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Analyzing student-level disciplinary data: A guide for districts

by Anthony Petrosino, Trevor Fronius, Cailean Goold, Daniel Losen and Herbert Turner

Discipline in schools can be categorized as exclusionary actions, which remove students from their normal learning setting (for example, out-of-school suspension), or inclusionary actions, which do not (for example, afterschool detention). The relationship of exclusionary discipline to negative outcomes for students, particularly racial/ethnic minority students and students with disabilities, has raised questions among policymakers, parents, and other stakeholders about equity in school punishment and whether alternatives may be employed in response to student offenses. Every public school and district is required to report disciplinary data at the aggregate level to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (2014) recommends that districts examine those data and review their disciplinary policies to determine the extent to which exclusionary disciplinary actions are being used and whether they are being administered disproportionately to subgroups of students, such as racial/ethnic minority students or students with disabilities. This report, conducted in collaboration with the Urban School Improvement Alliance, provides information on how to conduct such an examination and explores differences in student academic outcomes across the types of disciplinary actions that students receive. It serves as a blueprint to assist districts with designing and carrying out their own analyses and engaging with external researchers who are doing the same. The methods described in this report are designed to answer three core questions: (1) What disciplinary actions do students in the district receive and for what offenses?; (2) Does the district use exclusionary disciplinary actions more frequently for some subgroups of students than for others?; and (3) Do student academic outcomes differ by the type of disciplinary actions that students receive? This report identifies several initial tasks that are important to consider prior to analyzing student-level disciplinary data: (1) Defining all data elements to understand how the district categorizes student offenses and disciplinary actions; (2) Establishing rules to make the analysis transparent (including rules for handling missing data); (3) Determining whether data are missing or inaccurate; (4) Defining the unit of analysis: the who or what (students, schools, or offenses) that is being studied; and (5) Avoiding disclosure of personally identifiable data. In addition, this report demonstrates a number of calculations, using fictitious data to calculate the number and percentage of: (1) Students receiving any disciplinary action; (2) Students receiving exclusionary disciplinary action versus inclusionary disciplinary action; (3) Students receiving out-of-school versus in-school suspensions; and (4) Disciplinary actions for types of major offense. The following are appended: (1) Core Planning Group member data; (2) Common checks to reduce data errors; and (3) SPSS syntax.

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