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REL Southwest Ask A REL Response

Discipline and School Climate:

Evidence-Based Practices for Reducing the Use of Suspensions

August 2020


What are the evidence-based practices that have been successful to reduce the use of suspensions?


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Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on evidence-based practices aimed at reducing the use of suspensions.

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. 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. References provided are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We do not include sources that are not freely available to the requestor.

Research References

Anyon, Y., Gregory, A., Stone, S., Farrar, J., Jenson, J. M., McQueen, J., et al. (2016). Restorative interventions and school discipline sanctions in a large urban school district. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1663–1697. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A large urban district (N = 90,546 students, n = 180 schools) implemented restorative interventions as a response to school discipline incidents. Findings from multilevel modeling of student discipline records (n = 9,921) revealed that youth from groups that tend to be overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions (e.g., Black, Latino, and Native American youth; boys; and students in special education) had similar, if not greater, rates of participation in restorative interventions than their peers. First-semester participants in restorative interventions had lower odds of receiving office discipline referrals (OR 0.21, p < 0.001) and suspensions (OR 0.07, p < 0.001) in the second semester. However, the suspension gap between Black and White students persisted. Implications for reform in school discipline practices are noted.”

Anyon, Y., Jenson, J. M., Altschul, I., Farrar, J., McQueen, J., Greer, E., et al. (2014). The persistent effect of race and the promise of alternatives to suspension in school discipline outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review, 44(1), 379–386. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Demographic and student discipline data were used to examine the influence of multi-level risk and protective factors on exclusionary school discipline outcomes. Participants included all youth (n = 87,997) in grades K to 12 who were enrolled in Denver Public Schools (n = 183) in 2011–2012. The dataset included measures of risk and protective factors for exclusionary school discipline outcomes such as race, family poverty, special education status, emotional disability, participation in gifted and talented programs, homelessness, office referral reasons over the course of one school year, participation in in-school suspension, a behavior contract, or restorative approaches, and school composition. Multilevel logistic regression modeling was used to estimate students’ likelihood of receiving one or more office disciplinary referrals, suspensions, expulsions, and/or law enforcement referrals. Findings indicate that student racial background and school racial composition are enduring risks across key decision points of the school discipline process. Conversely, participation in restorative interventions and in-school suspensions protects students from out-of-school suspensions. This study suggests that ongoing attention to issues of racial inequity in school discipline outcomes is warranted, and that restorative practices have potential as an inclusive strategy to improve school discipline outcomes without excluding students from the classroom.”
REL Southwest Note: What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Rating stated, “Does not meet WWC standards because it uses a quasi-experimental design in which the analytic intervention and comparison groups do not satisfy the baseline equivalence requirement.”

Childs, K. E., Kincaid, D., George, H. P., & Gage, N. A. (2016). The relationship between school-wide implementation of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports and student discipline outcomes. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 18(2), 89–99. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is a systems approach to supporting the social and emotional needs of all children utilized by more than 21,000 schools across the nation. Data from numerous studies and state projects’ evaluation reports point to the impact of SWPBIS on student outcomes (office discipline referrals [ODRs], in-school suspensions [ISSs], out-of-school suspensions [OSSs]) and the possible relationship between implementation fidelity and those student outcomes. With data from 1,122 Florida schools, this study used a longitudinal design to examine the associations between the total score and 10 subscale scores on the Benchmarks of Quality (BoQ), a validated SWPBIS implementation fidelity measure, and school-level behavioral outcomes: ODRs, ISSs, and OSSs. Results of these analyses found a decreasing trend across all three behavioral outcomes, and schools having higher BoQ total scores realized lower ODRs and had corresponding fewer ISSs and OSSs. Of the 10 subscales, the Classroom was negatively and significantly associated with ODRs and OSSs, whereas the BoQ Data Entry Plan was positively and significantly associated with ODRs at initial status and across time after controlling for school-level characteristics (e.g., size, number of years of implementation). The implications of the findings for SWPBIS assessment and intervention in the classroom are discussed.”

Dupper, D. R., Theriot, M. T., & Craun, S. W. (2009). Reducing out-of-school suspensions: Practice guidelines for school social workers. Children & Schools, 31(1), 6–14. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In many U.S. school districts, there has been a near epidemic of out-of-school suspensions (OSSs) for relatively minor or vaguely defined student offenses. Suspension provides temporary relief to frustrated teachers and administrators and may result in more parental involvement. However, for a large number of at-risk youths, it appears that being suspended leads to significant problems outside of school, increases the likelihood of receiving additional OSSs, and may result in dropping out of school. As a result, school social workers need to be made aware of programs that focus on the elimination of students’ problematic behaviors rather than the elimination of students themselves. This article summarizes recent research on individual and school factors that have been shown to be associated with and predictive of OSSs. On the basis of these findings, the authors present a set of practice guidelines for reducing OSSs and identify and describe promising and proven programs within each practice guideline. They conclude with a discussion of challenges facing school social workers seeking to implement alternatives based on these practice guidelines.”

