Four recent studies reveal more about how suspensions shape student performance, with one finding that suspended students in Philadelphia had lower test scores the same year of their suspensions, correlating longer suspensions with lower scores, and another in California finding that it took more than one suspension to lower a student’s test scores, and that the drop was more substantial.
Additionally, Chalkbeat reports that an analysis of K-12 schools in Arkansas showed suspensions either had no effect or a slight positive one on suspended students’ test scores the year after, with this case showing that the longer the suspension, the greater the gain.
In New York City, high-schoolers were less likely to pass English and math classes during the semesters when they were suspended as compared to semesters when they weren’t, a fourth study found.
These studies are nowhere near the first analyses done on school suspensions and their effects on kids. Some of the results aren’t too surprising, but they continue to drive home a known point: School suspensions, in almost all cases, aren’t a “one size fits all” solution. If anything, the continued lack of alternatives is the biggest shocker.
There’s proof that suspensions hurt students, but they’re also subjective and disproportionately affect students of color. That goes way beyond student performance, too — by suspending students for minor infractions like disrupting class, it feeds a cycle that leaves them unable to catch up to their classmates. The school-to-prison pipeline is real and research-supported, and it’s students of color and special education students who are, more often than not, put at risk of being funneled into the juvenile justice system. Schools want to keep kids in classrooms, yet zero-tolerance discipline practices are doing just the opposite.
Some states have used legislation to try eliminating suspensions. In Texas, a recent law says schools can’t suspend students in pre-K through the 2nd grade unless drugs, weapons or extreme violence are involved. California lawmakers are debating extending a ban on out-of-school suspensions. And West Virginia’s Department of Education might make some out-of-school suspensions count against a school’s attendance rates — a way to push districts to use other forms of discipline.
Meanwhile, some school districts are looking for alternative forms of discipline. Restorative justice approaches look at a problem’s root and boost social-emotional learning efforts, and teachers can help each other through programs like using a “bounce buddy” who can take on a repetitively disruptive student.
Evidence shows these alternative methods are working: School districts that have worked to lessen suspensions saw better attendance rates and test scores. So while every study has its limitations, there’s a clear pattern here — suspensions aren’t working as a default solution for disciplining students.