Differences In Suspension May Cause 20 Percent Of Achievement Gap

Differences In Suspension May Cause 20 Percent Of Achievement Gap

In this March 2015 photo, kindergartners learn in a classroom in Des Moines, Wash.Kindergartners and pre-kindergarteners were suspended hundreds of times last year in Mass. High suspension rates may account for an achievement gap between black students and their classmates, a new study says. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

In this March 2015 photo, kindergartners learn in a classroom in Des Moines, Wash.Kindergartners and pre-kindergarteners were suspended hundreds of times last year in Mass. High suspension rates may account for an achievement gap between black students and their classmates, a new study says. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

The achievement gap between black students and their peers is well documented, but conclusive explanations of the reasons for the gap are harder to come by.

Now a study of more than 15,000 students in Kentucky says that as much as 20 percent of the difference may be due to a single cause: getting suspended from school.

“This analysis — the first of its kind — reveals that school suspensions account for approximately one-fifth of black-white differences in school performance,” write sociology professors Edward W. Morris and Brea L. Perry in the study, published in the journal Social Problems last month.

Morris and Perry analyzed the test scores and discipline records of 16,248 students in grades 6 through 10, using data collected by the Kentucky School Discipline Study from 2008 to 2011.

Even after controlling for other factors, such as socioeconomic status and disabilities, they found a strong correlation between suspension and lower scores on end-of-year tests.

Students performed worse on a standardized math test if they had been suspended, the study found. Results were similar for English scores. (Edward Morris and Brea Perry)

Students performed worse on a standardized math test if they had been suspended, the study found. Results were similar for English scores. (Edward Morris and Brea Perry)

The study notes that black students are more likely to be suspended than their white and Asian classmates. Black students are more likely than whites to attend schools that use more “exclusionary discipline,” such as suspension and expulsion, the study says. Even within the same school, they are also more likely to be suspended.

And students who are suspended do worse on end-of-year tests — worse than their classmates, but also worse than they do themselves in years when they’re not suspended, the study found.

The authors arrived at the 20 percent figure through a statistical model known as mediation. First, they determined the effect of race and ethnicity on achievement. Next, they added the students’ history of suspension as another variable in the model. By seeing how much the effect of race or ethnicity went down with that added variable, they were able to conclude that racial or ethnic differences in suspension account for 20 percent of racial differences in achievement.

The bottom line? It’s pretty significant.

“It’s a lot, yeah,” Perry said. “But you have to understand that the racial disparities in discipline are huge — bigger than the racial disparities in achievement.”

Morris and Perry caution that the link between suspension and lower performance doesn’t mean one causes the other. They say more research would clarify whether it’s the missed instructional time or the punitive nature of suspension, or both, that hurts performance.

It’s also possible, they say, that black students are suspended more often because they misbehave more often — but “we can draw from previous studies,” they add, “which have noted that minority students are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar misbehavior.”

The authors conclude that suspension, in general, lowers school performance and contributes to large racial gaps in achievement.

“Particularly for African American students in our data,” Morris and Perry write, “the unequal suspension rate is one of the most important factors hindering academic progress and maintaining the racial gap in achievement.”

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  • DaveHolden

    So what is the difference in suspension of boys and girls? Ooops, your narrative just blew up.

    • WL

      Sounds like that would be a different study, with different controls, as it is a different variable. This one had the relevant controls in place:
      “Even after controlling for other factors, such as socioeconomic status and disabilities, they found a strong correlation between suspension and lower scores on end-of-year tests.”
      So actually, the narrative is quite clear and sound.

      • jeanabeana

        good point… it is very difficult to control for all the sociological variables… please see my comment on David Berliner’s work and how it is so costly to control for every variable and we just can’t in a research study. It is an ongoing , living experiment like a petri dish and you just can’t control everything.

  • jeanabeana

    I sincerely doubt that it is 20% except in some narrower areas … Look at David Berliner’s work and the sociological variables are all discussed. He even talks about high absentee rates in the high poverty schools. David Berliner has a new book coming out; if you are truly interested you can find the 14 points from his talk summarized by Audrey Amrein Beardsley (on her blog Vamboozled) and you can also see the comments others are making on the Diane Ravitch blog… google “Diane Ravitch” “David Berliner” and a lot of these sociological variables will be discussed. David Berliner has 14 points and they are well worth the time.

  • mikebrowndesign

    So, this saying that kids who misbehave, haven’t been taught by parents to value education, and don’t take school seriously do worse than kids who do all those things? I’m not sure that is so surprising.

    • Stephalopod Geheran

      Nope. Studies also demonstrate that black students are more likely to be suspended than non-black students for the SAME or similar behavior. Sounds like you don’t value education and haven’t even bothered to do the research on this.