Freeman, J., Kern, L., Gambino, A. J., Lombardi, A., & Kowitt, J. (2019). Assessing the relationship between the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports framework and student outcomes in high schools. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 22(2), 1–11.

From the ERIC abstract: “The relationship between PBIS implementation fidelity and reductions in student office discipline referrals (ODR) has been relatively well-established in the literature; however, results related to other student outcomes such as suspensions, attendance, and academic performance are not well explored especially at the high school level. The purpose of this study was to examine the relations between PBIS implementation fidelity and student-level behavior (ODR, suspension), attendance (days absent, tardies), and academic (GPA) outcomes in a large sample of 12,127 students from 15 high schools implementing PBIS in a natural context without direct research support. Our findings suggest high schools implementing PBIS with fidelity may see improvements in student outcomes beyond reductions in ODRs. After controlling for student and school demographic variables, schools which were implementing with higher fidelity in this sample had fewer absences, unexcused tardies, ODRs, and suspensions. This study extends the current literature by exploring typical measures of academic achievement (i.e., GPA) rather than focusing upon only standardized assessments and by examining student-level rather than school-level aggregate outcomes. Notably, results from the current study focus entirely on high school settings and demonstrate desired changes in student-level outcomes in a large sample.”

Gregory, A., Allen, J. P., Mikami, A. Y., Hafen, C. A., & Pianta, R. (2014). Eliminating the racial disparity in classroom exclusionary discipline. Journal of Applied Research on Children, 5(2), 1–22.

From the ERIC abstract: “Advocates call for schools with high suspension rates to receive technical assistance in adopting ‘proven-effective’ systematic supports. Such supports include teacher professional development. This call is justified given evidence that good teaching matters. But what types of professional development should be funded? Increasingly, research points to the promise of programs that are sustained, rigorous, and focused on teachers' interactions with students. The current study tests whether a professional development program with these three characteristics helped change teachers’ use of exclusionary discipline practices—especially with their African American students. Exclusionary discipline is when a classroom teacher sends a student to the administrators’ office for perceived misbehavior. Administrators then typically assign a consequence, usually in the form of suspension (in-school or out-of school). The My Teaching Partner-Secondary (MTP-S) aims to improve teachers’ interactions with their students when implementing instruction and managing behavior. MTP-S helps teachers offer clear routines, implement consistent rules, and monitor behavior in a proactive way. The program also supports teachers in developing warm, respectful relationships that recognize students’ needs for autonomy and leadership. Teachers are paired with a coach for an entire school year (sustained approach), they regularly reflect on video recordings of their classroom instruction and carefully observe how they interact with students, and they apply the validated Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS-S) to improve the quality of their interactions (rigorous approach). In the current study, a randomized controlled trial found that teachers receiving MTP-S relied less on exclusionary discipline compared to the control teachers. Specifically, MTP-S teachers issued fewer exclusionary discipline referrals to their African American students. This is the first study to show that programs like MTP-S that focus on teacher-student interactions in a sustained manner using a rigorous approach can actually reduce the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline with African American students. More broadly, the findings offer policymakers direction in identifying types of professional development programs that have promise for reducing the racial discipline gap.”

Gregory, A., Huang, F. L., Anyon, Y., Greer, E., & Downing, B. (2018). An examination of restorative interventions and racial equity in out-of-school suspensions. School Psychology Review, 47(2), 167–182. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Districts have been engaged in efforts to reduce "differential processing" of discipline-referred students based on their racial backgrounds. They strive for fair assignment of exclusionary consequences across racial groups. The current study examines discipline records for one academic year in an urban school district (N = 9,039 discipline-referred students) to identify the factors associated with equitable assignment of out-of-school suspension (OSS). Multilevel logistic regression found that student participation in restorative interventions substantially reduced the odds that individual students received OSS. However, such participation was only marginally associated with more comparable assignment of OSS to Black students relative to their White peers. Together these findings suggest that alternatives to suspension, such as restorative interventions, may yield benefits for all student groups, but they may result in only marginal narrowing of the disparities in suspension rates between Black and White students. This indicates that greater attention is needed to address the inequitable school contexts in which disparities arise.”

Kim, J., McIntosh, K., Mercer, S. H., & Nese, R. N. T. (2018). Longitudinal associations between SWPBIS fidelity of implementation and behavior and academic outcomes. Behavioral Disorders, 43(3), 357–369.

