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REL Central Ask A REL Response

Discipline, Beating the Odds

June 2019


What are best practices for reducing out of school suspension?


Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. Also, we compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Augustine, C. H., Engberg, J., Grimm, G. E., Lee, E., Wang, E. L., Christianson, K., & Joseph, A. A. (2018). Can restorative practices improve school climate and curb suspensions? An evaluation of the impact of restorative practices in a mid-sized urban school district. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

From the website:

“Across the country, school districts, their stakeholders, and policymakers have become increasingly concerned about suspensions, particularly about suspending students from elementary school and disproportionately suspending ethnic/racial minority students. Suspended students are less likely to graduate, possibly because they miss the instructional time they need to advance academically. Restorative practices have gained buy-in in the education community as a strategy to reduce suspension rates. Proactively improving relationships among students and staff and building a sense of community in classrooms and schools may make students less inclined to misbehave. And addressing severe misbehavior through a restorative approach may help students realize the impacts of their actions and make them less likely to offend again.

This study of the implementation of restorative practices in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district (PPS) in school years 2015–16 and 2016–17 represents one of the first randomized controlled trials of the effects of restorative practices on classroom and school climates and suspension rates. The authors examined a specific restorative practices program–the International Institute for Restorative Practices’ SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change program–implemented in a selected group of PPS schools under a program called Pursuing Equitable and Restorative Communities, or PERC. The researchers found that PERC achieved several positive effects, including an improvement in overall school climates (as rated by teachers), a reduction in overall suspension rates, and a reduction in the disparities in suspension rates between African American and white students and between low- and higher-income students.”

Bradshaw, C. P., Waasdorp, T. E., & Leaf, P. J. (2012). Effects of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports on child behavior problems. Pediatrics, 130(5), e1136–e1145. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

OBJECTIVE: School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is a universal prevention strategy currently implemented in >16‚ÄČ000 schools across the United States. SWPBIS intends to reduce students’ behavior problems by altering staff behaviors and developing systems and supports to meet children’s behavioral needs. The current study reports intervention effects on child behaviors and adjustment from an effectiveness trial of SWPBIS.
METHODS: The sample of 12,344 elementary school children was 52.9% male, 45.1% African American, and 46.1% Caucasian. Approximately 49% received free or reduced-priced meals, and 12.9% received special education services at baseline. The trial used a group randomized controlled effectiveness design implemented in 37 elementary schools. Multilevel analyses were conducted on teachers’ ratings of children’s behavior problems, concentration problems, social-emotional functioning, prosocial behavior, office discipline referrals, and suspensions at 5 time points over the course of 4 school years.
RESULTS: The multilevel results indicated significant effects of SWPBIS on children’s behavior problems, concentration problems, social-emotional functioning, and prosocial behavior. Children in SWPBIS schools also were 33% less likely to receive an office discipline referral than those in the comparison schools. The effects tended to be strongest among children who were first exposed to SWPBIS in kindergarten.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide support for the hypothesized reduction in behavior problems and improvements in prosocial behavior and effective emotion regulation after training in SWPBIS. The SWPBIS framework appears to be a promising approach for reducing problems and promoting adjustment among elementary school children.”

Chin, J. K., Dowdy, E., Jimerson, S. R., & Rime, W. J. (2012). Alternatives to suspensions: Rationale and recommendations. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 156–173. Retrieved from
Full text available at

From the abstract:

“Suspensions are often used as an individual disciplinary consequence in attempts to reduce problem behaviors in the future. However, suspensions have shown to be less effective for students with specific behavioral challenges and problems. When examining suspensions in the context of behaviorist and social-ecological learning theories, suspending may be inappropriate and ineffective to promote learning or behavioral compliance, specifically for students with behavioral skill deficits. A literature review of effective prevention methods (e.g., positive behavior supports) informs a potential paradigm shift in how student misbehavior may be effectively addressed. A proposed model for alternatives to suspensions is presented, with special attention to implications and guidelines for practitioners. Additionally, a pilot initiative implementing alternatives to suspensions is discussed, and a case study serves as an example for recommendations in replacing punitive discipline practices with proactive, learning opportunities.”