    • Stephalopod Geheran

      Seems like you don’t even value education enough to have even read the article through:

      “It’s also possible, they say, that black students are suspended more often because they misbehave more often — but ‘we can draw from previous studies,’ they add, ‘which have noted that minority students are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar misbehavior.”

  • Monster

    Alternate headline: Kids Who Misbehave Do Worse in School

    • Louise Kennedy

      Well, there’s this, though: It’s also possible, they say, that black students are suspended more often because they misbehave more often — but “we can draw from previous studies,” they add, “which have noted that minority students are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar misbehavior.”

      • Lawrence

        I would like to read that study. Who were the researchers? Dates? Citations?

        • Louise Kennedy

          You can find the link in the study I reported on here – I link to that in the second paragraph of the post.

          • Lawrence

            This first of its kind article from a reputable source is indeed an important source of information. It is unfortunate that only the abstract is available from the supplied link.

          • Louise Kennedy

            I’m not sure which of the studies referenced by these researchers is the one you’re referring to: Although these new punitive policies intend to mete out discipline fairly, they disproportionately impact minority students, especially African Americans. Since the publication of the Children’s Defense Fund’s, School Suspensions: Are They Helping Children (1975), research has consistently revealed that African American students are punished at higher rates, including classroom reprimands (Ferguson 2000; Morris 2005), office referrals (Rocque 2010; Skiba et al. 2002), suspensions (Losen 2011 McCarthy and Hoge 1987; Wallace et al. 2008), and expulsions (Kewal Ramani et al. 2007; Wallace et al. 2008). Black students are also more likely to experience severe punishment, such as court action or notification of the police (Welch and Payne 2010). Research suggests that African American students are approximately three times as likely as white students to be suspended (Gregory et al. 2010; Wallace et al. 2008). A recent report found that nationwide, one out of six black students has been suspended at least once (Losen and Gillespie 2012).3 In addition, predominately minority schools are most likely to rely on punitive forms of discipline such as out-of-school suspension or expulsion (Irwin, Davidson, and Hall-Sanchez 2013; Rocque and Paternoster 2011; Welch and Payne 2010). While the discipline of minority students has long occurred at higher rates compared to white students, this gap has widened as the prevalence of suspension has increased overall (Verdugo 2002). Using a natural experiment, Stephen Hoffman (2014) found that strict, punitive discipline polices increase the racial gap in suspension and expulsion.

          • Lawrence

            The question that has to be raised is if the groups that are more disciplined are the ones that misbehave the most.
            Are the groups of people who’s cases that have gone to court action, creating more severe problems and are therefore justified?

      • Lawrence

        I looked into the research article you cite in the second paragraph in the article, going so far as to request it from the library.
        I did not see any specific results that stated that whites and blacks who committed the same offensives but were disciplined differently.
        It seems commonsense that the trouble makers from any race will be less academic, get more suspensions and have poor scholastic outcomes.

        • Louise Kennedy

          Try this link: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1021320817372

          It’s just an abstract, but it contains a sentence that suggests the full paper might supply what you’re looking for:

          Finally, although evidence emerged that boys engage more frequently in a broad range of disruptive behavior, there were no similar findings for race. Rather, there appeared to be a differential pattern of treatment, originating at the classroom level, wherein African-American students are referred to the office for infractions that are more subjective in interpretation.

          I also recommend you take a closer look at the comment just below yours, which offers several sources of information.

          • Lawrence

            This is too important of a topic to ignore and going beyond the headlines is important. Thanks for the additional links.

  • Double Helix

    This study has the arrow of causation pointing in the wrong direction. The cognitive and behavioral differences between white and black students account for BOTH the difference in academic achievement and in suspension rates. Being suspended for even a few weeks from school can’t produce a one standard deviation in adult IQ scores. This gap in cognitive ability accounts for most of the achievement gap, and it just isn’t credible that such a large IQ gap can be caused by even a month of suspension from school. Now what causes the cognitive and behavioral and differences between black and white children is up for debate, but it’s important to note that the difference in cognitive ability at least is already in place before children ever step foot in a school; it is detectable in the pre-school years: in terms of vocabulary, logical reasoning, etc. Measured in standard units, school seems to have little impact on the achievement gap. Factors outside the school — whatever they are, whether they are rooted in genetics or the preschool home environment, or in some combination of the two — seem to account for most of the black white achievement gap.

    • Lawrence

      Yes, well said, but I wonder why if this is a factual analysis backed up by research, it does not inform our approach to this problem.

  • Lawrence

    There is no question of racial disparity in discipline. But that could demonstrate that the blacks cause more trouble, and get suspended more which leads to poor academic performance.
    I’m searching for articles that show that although blacks and whites commit the identical offenses. but get disciplined differently.