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Ask A REL Response

November 2018


Is there any research about supporting middle school students with disruptive behavior where the sample was largely African American girls?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on adolescent African American girls behaving in a disruptive manner and related interventions. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed adolescent African American girls behaving in a disruptive manner and related interventions. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

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

Research References

  1. Blake, J. J., Butler, B. R., Lewis, C. W., & Darensbourg, A. (2011). Unmasking the inequitable discipline experiences of urban Black girls: Implications for urban educational stakeholders. Urban Review: Issues and Ideas in Public Education, 43(1), 90-106.
    From the abstract: "There is a large body of research examining the discipline experiences of Black males (Lewis et al. in "Souls: A Critical Journey of Black Politics, Culture, and Society," 2009; Skiba et al. in "The Urban Review," 34, 317-348, 2002); however, less is known about the types of behavioral infractions Black female students exhibit and the discipline sanctions imposed for Black girls for such infractions. As a result, the purpose of this study is to examine the type of discipline infractions exhibited by Black female students enrolled in an urban school district and to explore whether the pattern of discipline infractions and sanctions imposed for Black girls disproportionately differs from all female students, but more specifically White and Hispanic females. REL Southeast Adolescent African American Girls-2 Results suggest that Black girls are overrepresented in exclusionary discipline practices and Black girls reason for discipline referrals differs significantly from White and Hispanic girls. Based on these findings, recommendations are provided for urban educational stakeholders."
  2. Griffin, C. B. (2018). Exploring associations among African American youths' perceptions of racial fairness and school engagement: Does gender matter? Journal of Applied School Psychology, 34(4), 338-359.
    From the abstract: "In addition to experiencing race as a unique social milieu within school, gender may also provide an important context for African American students. The authors explored gender differences in associations between African American youths' perceptions of racial fairness and school engagement (behavioral, emotional, and cognitive). One hundred thirty-nine (72 girls, 67 boys) African American high schoolers were recruited from the southeastern region of the United States. Gender differences were found for neither perceptions of racial fairness nor emotional and cognitive engagement. Girls reported higher behavior engagement relative to boys. Also, racial fairness was positively associated with emotional engagement among girls. For boys, racial fairness related positively to the three engagement dimensions. Implications and resources relevant for school psychology practice are discussed."
  3. Harper, E., Kruger, A. C., Hamilton, C., Meyers, J., Truscott, S. D., & Varjas, K. (2016). Practitioners' perceptions of culturally responsive school-based mental health services for low-income African American girls. School Psychology Forum, 10(1), 16-28.
    From the abstract: "School-based mental health practitioners are positioned to address low-income urban African American girls' mental health needs through culturally responsive services. Despite the importance of culturally reflective practice, it is understudied. We asked school-based mental health practitioners (N = 7) to reflect on barriers and facilitators to culturally responsive services and on their perceptions of the African American girls they serve. In-depth interview data were analyzed using an inductive-deductive model. Major themes were discerned using pattern analysis. Participants described exposure to violence, limited trusting relationships, depression, and low self-esteem as girls' main problems but saw girls as resilient despite limited access to mental health supports. Perceived barriers to mental health service provision included limited resources and higher prioritization of academic achievement. Although participants reported limited diversity training, they reported using culturally responsive strategies. Participants indicated a need for more collaboration and training to meet girls' needs. We discuss implications for practitioners."
  4. Jones, J. M., Lee, L. H., Matlack, A., & Zigarelli, J. (2018). Using sisterhood networks to cultivate ethnic identity and enhance school engagement. Psychology in the schools, 55(1), 20-35.
    From the abstract: "School engagement has been found to be a statistically significant predictor of academic success. Education researchers are particularly interested in REL Southeast Adolescent African American Girls-3 exploring the factors that influence the ways in which students are engaged in the classroom. As the population of students in the United States has become increasingly multicultural, it is imperative that current research address the cultural influences that may be related to school engagement. This study explored how ethnic identity development and school engagement are related with a sample of African American girls in middle school. Twelve participants received 6 weeks of a cultural awareness group curriculum (Sisters of Nia) and 6 weeks of an informal girls group in this multiple group intervention study. School engagement, cultural style, and ethnic identity were measured throughout the group intervention. Results indicated that girls that participated in the culturally responsive intervention group demonstrated significantly higher ratings of their ethnic identity. Another result indicated that the Humanism ideology of ethnic identity, which de-emphasizes race in worldviews and behavior, was predicted by group membership. Finally, school engagement was significantly greater for the girls who participated in the culturally responsive intervention group. The implications for culturally responsive methods of intervention in schools are discussed."
