done by the United States Government Accountability Office, illustrate students of color, boys, and students with disabilities most often experience significant punitive actions such as suspensions and expulsions when compared with their peers. This trend was found across all school types regardless of factors such as overall school poverty and grade level (United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters, 2018).
There is a well-documented link between exclusionary discipline and an increased likelihood to drop out, exhibit delinquent and potentially criminal behavior, and spend time in the corrections system (Balfanz, R. et al, 2014; Monahan K.C. et al, 2014).
In short, certain systemic educational practices put students of color, boys, and students with disabilities at a higher risk of being more severely disciplined, which can lead to higher rates of academic failure and incarceration.
Improving Equitable Outcomes and Reducing Disproportionality by Rethinking Teacher and Administrator Actions
Because the issue is so pervasive, it can become a challenge to enact real and meaningful change; however, being aware of and consistent with consequences is the first step to bringing equity and justice for students who are disproportionately punished. Research indicates a strong correlation between exclusionary discipline practices and overall academic failure, but many educators cite in-the-moment escalation as the determining factor in selecting a consequence. This leaves little room for more objectively weighing the benefits and drawbacks of disciplinary actions.
While easier said than done, reflection can be a key determinant to beginning a cycle of change. Ask the following questions when experiencing negative student behaviors.
• Why is this student choosing to behave in this way?
• Are there any underlying factors that should be considered before determining a consequence?
• Is the consequence being issued consistently across all groups of students?
• Is the behavior so severe that it merits losing academic time, especially when the loss of instructional time can compound problems for students?
With an issue as complex and far-reaching as exclusionary discipline, how can educators best meet the needs of all students while still maintaining behavior standards? The answer is through monitoring behavior and academic data for high-risk students and tracking overall incident reporting to identify key trends.
Using Data to Track Exclusionary Discipline and Discourage Disproportionality
Teachers and administrators need the right tools to track and categorize incidents and monitor punitive measures that are being used with different student groups with respect to behavior.
By using a data management platform, educators can track referrals by behavior, location, time of day, individual student, and even by monthly averages. Analyzing these reports highlight common trends among referrals and behavior incidents. For example, after running a “Behavior Referrals by Location” report, it may become obvious that the common areas such as lockers or bathrooms are a prime area for problem behaviors to occur. This insight gives schools the opportunity to enact preventative measures such as additional adult supervision or limiting the number of students in the problem area.
Educators can also use reporting around behavior consequences to better understand the number of enacted consequences by key indicators such as ethnicity, grade level, special education status, and English learner status. This can help to identify if a particular demographic group is experiencing a disproportionate severity of disciplinary action when compared. Schools and districts can also monitor the impacts of different disciplinary actions on groups of students to gauge effectiveness and outcomes.
Implementing PBIS for Preventative Action
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), “is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes” (United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters, 2018). The general purpose is to improve both student and teacher outcomes as well as to reduce the exclusionary discipline rate of all students but especially those groups who experience disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates.
PBIS allows schools and districts to institute behavioral expectations that are based on clear and actionable procedures and systems. Depending on the needs of students engaging in noncompliant behavior, Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports are provided, which involves students and staff in more intensive behavior interventions. In order to determine which level of intervention intensity each student needs, PBIS relies heavily on collecting and analyzing disaggregated behavior data and progress monitoring.
Illuminate and PBIS Complement Each Other
PBIS is a popular method of behavior management and is well-respected in many districts and schools across the country. In order to implement these procedures and systems, collecting and analyzing data is non-negotiable. Illuminate’s eduCLIMBER platform provides strong analytic tools for teachers and administrators seeking to implement PBIS, track student outcomes, and minimize exclusionary discipline practices.
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American Psychological Association Services, Inc. The Pathway from Exclusionary Discipline to the School to Prison Pipeline. https://www.apa.org/advocacy/health-disparities/discipline-facts.pdf
Balfanz, Robert; Byrnes, Vaughan; and Fox, Joanna (2014) Sent Home and Put Off-Track: The Antecedents, Disproportionalities, and Consequences of Being Suspended in the Ninth Grade. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 5(2) Article 13. Prepared for the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the Research-to-Practice Collaborative, National Conference on Race and Gender Disparities in Discipline.
Girvan, E. J., Gion, C., McIntosh, K., & Smolkowski, K. (2017). The relative contribution of subjective office referrals to racial disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(3), 392–404.
Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., Anderson, C., (2010) Examining the Evidence Base for School-Wide Positive Behavior Support. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(8), 1-14. 14 Dec. 2017, 10.17161/fec. v42i8.6906.
Monahan K.C., VanDerhei S., Bechtold J., Cauffman E. (2014) From the School Yard to the Squad Car: School Discipline, Truancy, and Arrest. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(7),1110–1122. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0103-1. Epub 2014 Feb 14. PMID: 24526497.
PBIS.org, 2017, http://www.pbis.org/topics/equity. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
United States Government Accountability Office (2018). Report to Congressional Requesters K-12 EDUCATION Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities.
Welch, K., & Payne, A. A. (2014) Racial Threat and Punitive School Discipline, Social Problems, 57 (1)1 25– 48, 1 February 2010, https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2010.57.1.25
Claire Smizer-Muldoon is a content developer and trainer for Illuminate. Prior to joining Illuminate, she was a teacher for six years in the Central Valley. She has served her districts as a Lead Teacher, Mentor Teacher, and Technology Site Representative. She loves cooking, comedy, and spending time with her two young daughters, Sarah and Sofie.
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