Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Establishing Research-Based Trajectories of Office Discipline Referrals for Individual Students

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Establishing Research-Based Trajectories of Office Discipline Referrals for Individual Students

Article excerpt

The adoption of systematic, evidence*based practices for identifying students at risk or in need of support has allowed schools to implement effective academic and behavioral strategies (e.g., National Center on Response to Intervention, www.rti4success.org; School-wide Positive Behavior Support, www.pbis.org). Such practices have helped schools address increases in student violence and disruption that preoccupy educators with management of discipline rather than academic curricula and prevent meaningful student engagement. However, the success of these initiatives depends on the ability of schools to screen and track student behavior performance efficiently. This data-based problem-solving approach--collecting, evaluating, and using data to promote appropriate behavior--is practiced by school based teams that assess student behavior across several levels: whole school, groups of students who exhibit similar behaviors or behaviors in similar contexts and locations, and individual students. These school teams are most effective at decision making when the core academic and social competence outcomes targeted by their schools are clearly defined and measured (Newton, Horner, Algozzine, Todd, & Algozzine, 2009).

Measurement of student achievement and social behavior is essential, and reduction in problem behavior (or improvement in discipline) requires a system that documents and tracks specific behaviors. Some schools and districts may record and track their events of problem behavior using narratives that describe specific incidents (e.g., Kaufman et al., 2010), but such data may lack consistency across teachers and students within a school and can be cumbersome for generating indices and reports for decision making. In contrast, office discipline referrals (ODRs), standardized records of events of problem behavior that occur in schools (Sugai, Sprague, Horner, & Walker, 2000), have the potential to provide school personnel with a systematic and observable index of student problem behavior that can be measured, compiled, and analyzed reliably across different contexts, students, and behaviors.

For the purpose of this article, ODRs are contrasted with unstandardized incident reports, which are not coded or used systematically and have questionable validity (Nelson, Benner, Reid, Epstein, & Currin, 2002). Unlike the unstructured narrative of an incident report, well-designed ODR forms contain categories with predefined choices, such as location (e.g., playground, cafeteria, hallway) and problem behavior (e.g., physical aggression, disrespect) so that a teacher can quickly and consistently complete a referral using a series of checkboxes. With these critical features, ODRs provide increased consistency and efficiency for summaries and interpretation (Wright & Dusek, 1998).

At their lowest level of inference, ODRs measure the rate of specific problem behaviors (e.g., fighting, disrespect) for both individual students and schools. ODRs are also considered indicators of student behavior problems, particularly externalizing problem behavior (McIntosh, Campbell, Carter, & Zumbo, 2009). In addition, they have been shown to be associated with broader social constructs (e.g., student and teacher perceptions of school climate, school engagement, classroom orderliness, effectiveness of school-wide intervention) and predictive of negative student outcomes (e.g., behavior disorders, delinquency, dropout, use of illegal substances, academic failure, family conflict; see Irvin, Tobin, Sprague, Sugai, & Vincent, 2004).

Although ODRs should not be the sole index of the social culture of a school, the ease with which they can be collected has contributed to their prominence as a behavioral outcome measure in schools (Wright & Dusek, 1998). Whereas a complete behavioral assessment might include the multiple methods of direct observation, teacher interview, and rating scales or checklists of student behavior, the effort involved in such a thorough assessment makes regular use for tracking behavior at the school level unwieldy. …

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