The Disproportionate Use of Discipline: An Investigation of the Potential Impact of School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
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Over the last 35 years, the disproportionate use of discipline by gender, race/ethnicity, and disability status has been consistently documented. Specifically, Black males receive the majority of suspensions and expulsions. Discipline for Native American and Hispanic students, while often showing overrepresentation, is less consistent. There is however consistent evidence of disproportionate discipline for students with disabilities. Experiencing disproportionate discipline often leads to poor academic outcomes, drop out, and involvement in the juvenile justice system. The literature on disproportionate discipline does point to practices that may mitigate its occurrence. These include: shifting from reactive policies and practices to prevention frameworks, developing consistency for how consequences are delivered, reviewing behavioral data, and using graduated support. School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is a systems approach focusing on whole-school prevention of problem behavior through teaching and acknowledgement of appropriate behavior, consistent consequences, and data for decision-making within graduated levels of support. The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent of disproportionate discipline in Oregon middle schools and explore the potential impact that SWPBIS may have on discipline rates. Results from descriptive analysis of discipline data by gender, race/ethnicity, and disability status across 181 middle schools in Oregon showed that Black, Native American, and Hispanic students were overrepresented for suspension and expulsion. Specifically, Black students were 2.58 times more likely to receive out-of-school suspension and 2.79 times more likely to be expelled as all other students. In addition, Native American and Hispanic students were over 1.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled as all other students. In contrast, White and Asian students were less likely to be suspended and half as likely to be expelled as all other students. Also, students with disabilities were nearly two times more likely to be suspended and 1.55 times more likely to be expelled as students without disabilities. Lastly, ANOVA results for a causal-comparative matched group design with SWPBIS level of implementation as the independent variable showed no statistically significant differences between groups for suspension or expulsion. Possible reasons for these findings are explored and implications for future research and policy are provided.