Study: Fewer suspensions can lead to better attendance rates and test scores
- A recent report in the Peabody Journal of Education supports the case for policies that reduce school suspension rates. Lower suspension rates in Chicago schools led to small increases in test scores and attendance rates without compromising school safety, Chalkbeat reports.
- Chicago Public Schools began reducing suspensions and other disciplinary actions that removed students from the classroom in 2008, well before the Obama-era recommendations to do so were handed down in 2014. By 2013, the district had reduced the share of severe offenses resulting in out-of-school suspensions from 93% to 84%.
- The study adds to the limited — and sometime contradictory — body of knowledge about how these discipline reforms affect schools; for instance, a previous study of Chicago schools indicated that reductions in suspensions boosted attendance but made schools less safe.
The efforts at reform discipline policies and practices that began in the Obama-era were designed to correct reported racial inequities in the way harsher punishments, such as out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, were meted out. Since that time, research on the effect of these policies has been sparse and contradictory. The studies also sometimes fail logically. For instance, reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions, by definition, must increase school attendance rates because students are in school more often. Sound in-school suspension policies, however, can allow students to make the most of their time away from their regular classroom settings.
Other problematic reporting issues come into play as an increasing number of schools are using suspension rates as an accountability measure. For instance, past studies in California have indicated the success of lower suspension rates and the state is pondering extending a ban on unnecessary suspensions, but a new issue has emerged regarding the state’s new accountability measures. Many California school systems with the state’s worst test scores will not be receiving additional support because help is only offered if the district's suspension rates are high or graduation rates are low.
Part of the problem, according to a CALMatters, is that categories such as suspension and graduation rates can be easily manipulated by districts. “Under this system, districts can escape notice or attention simply by shining in categories that are less than academic and whose outcomes they control,” said Chad Aldeman, an education policy expert who recently reviewed California’s accountability system.
In the wake of the Parkland, FL. shooting, suspension policies are coming under fire in some quarters and are under review. However, schools can still implement other measures of discipline that are more positive and may be more fair in the long run. Schools are experimenting with restorative justice practices, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and even yoga as alternatives to traditional suspension for certain infractions and as a way to teach students how to deal with their emotions and anger in a more beneficial way.