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to examine associations between implementation fidelity of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (SWPBIS) and student outcomes over time. The sample included 477 K-12 schools across 10 states implementing SWPBIS for varying numbers of years and at varying levels of fidelity (but with 78% of schools at or above established fidelity criteria). Results indicate that, in general, schools showed a decline in office discipline referrals (ODRs) and out-of-school suspensions (OSSs) over 3 years. SWPBIS fidelity of implementation was positively associated with initial levels of ODRs and OSSs, and the relations between fidelity and OSSs varied based on years of SWPBIS implementation. Levels of fidelity did not predict change in ODRs or OSSs. Despite no statistically significant associations between fidelity and student academic outcomes, schools that had implemented SWPBIS for 3 years or more had higher achievement in mathematics after controlling for prior achievement.”

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

From the ERIC abstract: “Decades of research have shown that exclusionary discipline practices are not only ineffective for changing student behavior, they lead to worse social, behavioral, and academic outcomes for students. This article explores the findings from a pilot study of the ‘Inclusive Skill-Building Learning Approach’ (ISLA), an instructional alternative to exclusionary discipline practices. The purposes of ISLA are to improve student social and behavioral problem-solving, teacher and administrator practices, and student-teacher relationships while also reducing lost instructional time for student excluded from their learning environment. Results from the pilot indicated that implementation of ISLA was associated with reductions in exclusionary discipline practices (Cohen’s ‘h’ effect sizes ranged from 0.06 to 0.18 across schools and outcomes), and a substantial decrease in instructional minutes lost (~ 92%). Educational staff also reported favorable impressions of the intervention. Practical and conceptual implications, limitations of this study, and directions for future research are further discussed.”

Nese, R. N. T., Nese, J. F. T., McCroskey, C., Meng, P., Triplett, D., & Bastable, E. (2020). Moving away from disproportionate exclusionary discipline: Developing and utilizing a continuum of preventative and instructional supports. Preventing School Failure, Special Issue (1), 1–32. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Ample scientific research has documented that exclusionary discipline practices are both ineffective for reducing unwanted behaviors and harmful to the long-term social and academic outcomes of students. Further, exclusionary discipline practices are especially harmful given their disproportionate use with students of color, students with disabilities, students living in poverty, and students who are struggling academically. To address these issues, the authors describe a process that uses instructional strategies as alternatives to exclusion. These instructional strategies hold promise for reducing the use of disproportionate discipline, improving student behavior and social skills, and strengthening student-teacher relationships.”

Nocera, E. J., Whitbread, K. M., & Nocera, G. P. (2014). Impact of School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports on student behavior in the middle grades. RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education, 37(8), 1–14.

From the ERIC abstract: “Research shows that school-wide positive behavior supports (SWPBS) can be an effective alternative to traditional reactive, punitive approaches to problem behavior. However, few studies examine the use of the approach as part of a comprehensive school improvement process involving academic as well as behavioral goals, particularly with regard to use of data-driven decision making and data teams. This article describes the efforts of a low-performing middle school in establishing preventative measures and interventions within such a framework. Results indicate a reduction in teacher discipline referrals and student suspensions, including those involving students with disabilities and statistically significant improvement on 30 of 47 items of a school climate and student resiliency survey. In addition, school scores on state mastery tests in both reading and math improved by 25% and 11%, respectively. This study suggests that the implementation of a SWPBS framework may result in improved academic and behavioral outcomes for all students.”

Noltemeyer, A., Palmer, K., James, A. G., & Petrasek, M. (2019). Disciplinary and achievement outcomes associated with school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports implementation level. School Psychology Review, 48(1), 81–87.

From the ERIC abstract: “A positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) framework has been associated with a variety of positive student and school outcomes. However, additional research would be useful to further understand the relationship between school-wide (i.e., Tier 1) PBIS implementation level and student outcomes. This study examined whether there were differences in discipline and academic outcomes based on Tier 1 PBIS implementation fidelity level in 153 Ohio schools when accounting for key covariates. Schools with higher implementation fidelity were found to evidence a significantly lower number of out-of-school suspensions per 100 students than schools with lower implementation fidelity when accounting for demographic covariates. However, a significant trend was not evidenced for the academic achievement outcome variable. Limitations and implications of this study are discussed.”

Simonsen, B., Eber, L., Black, A. C., Sugai, G., Lewandowski, H., Sims, B., et al. (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

From the ERIC 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.”

