Discipline Referrals and Access to Secondary Level Support in Elementary and Middle Schools: Patterns across African-American, Hispanic-American, and White Students

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Abstract

Given documented racial/ethnic disproportionality in disciplinary referrals and strong recommendations to base provision of secondary level supports on data, we explored whether students from various racial/ethnic groups have equitable access to secondary supports. We disaggregated discipline data from 155 elementary and 46 middle schools by student race/ethnicity and behavioral risk level to assess the extent to which different racial/ethnic groups were disproportionately represented among students at each risk level and students receiving secondary support. Outcomes indicated that Hispanic-American and White students were underrepresented among students with multiple disciplinary referrals, while African-American students were over-represented. African-American students were over-represented among students receiving secondary support in elementary schools but were less likely to receive this support in middle schools. Across all schools, number of referrals as well as race/ethnicity emerged as statistically significant predictors of access to secondary level support. Limitations to the current investigation and recommendations for future research are provided.

It has become a well-known fact that students from non-White backgrounds, especially African-American and Hispanic-American students, experience poorer discipline and academic outcomes in the United States public school system than their White peers. For African-American students, research has documented disproportionately high numbers of office discipline referrals (Bradshaw, Mitchell, O'Brennan, & Leaf, 2010; Kaufman et al., 2010; Skiba, et al., 2011; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997; Vincent, Tobin, Swain-Bradway, & May, 2011), comparatively harsher punishments for behavioral violations (Glackman et al., 1978; Gregory, 1995; Shaw & Braden, 1990; Skiba, Michael, Nardo & Peterson, 2002; Skiba & Peterson, 2000), and increased odds for being suspended Or expelled (KewelRamani, Gilbertson, Fox, & Provasnik, 2007; Krezmien, Leone, & Achilles, 2006; Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008). These behavioral outcomes are accompanied by comparatively lower reading and math achievement (Lee, 2000; Lee, Grigg, & Donahue, 2007) and overidentification for special education services (Coutinho & Oswald, 2000; Harry & Klingner, 2006; Waitoller, Artiles, & Cheney, 2010; Zhang, Katsiyannis, & Herbst, 2004). For Hispanic-American students, research has documented disproportionately high rates of suspension beginning in middle school (Skiba et al., 2011), comparatively high levels of anxiety and depression (Fletcher, 2008; McLaughlin, Hilt, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2007; Varela, Sanchez-Sosa, Biggs, & Luis, 2008; Zayas, Lester, Cabassa, & Fortuna, 2005), and high drop-out rates (Stillwell, 2010). Similar to African-American students, Hispanic-American students lag far behind their White peers in reading and math at the elementary, middle, and high school level (Aud, Fox, & KewalRamani, 2010).

While documentations of racially disproportionate educational outcomes abound, our understanding of why these outcomes occur and what might change them remains limited. General guidelines to redress racial inequity in educational outcomes include culturally responsive evidence-based behavior support delivered within a response to intervention (RtI) framework as a vehicle to increase students' time engaged with academic instruction (Cartledge, Singh, & Gibson, 2008; Klingner et al., 2005; Skiba et al., 2008). The key recommendations for culturally responsive delivery of evidence-based behavior support within an RtI framework are (a) availability of support structures of varying intensity; (b) continuous data collection for screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring purposes; (c) interpretation of those data to determine a student's responsiveness to existing support mechanisms; (d) open discussions of race in data interpretations; (e) early and culturally specific intervention in the form of additional support for students who are at risk of behavioral failure; and (f) family involvement (Gresham, Lane, & Lambros, 2000; Hawken, Vincent, & Schumann, 2008; Lane, Kalberg, & Menzies, 2009; Schumann & Burrow-Sanchez, 2010; Skiba et al. …

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