Chitiyo, M., May, M. E., & Chitiyo, G. (2012). An assessment of evidence-base for school-wide positive behavior support. Education and Treatment of Children, 35(1), 1–24. Retrieved from
Full text available at

From the abstract:

“The use of SWPBS [school-wide positive behavior support] has increased quite rapidly across schools. This is happening against a backdrop of enthusiasm among policymakers, researchers and practitioners about the use of evidence-based practices in school settings. As SWPBS continues to attract the interest of school personnel it is necessary to look at this approach and examine its evidence base. This study was an attempt to extend previous work to that effect. Like previous efforts, this study demonstrated that although SWPBS has become quite popular, the evidence base may still be classified as promising. Research on SWPBS has to address many methodological limitations to strengthen its evidence base.”

McIntosh, K., Campbell, A. L., Carter, D. R., & Dickey, C. R. (2009). Differential effects of a tier two behavior intervention based on function of problem behavior. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11(2), 82–93. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of a tier two daily behavior card intervention and differential effects based on function of problem behavior. The participants were 36 elementary school students nominated for additional intervention beyond universal School-Wide Positive Behavior Support. Measures included standardized behavior rating scales and rate of office discipline referrals before and after 8 weeks of intervention. A multivariate analysis of variance was used, and results showed statistically significant differences in response to intervention based on teacher identified function of problem behavior. Results are discussed in terms of considering function of behavior in selecting tier two interventions and implementing a three-tier response to intervention model.”

Okonofua, J. A., Paunesku, D., & Walton, G. M. (2016). Brief intervention to encourage empathic discipline cuts suspension rates in half among adolescents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(19), 5221–5226. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Growing suspension rates predict major negative life outcomes, including adult incarceration and unemployment. Experiment 1 tested whether teachers (n = 39) could be encouraged to adopt an empathic rather than punitive mindset about discipline–to value students’ perspectives and sustain positive relationships while encouraging better behavior. Experiment 2 tested whether an empathic response to misbehavior would sustain students’ (n = 302) respect for teachers and motivation to behave well in class. These hypotheses were confirmed. Finally, a randomized field experiment tested a brief, online intervention to encourage teachers to adopt an empathic mindset about discipline. Evaluated at five middle schools in three districts (Nteachers = 31; Nstudents = 1,682), this intervention halved year-long student suspension rates from 9.6% to 4.8%. It also bolstered respect the most at-risk students, previously suspended students, perceived from teachers. Teachers’ mindsets about discipline directly affect the quality of teacher–student relationships and student suspensions and, moreover, can be changed through scalable intervention.”

Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., & Stormont, M. (2013). Classroom-level positive behavior supports in schools implementing SW-PBIS: Identifying areas for enhancement. Journal of Positive Behavior Intervention, 15(1), 39–50. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study evaluated the use of classroom-level behavior management strategies that align with School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS). Direct observations of universal classroom management strategies were conducted across 33 elementary classrooms in elementary schools implementing SW-PBIS with high fidelity. Findings indicate that classrooms had posted positively stated classroom rules at high rates, whereas teacher use of specific praise and the ratio of positive to negative interactions were less than optimal. Furthermore, classroom teachers with higher rates of general praise were found to report being more efficacious with regard to classroom management. In turn, teachers in classrooms with higher rates of disruptive behavior reported feeling less efficacious. In addition, teachers with lower rates of positive to negative interaction, who used higher rates of harsh reprimands and had higher rates of disruptions, reported higher levels of emotional exhaustion. Implications for developing supports to assist teachers struggling with universal classroom management strategies are described.”

