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IES Grant

Title: Development of an Instructional Alternative to Out-of-School Suspension: The Instructional Suspension Learning Alternative (ISLA)
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Nese, Rhonda Awardee: University of Oregon
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2018 – 06/30/2021) Award Amount: $1,399,962
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A180006

Co-Principal Investigators: Nese, Joseph; McIntosh, Kent; Horner, Robert

Purpose: The purpose of this development and innovation project was to refine and test a Tier 1 universal intervention to reduce exclusionary discipline and increase instructional time for students, the Inclusive Skill-building Learning Approach (ISLA). ISLA promotes positive student-teacher relationships and students' problem-solving skills and school-wide systems that specify graduated and logical responses to concerning behavior to reduce the likelihood that students will be sent out of class.

Project Activities: This project took place in three phases: (1) iterative development with two middle schools, (2) usability and feasibility testing in another two middle schools, and (3) quasi-experimental pilot testing in another eight middle schools.

Key Outcomes: The main features of the intervention are as follows:

  • In partnership with middle school students and staff, the researchers iteratively developed and refined ISLA to be acceptable to stakeholders and easy to implement with high fidelity (Furjanic et al., 2021; Nese et al., 2021).

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place in urban, suburban, and rural public middle schools in the pacific northwest region of the United States.

Sample: The sample included two middle schools during the development phase, an additional two middle schools during the refinement phase, and eight new middle schools during the pilot phase. The schools serve students in 6th through 8th grade with total student enrollment ranging from approximately 400 to 700 students per school.

Demographic data for the quasi-experimental pilot study are as follows. The average demographics for ISLA schools were 50 percent female, 50 percent male, and fewer than 1 percent non-binary/transgender/other; 64 percent White, 10 percent Multiracial, 3 percent  Asian, 2 percent Black, 1 percent  Indigenous, and fewer than 1 percent Pacific Islander; 20 percent  Latino/a/e/x; 13 percent  students with disabilities; 4 percent English learners; and two of the four ISLA schools received Title I supports. The average demographics for control schools were 50 percent female, 50 percent male, and 1 percent non-binary/transgender/other; 60 percent White, 6 percent Multiracial, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent Black, 1 percent Indigenous, and fewer than 1 percent Pacific Islander; 31percent Latino/a/e/x; 14percent students with disabilities; 10percent English learners; and one of the four control schools received Title I supports.

Intervention: The Inclusive Skill-building Learning Approach (ISLA) is a school-wide alternative to exclusionary discipline that begins with universal prevention grounded in positive proactive classroom strategies for all students and additional supports for students in need. School-wide systems focus on building relationships and graduated and logical responses to student misbehavior to reduce the likelihood that students will be sent out of class. This process provides immediate support to students, is time efficient, and provides effective social skills coaching that targets the development and refinement of positive adaptive behaviors and reinforcement of prosocial skill use. When it is necessary to remove a student from the classroom, the first step is for a support staff member to conduct a functional behavioral assessment to understand the problem and the student's perspective on the situation. The staff member then helps the student identify an appropriate replacement behavior, and more importantly, practices the behavior with the student. The staff member and student then complete a guided Reconnection Conversation Card and rehearse the conversation to prepare the student for reentry back into the classroom. Last, the student is escorted back to class and supported through the Reconnection Conversation with their teacher.

Research Design and Methods: In the development phase, the researchers worked in two middle schools to iteratively develop ISLA systems and practices through a cycle of implementation and feedback from educators and students. In the refinement phase, the researchers refined the ISLA model in two different middle schools through usability, feasibility, social validity, and fidelity testing, along with preliminary assessment of student outcomes and teacher and administrator practices. In the pilot phase, eight new middle schools (four treatment and four control) participated in a pilot test of ISLA's promise using a quasi-experimental design.

Control Condition: In the pilot study, four schools served as a comparison group by continuing to implement their typical school practices.