Steinberg, M. P., & Lacoe, J. (2018). Reforming school discipline: School-level policy implementation and the consequences for suspended students and their peers. American Journal of Education, 125(1), 29–77. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “States and districts are revising discipline policies to reduce out-of-school suspensions (OSSs), but the consequences of these reforms are largely unknown. We examine a reform in Philadelphia that prohibited OSS for classroom disorder infractions. Employing a difference-in-differences approach, we examine the relationship between the reform and student suspensions, achievement, and attendance. For students suspended before the reform, classroom disorder OSS decreased and attendance (but not academic achievement) improved following the reform. Postreform changes in peer outcomes varied with school-level implementation: in schools that eliminated classroom disorder OSS, peer math achievement and attendance were unaffected, whereas peer math achievement declined and attendance decreased in schools that did not fully implement the district-level reform.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports –

From the website: “Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), the Technical Assistance Center on PBIS supports schools, districts, and states to build systems capacity for implementing a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional and behavior support. The broad purpose of PBIS is to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schools and other agencies. PBIS improves social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups.”
REL Southwest Note: PBIS resources relevant to this topic are listed below. They can be downloaded directly from each hyperlink provided.
What Are the Economic Costs of Implementing SWPBIS in Comparison to the Benefits From Reducing Suspensions?
Do Out-of-School Suspensions Prevent Future Exclusionary Discipline?
A 5-Point Intervention Approach for Enhancing Equity in School Discipline:
Implementing the Pyramid Model to Address Inequities in Early Childhood Discipline:

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) –

From the website: “The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL). CASEL supports educators and policy leaders and enhances the experiences and outcomes for all PreK-12 students.”
REL Southwest Note: CASEL provides a guide for prekindergarten and elementary evidence-based discipline programs to consult:
CASEL provides a guide for middle and high school effective emotional learning programs to consult:

Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center –

From the website: “We combine the power of a membership association, serving state officials in all three branches of government, with the expertise of a policy and research team focused on assisting others to attain measurable results.
We synthesize and contextualize data to help policymakers enact and implement major reforms that address criminal justice challenges, many of which intersect with other systems, such as health, education, and housing.
Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) is a program that works with state and local jurisdictions to align their policies, practices, and resource allocation with what research shows works to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for youth while enhancing public safety.”
REL Southwest Note: Information about the IOYouth program is available here:

International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) –

From the website: This Restorative Practices in Schools K–12 page ( provides links to the following resources: Research and Evaluations, Reports and Recommendations, Guides for Implementation, School Conduct, Integrating Related Evidence-Based Strategies, Professional Journals, Articles and Videos, and Supporting Evidence.

National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) –

“NCII is housed at the American Institutes for Research, and works in conjunction with many of our nation’s most distinguished data-based individualization (DBI) experts. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and is part of OSEP’s Technical Assistance and Dissemination Network (TA&D).
The Mission of the NCII is to build capacity of state and local education agencies, universities, practitioners, and other stakeholders to support implementation of intensive intervention in reading, mathematics, and behavior for students with severe and persistent learning and/or behavioral needs.”
REL Southwest note: The NCII website includes a course on behavior support for intensive intervention and a set of behavior strategies for intensifying behavior interventions.
Intensive Intervention Course: Behavior Support for Intensive Intervention (
From the website: “The course includes eight modules that can support faculty and professional development providers with instructing pre-service and in-service educators’ knowledge of behavioral theory and skills in designing and delivering effective behavioral supports for students with intensive needs.”
From the website: “NCII developed a series of behavioral strategies to support teachers working with students with primary academic deficits and challenging behaviors. Each strategy incorporates key terminology, an overview of the purpose, and all associated materials.”

National Clearinghouse on Supportive Discipline (NCSSD) –

From the website: “With funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and Open Society Foundations, the American Institutes for Research® (AIR) founded the National Clearinghouse on Supportive School Discipline (NCSSD) to provide educational practitioners with the resources needed to facilitate:
  • The reduction of harsh and exclusionary discipline practices to stem the pipeline to prison
  • The implementation of supportive school discipline practices”
REL Southwest Note: NCSSD resources on the topic of discipline disparities can be accessed at


Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • “Alternative discipline”
  • “Alternatives to exclusionary discipline”
  • “Disproportionality in school discipline”
  • [(“School suspension rates”) AND (“gender” OR “race”)]
  • “Preventing school suspensions”
  • “Restorative discipline practices”
  • “School discipline alternatives”
  • “Positive alternatives to suspensions”
  • “Reducing out of school suspensions (OSS)”
  • “Response to Intervention and school discipline outcomes”
  • “Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline (CMCD)”
  • “Reconnecting Youth (RY)”
  • “Safe and Responsive Schools”
  • “My Teaching Partner”
  • “Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum”

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant, peer-reviewed research references. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.7 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched the What Works Clearinghouse.

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 from 2005 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: The 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, and so forth, generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, and so forth), study duration, and so forth; and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in the Southwest Region (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest at AIR. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-91990018C0002, administered by AIR. 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.