Skip Navigation

REL Central Ask A REL Response

Discipline, Beating the Odds

September 2019


What impact does suspension have on student outcomes?


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

Ahn, S., & Simpson, R. (2013). Relationships between risk factors, perceptions of school membership and academic and behavioral engagement of students who attend an alternative school for behavioral and emotional challenge. Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship, 2(1), 1–15. Retrieved from

From the website:

“The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationships between the perceptions of school membership, risk factors, and behavioral and academic engagement among a sample of alternative school students. The study subjects were 48 7th–9th graders who were at high risk for school failure because of their serious and chronic behavioral and academic problems. All subjects had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

A 25 item school membership questionnaire adapted from existing school membership surveys was used to assess students’ perceived school membership. The study participants reported a moderately positive school membership score. The findings indicated that commonly known risk factors, such as being a male, minority, low [socioeconomic status], no participation in extracurricular activities, and a history of involvement with the juvenile justice system did not negatively affect study participants’ perceptions of school membership. The relationships between students’ school outcomes and the risk variables were also analyzed. The findings indicated that the above-mentioned risk variables did not result in significantly negative effects on school outcomes (GPA, number of missed school days, hours spent for in-school suspension, and days spent for out-of-school suspension). Instead, academic and behavioral school outcome variables were found to be closely related with each other, and also with some demographic factors, including race/ethnicity and grade levels. Implications for planning academic and behavioral interventions for students with emotional and behavioral challenges are discussed.”

Baker-Smith, E. C. (2015, March). Schools or students? Identifying high school effects on student suspensions. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness spring conference, Washington, D.C. Abstract retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Evidence is clear that discipline in high school is associated with negative outcomes across the life course. Not only are suspensions related to declining academic trajectories during high school in the form of attendance and academic achievement, students suspended once are also more likely to be suspended again and also substantially increase the likelihood of dropping out of high school (Balfanz, Byrnes, & Fox, 2013; Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, & Rock, 1987; Losen & Martinez, 2013; Marchbanks III et al., 2013; Morrison et al., 2001). Through their influence on high-school success and the related increased potential for involvement with the criminal justice system, many scholars identify suspensions as the beginning of a life-course trajectory of deviance and negative outcomes (Balfanz, Spiridakis, Neild, & Legters, 2003; Belfield & Levin, 2007; Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009; Skiba et al., 2003). Additionally, adolescents as an age group in particular are sensitive to structural changes and environmental influences making such negative institutional experiences particularly salient during the high school years (Furstenberg, 2000; Harter, 1990; Mortimer, Oesterle, & Kruger, 2005; Roeser, Eccles, & Freedman-Doan, 1999; Seidman & French, 2004). The evidence highlighting negative impacts of suspension leaves little room for debate, however, with only a few studies explicitly examining the specific influence of schools on student discipline independent of student behavior itself, this problem presents the following questions: (1) Do students with greater behavioral problems drive greater use of discipline; or (2) does greater use of discipline simply belie larger institutional problems? Capitalizing on a recent, large urban administrative dataset, this analysis uses both analytic methods rarely used in the study of school discipline and exploits extensive information about schools and students to provide a deeper understanding of these more appropriately estimated school effects on student suspensions.”

Balfanz, R., Byrnes, V., & Fox, J. (2014). Sent home and put off-track: The antecedents, disproportionalities, and consequences of being suspended in the ninth grade. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 5(2), 1–19. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This study is based upon a longitudinal analysis of data for a cohort of 181,897 Florida state students who were first time 9th graders in the 2000–01 school year and follows them trough to high school and post-secondary outcomes. Analysis of 9th grade suspension data finds that black students, students who are economically disadvantaged, and special education students are three demographics subgroups that are disproportionately suspended, both in the frequency of suspensions and the duration in number of school days lost. While poverty and ethnicity are themselves highly correlated, poverty alone does not explain the disproportionate suspension rates amongst black students. Further analyses show that out-of-school suspensions in the 9th grade year are also significantly and negatively correlated to later high school graduation as well as post-secondary enrollment and persistence. Thus demographic disparities in disciplinary incidents serve to further widen any academic achievement gaps. Closer analysis though shows though that disciplinary incidents are interrelated with other of indicators of student disengagement from school, such as course failures and absenteeism. Therefore, policies seeking to address these issues cannot focus on reducing suspensions alone, but must also address student attendance and course passing in a comprehensive and systematic manner.”

