Objective Versus Subjective Discipline Referrals in a School District
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Seven percent of all students are excluded from school every year across the United States for violating school policies and procedures. Exclusion from school causes a number of problems for students such as higher dropout rates, grade retention, more of a likelihood of not graduating from high school, and a widening of the achievement gap. However, the literature review reveals a lack of exclusion research specific to Hispanic students. Therefore, this research study investigated the level of disciplinary referrals leading to student suspensions during the 2013-2014 school year in a southern California school district of 9223 students with a student demographic composed of 39% free-and-reduced meals, 24% English language learners, and 36% Hispanic. The research study analyzed not just referrals but differences between subjective versus objective referrals for Hispanic and White students. Risk ratio results indicated that Hispanic students were more likely to receive referrals that resulted in suspensions from school at two-and-one-half times the rate compared to their White peers for both subjective (RR = 2.572) and objective (RR = 2.600) referrals. While there was no difference, p = .308, between referrals labeled as subjective versus objective, Hispanic students were significantly more likely to receive objective (p = .017) and subjective (p = .041) disciplinary referrals that resulted in suspensions compared to their White peers. The most significant factors that predicted overall student disciplinary referrals were English language learner status and free and reduced meals. In particular, English language status accounted for 60% of all referrals leading to a student suspension. Oppositely, factors that had the least predicted referral infractions were talented and gifted status, parent education level, and special education status. Results from this study provided school district staff with information that helped to revise district policy and procedures regarding the use of the suspension as an enforcement tool in student discipline, with particular focus on subjective versus objective referrals that could lead to student suspension. Implications of this research are discussed in relation to practice, procedures, and policies.