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Taking a Closer Look at Exclusionary Discipline in Oregon Schools After Policy Reform Implementation

By Vicki Nishioka | January 12, 2021

Vicki Nishioka
Vicki Nishioka is a senior research advisor at Education Northwest with extensive experience in evaluation and technical assistance focusing on equity, school climate, discipline, and social and emotional learning in preK—12.

A recent REL Northwest study found that state policy reforms in 2013 and 2015 were associated with reductions in suspensions and expulsions, known as exclusionary discipline, in Oregon schools for grades K–12. However, these associations differed by grade band (K–5, 6–8, and 9–12), type of exclusionary discipline, and behavioral infraction–and the reductions were often short term. Policymakers have made reducing exclusionary discipline a state priority because of its association with many poor outcomes for students, including higher risk of chronic absence, course failure, delinquency, and substance abuse, as well as a lower likelihood of feeling a sense of belonging at school.1 2 3 4

What do these findings mean for schools, and how can REL Northwest support regional stakeholders who want to achieve long-term reductions in exclusionary discipline?

Here are three main takeaways for state and local education agencies:

Keep Data in Front of Schools

School administrators and educators need information about exclusionary discipline to address it. As such, they need to have up-to-date data about related trends at the building, district, and state level. To help schools develop a more complete picture of exclusionary discipline and tailor solutions to their specific context, administrators should examine available data by type of exclusionary discipline practice (out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions, and expulsions) and type of behavioral infraction that caused the disciplinary action (especially minor infractions, disruptive behaviors, and aggression infractions that do not pose a direct threat to others' safety). In addition, disaggregating exclusionary discipline data by student group–such as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and eligibility for special education or English learner services–can help schools better identify students who are experiencing disproportionately high rates of exclusion in specific grade bands and for specific behavioral infraction categories.

Look at Root Causes

Over the study period, REL Northwest researchers found that most out-of-school suspensions in Oregon schools occurred for minor or disruptive behavioral infractions that did not threaten others' safety. This finding underscores the importance of giving support to schools to prevent minor and disruptive behavioral infractions. It also suggests the need to help schools assign discipline that addresses the reason for minor infractions while keeping students in classroom instruction. Some discipline incidents may stem from a cultural misunderstanding between a teacher and a student, problems with peers, or stressors outside of school–which require different responses than discipline incidents involving unsafe behavior. Fully understanding the root causes of actions that tend to lead to exclusionary discipline can help educators change their practices.

Consider Alternative Discipline Approaches and Practices

Removing students from school through exclusionary discipline prevents them from learning social and emotional skills that are associated with reducing the occurrence of minor infractions and disruptive behaviors.6 As such, schools may want to consider implementing alternative discipline approaches and practices. For example, schools can provide more individualized responses to discipline incidents and use restorative practices instead. Restorative practices focus on discipline that nurtures healthy relationships and encourages students (and adults) to take responsibility for their behavioral choices, as well as address the harm caused by their behavioral choices.6 For example, a student who damages a peer's backpack during an argument may apologize and replace the damaged backpack to repair the harm. The students would also engage in problem-solving to identify how to prevent similar arguments in the future.

REL Northwest staff members are dedicated to partnering with stakeholders in the region and across the nation to examine the causes and effects of exclusionary discipline.

Specifically, REL Northwest and the REL program overall can help stakeholders use data and evidence to learn about their progress and successes and to highlight areas that need more attention. The RELs can also present research about solutions and produce studies that help stakeholders use data to improve their policies and practices. This work can make a seemingly overwhelming issue, such as exclusionary discipline, more manageable. Ultimately, REL researchers can help practitioners develop high-leverage practices that make a difference for students–and in this case, reduce suspensions and expulsions in Oregon schools.

Related Resources

1 Mitchell, M. M., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2013). Examining classroom influences on student perceptions of school climate: The role of classroom management and exclusionary discipline strategies. Journal of School Psychology, 51(5), 599-610.
2 Noltemeyer, A. L., Ward, R. M., & Mcloughlin, C. (2015). Relationship between school suspension and student outcomes: A meta-analysis. School Psychology Review, 44(2), 224-240.
3 Fabelo, T., Thompson, M. D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks III, M. P., & Booth, E. A. (2011). Breaking schools' rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students' success and juvenile justice involvement. Council of State Governments, Justice Center.
4 Hinze-Pifer, R., & Sartain, L. (2018). Rethinking universal suspension for severe student behavior. Peabody Journal of Education, 93(2), 228-243.
5 Durlak, J., Weissberg, R., Dyminicki, A., Taylor, R., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405-432.
6 Gregory, A., & Evans, K. R. (2020). The starts and stumbles of restorative justice in education: Where do we go from here? Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved on December 28, 2020 from