Burke, A. (2015). Suspension, expulsion, and achievement of English learner students in six Oregon districts (REL 2015-094). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. Retrieved from

From the IES description:

“States and districts are increasingly concerned about how exclusionary discipline (i.e., suspensions and expulsions) and lost instructional time impacts student outcomes. Also, there is concern about whether there are disparities in exclusionary discipline rates between students from different subgroups and their peers. This study examines data from six Oregon school districts to discern patterns of exclusionary discipline and the association of exclusionary discipline with achievement on state assessments in reading and mathematics for English language learner (ELL) students, who are a large, growing, and challenging population in Oregon schools. The districts will use the results to develop specific plans for making their disciplinary practices both fair and effective.”

Christani, E., Revetti, L., Young, A., & Larwin, K. H. (2015). Effects of school absences on GPAs for disabled students. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 4(4), 165–169. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Chronic absences, suspensions, and expulsions can all be detrimental to students’ GPAs. Students with disabilities have a disadvantage with learning and require additional services making it crucial that they are present in school. There are various reasons why students miss school and the study examined a few specific research questions. The current investigation examined students’ current GPA scores in the core content areas compared to the number of days absent from school, the frequency of health related school absences, and the number of days spent out of school due to suspensions and expulsions, using data from a national data set. This investigation examines whether or not attendance is related to students’ academic success, when specifically considering students with identified disabilities.”

Fabelo, T., Thompson, M. D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks, M. P., III, & Booth, E. A. (2011). Breaking schools’ rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students’ success and juvenile justice involvement. New York, NY: Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute presents the results of a study examining the effects of school discipline on students’ success and their involvement with the juvenile justice system. Key findings from the study include the following: 1) nearly 6 in 10 public school students in the study were suspended or expelled at least once between their 7th and 8th grade school years; 2) African-American students and those with educational disabilities were disproportionately more likely to be removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons; 3) students who were suspended and/or expelled, especially those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grad or to drop out of school compared to students not involved in the disciplinary system; 4) students expelled or suspended had a significantly higher likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system compared to other students; and 5) suspension and expulsion rates among schools varied significantly. Using school and juvenile justice system records from Texas, this study examined the effect of school disciplinary policies and procedures on student outcomes including their involvement with the juvenile justice system. Data for the study were obtained from several sources: analysis of individual school records and school campus data for all seventh-grade public school students in Texas for the years 2000 through 2002; analysis of each grade’s student records for at least a 6-year period; and information from the State’s juvenile justice database. These findings indicate that disciplinary policies at the school can have a significant effect on outcomes for students involved in the disciplinary process and that these same policies can be changed in order to improve students’ outcomes. Implications for future research are discussed.”

Kirkman, C. J., McNees, H., Stickl, J., Banner, J. H., & Hewitt, K. K. (2016). Crossing the suspension bridge: Navigating the road from school suspension to college success – How some students have overcome the negative implications of school suspension to bridge the road to college. Journal of Organizational and Educational Leadership, 2(1). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Out-of-school suspensions for middle and high school students can have negative, long-lasting consequences. Researchers have documented that suspensions have a negative impact on academic development, increase likelihood of dropping out of school, and are associated with a stronger likelihood that students will be involved in the legal system. However, there are students who overcome these negative statistics and matriculate to post-secondary education successfully. This study examines the lived experiences and personal attributes in students’ lives that enabled them to overcome a history of suspension to enter and succeed in higher education. Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model, the study’s researchers interviewed individuals who have a history of middle and/or high school suspensions and matriculated to higher education. Findings suggest that sense of belonging; family, home,/school support [sic]; and strength of relationships helped participants neutralize the impact and mitigate the negative aspects of suspension.”


Keywords and Strings

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

  • Suspension OR expulsion OR exclusionary discipline
  • Suspension OR expulsion OR exclusionary discipline AND impact
  • Suspension OR expulsion OR exclusionary discipline AND student achievement
  • Suspension OR expulsion OR exclusionary discipline AND student outcomes

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.

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.
  • 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.