  5. Kemp-Graham, K.Y. (2018). #BlackGirlsMatter: A case study examining the intersectionality of race, gender, and school discipline. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 21(3), 21-35.
    From the abstract: "Nationwide, African American girls have the highest suspension rates among all racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, they are the most severely, disproportionately affected by school discipline policies and practices when compared with other girls. This case study was developed for use in education leadership programs to critically analyze school discipline policies and practices that disproportionately affect African American girls."
  6. Kruger, A. C., Zabek, F., Collins, S., Harper, E. A., Hamilton, C., McGee, M. C., Perkins, C., & Meyers, J. (2016). African American girls' descriptions of life in high-risk neighborhoods. School Psychology Forum, 10(1), 29-40.
    From the abstract: "In disadvantaged neighborhoods African American girls are at elevated risk for exposure to violence and sexualization (Miller, 2008; Salazar, Wingood, DiClemente, Lan, & Harrington, 2004). Preventive interventions can promote resilience by supporting capacities such as social decision making and self-understanding (Masten, 2001). We report on an afterschool intervention group in a transitional housing facility for women and children. The participants were fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade African American girls (N = 11). Sessions met for 1.5-2 hours per week over 15 weeks. We recorded the themes that emerged from the participants' conversations during group sessions. The girls in this study described strained relationships, recurring violence, internalized stereotypes, and objectifying sexual activities. When repeated throughout development, such experiences may normalize aggression and objectification and reduce agency and future orientation. Learning from first-hand accounts of girls living in stressed urban environments is crucial to creating future interventions specific to their needs."
  7. Martin, J., & Smith, J. (2017). Subjective discipline and the social control of Black girls in pipeline schools. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 31, 63-72.
    From the abstract: "Using an intersectional feminist critical race lens, we utilized the Education Longitudinal Study (2002) data comparing tenth grade African American girls to White girls, analyzing whether the student was ever held back, teacher reports of problem behaviors in classrooms, and whether the student did not graduate from high school in the four years following her tenth-grade year, to determine if subjective discipline and social control of Black girls leads to eventual school dropout. Essentially, we asked, are African American girls who are retained and/or subjected to other more informal push-out policies more apt to leave school on their own? The findings confirmed, first, that African American girls were at much higher risk of both grade retention and informal reports of discipline problems from teachers, even after controlling for family factors, school quality, and teacher quality. We then confirmed that while family, school, and teacher quality factors did not explain away the much higher dropout rate of African American girls, the differences in history of grade retention and teacher discipline completed equated the two groups. These findings provide support for the "push-out" explanation put forward in the literature."
  8. Morris, E. W., & Perry, B. L. (2017). Girls behaving badly? Race, gender, and subjective evaluation in the discipline of African American girls. Sociology of Education, 90(2), 127-148.
    From the abstract: "School disciplinary processes are an important mechanism of inequality in education. Most prior research in this area focuses on the significantly higher rates of punishment among African American boys, but in this article, we turn our attention to the discipline of African American girls. Using advanced multilevel models and a longitudinal data set of detailed school discipline records, we analyze interactions between race and gender on office referrals. The results show troubling and significant disparities in the punishment of African American girls. Controlling for background variables, black girls are three times more likely than white girls to receive an office referral; this difference is substantially wider than the gap between black boys and whitem boys. Moreover, black girls receive disproportionate referrals for infractions such as disruptive behavior, dress code violations, disobedience, and aggressive behavior. We argue that these infractions are subjective and influenced by gendered interpretations. Using the framework of intersectionality, we propose that school discipline penalizes African American girls for behaviors perceived to transgress normative standards of femininity."
  9. Pearson, M. M. (2008). Voices of hope. Education and Urban Society 4(1), 80-103.
    From the abstract: "Using the self-efficacy literature as a theoretical framework, this article discusses the reality of academic achievement and academic performance among selected African American middle school girls. Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches are used to investigate the influence of self-efficacy. Thirty-seven African American middle school girls filled out an adversity questionnaire and also responded to the Children's Self-efficacy Survey. Based on the results, 10 girls were selected for indepth interviews. Responses to interview questions reveal how these girls' self-efficacy helped them not only cope with obstacles in their lives but also excel academically. These responses provide important insights for educators who want to help this population of students continue to succeed. (Contains 4 tables and 1 figure.)"


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

  • African American girls, middle school
  • African American girls, behavior problems, interventions

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 PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. 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.