Reinke, W. M., Stormont, M., Herman, K. C., Wang, Z., Newcomer, L., & King, K. (2014). Use of coaching and behavior support planning for students with disruptive behavior within a universal classroom management program. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 22(2), 74–82. Retrieved from
Full text available at

From the abstract:

“Even with the use of effective universal classroom management practices, some students will need additional behavioral supports. However, to translate implementation of new strategies into the classroom, professional development programs need to be adaptive to the complexities teachers face in providing instruction and managing classroom behaviors among diverse learners. Teachers also need support to successfully implement universal practices as well as to develop and enact plans for supporting students with disruptive behavior. This article describes a universal classroom management program that embeds coaching within the model. The coach supported teachers both in implementing universal strategies and in developing and implementing behavior support plans for students with disruptive behavior. The study evaluates the effectiveness of the behavior support plans and the types of coaching activities used to support these plans. Findings indicated that during meetings with teachers, coaches spent time action planning and providing performance feedback to teachers on their implementation of the behavior support plans. In addition, teachers reduced their rate of reprimands with the targeted at-risk students. Students receiving behavioral supports demonstrated decreased rates of disruptive behavior, increased prosocial behavior, and a trend toward improved on-task behavior. In comparison, a matched sample of students with disruptive behaviors did not demonstrate improved outcomes. Implications for practice are discussed.”

Simonsen, B., Eber, L., Black, A. C., Sugai, G., Lewandowski, H., Sims, B., & Myers, D. (2012). Illinois statewide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Evolution and impact on student outcomes across years. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 14(1), 5–16. Retrieved from
Full text available at

From the abstract:

“More than 1,000 Illinois schools are implementing schoolwide positive behavior support (SWPBS) to enhance outcomes for students and staff. Consequently, Illinois established layered support structures to facilitate scaling up SWPBS. This paper describes the development of this infrastructure and presents the results of HLM analyses exploring the effects of implementing SWPBS, with and without fidelity across time, on student behavior and academic outcomes (office discipline referrals, suspensions, and state-wide test scores in reading and math) for a sample of 428 Illinois schools implementing SWPBS. Results indicate that (a) most schools implemented with fidelity and maintained or improved student performance across time and (b) implementation fidelity was associated with improved social outcomes and academic outcomes in math. Study limitations and implications are discussed.”

Spencer, J. P. (2015). Effect of positive behavioral interventions and supports on school wide discipline in a Title I intermediate school. The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education, 5(4), 18–27. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) has become a priority to school districts and departments of education due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, which requires the development and implementation of behavior intervention plans. At a Title I school in South Carolina, a PBIS was implemented after students were increasingly being removed from the classroom due to disruptive behavior. This quantitative program evaluation examined the effect of PBIS on office referrals. The theoretical framework associated with PBIS involves transformational theory, which includes actions that empower, inspire, and encourage others to show their potential. The research question explored the effect of PBIS on reducing the number of students sent to the office with a referral by teachers, and the quasi-experimental design was pretest-posttest with no control group. A paired t test was used to examine differences in the number of students sent to the office before and after PBIS implementation, and the sample size studied was 412 students. After PBIS implementation, there were significant decreases in the number of office referrals for each offense category. This study also provides teachers with information to help students exhibit desirable behaviors and decrease disruptive ones.”

Winkler, J. L., Walsh, M. E., de Blois, M., Maré, J., & Carvajal, S. C. (2017). Kind discipline: Developing a conceptual model of a promising school discipline approach. Evaluation and Program Planning, 62, 15–24. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This formative evaluation develops a novel conceptual model for a discipline approach fostering intrinsic motivation and positive relationships in schools. We used concept mapping to elicit and integrate perspectives on kind discipline from teachers, administrators, and other school staff. Three core themes describing kind discipline emerged from 11 identified clusters: (1) proactively developing a positive school climate, (2) responding to conflict with empathy, accountability, and skill, and (3) supporting staff skills in understanding and sharing expectations. We mapped the identified components of kind discipline onto a social ecological model and found that kind discipline encompasses all levels of that model including the individual, relational, environmental/structural, and even community levels. This contrasts with the dominant individual-behavioral discipline approaches that focus on fewer levels and may not lead to sustained student and staff motivation. The findings illustrate the importance of setting and communicating clear expectations and the need for them to be collaboratively developed. Products of the analysis and synthesis reported here are operationalized materials for teachers grounded in a ‘be kind’ culture code for classrooms.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Disruptive behavior reduction
  • “Positive behavioral interventions”
  • “School discipline”
  • School suspension reduction

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published between 2009 and 2019 were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.