Key Measures: The researchers used focus group and survey measures to assess ISLA usability and feasibility. To determine the promise of ISLA, they looked at outcome measures at the school level (office discipline referrals, in-school and out-of-school suspensions, and minutes of lost instructional time), the classroom level (teachers' preventative classroom management and relationship building strategies), and the student level (student engagement and disruptive behaviors). The researchers measured fidelity of implementation through self-report and direct observation.

Data Analytic Strategy: During the development and refinement phases, the researchers analyzed feedback from rating scales and focus groups for common themes to inform the iterations to ISLA. During the pilot phase, they used linear mixed-effects models and effect size estimates to examine changes in classroom engagement and disruptive behaviors, and linear models and standardized mean difference effect sizes to examine changes in office discipline referrals and in- and out-of-school suspensions.


ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Project website:

Additional Online Resources and Information:

Nese, R. N. T., Santiago-Rosario, M. R., Nese, J. F. T., Triplett, D., Malose, S., Hamilton, J., Izzard, S., and Newson, A (2023). Instructional and restorative alternatives to exclusionary discipline: A guide to implementing the five components of the Inclusive Skill-building Learning Approach (ISLA). OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Select Publications:

Bastable, E., Fairbanks Falcon, S., Nese, R. N. T., Meng, P., and McIntosh, K. (2021). Enhancing school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports tier 1 core practices to improve disciplinary equity. Preventing School Failure, 65, 283–290.

Furjanic, D., Mannan, I., Hamilton, J., Nese, J. F. T., Austin, S., Izzard, S., and Nese, R. N. T. (2021). Examining the social validity of a universal intervention for reducing exclusionary discipline through stakeholder voice. Journal of Applied School Psychology. Advance online publication.

Green, A. L., Hatton, H., Stegenga, S. M., Eliason, B., and Nese, R. (2020). Examining commitment to prevention, equity, and meaningful engagement: A review of school district discipline policies. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 23, 137–148.

McDaniel, S., LaSalle, T., Cohen, D. and Nese, R. N. T. (2021). Not separate but not equal: Improving equity in discipline in racially and ethnically diverse school settings. Beyond Behavior, 30, 157–168.

Nese, R. N. T., Bastable, E., Gion, C., Massar, M., Nese, J. F. T., and McCroskey, C. (2020). Preliminary analysis of an instructional alternative to exclusionary discipline. The Journal of At-Risk Issues, 23, 1–14.

Nese, R. N. T., McDaniel, S., Meng, P., Spraggins, L., Babbs, V., and Girvan, E. J. (2021). Restorative and conflict resolution interventions. In T. Collins and R. Hawkins (Eds.), Peers as change agents: A guide to implementing peer-mediated interventions in schools. (pp. 185–195). Oxford University Press.

Nese, R. N. T., McDaniel, S., Hirsch, S., Green, A., Sprague, J., and McIntosh, K. (2019). Major systems for facilitating safety and pro-social behavior: Positive school wide behavior. In D. Osher, M. J. Mayer, R. J. Jagers, K. Kendziora, and L. Woods (Eds.), Keeping students safe and helping them thrive. A collaborative handbook on school safety, mental health, and wellness, vol 2 (pp. 256–276). Praeger Publishing.

Nese, R. N. T., Nese, J. F. T., McCroskey, C., Meng, P., Triplett, D., and Bastable, E. (2021). Moving away from disproportionate exclusionary discipline: Developing and utilizing a continuum of preventative and instructional supports. Preventing School Failure, 65, 301–311.

Nese, R. N. T., Santiago-Rosario, M. R., Malose, S., Hamilton, J., Nese, J. F. T., and Horner, R. (2022). Improving a universal intervention for reducing exclusionary discipline practices using student and teacher guidance. Psychology in the Schools, 59, 2042–2061.

Pimentel-Mannan, I. A., Nese, J. F. T., Newson, A., Kjellstrand, J., and Nese, R. N. T. (2023). Addressing discipline equity: The Inclusive Skill-building Learning Approach (ISLA) an alternative to exclusionary discipline. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth.