Attempt to Refute Suspension's Harmful Academic Impact Falls Flat

BOULDER, CO (June 1, 2017) – A new report from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas examines the association between out-of-school suspensions and student test scores. The findings and conclusions presented in the “working paper,” however, lack validity on multiple grounds.

Understanding a Vicious Cycle: Do Out-of-School Suspensions Impact Student Test Scores? was reviewed by Brea L. Perry of Indiana University and Daniel Losen of the University of California Los Angeles.

Using dynamic and multilevel regression modeling of six years of student discipline records from all K-12 public schools in Arkansas, the paper purports to estimate a causal relationship between exclusionary discipline and academic performance. It concludes, in contrast to prior work, that the number of days of suspension a student receives has a very modest positive relationship to math and language arts test scores.

The reviewers explain that the effects of out-of-school suspension are not measured in the academic year in which suspensions occurred, but instead are measured at least a full academic year later. In other words, the study design does not adequately capture lost instructional time, deterioration of student-teacher relationships, psychological distress, and other immediate consequences of suspension that would logically affect academic performance in the same academic year. Instead, the analyses only consider the delayed effect of suspension, without accounting for suspensions occurring more recently.

The findings also have weak face validity in light of the weight of evidence suggesting that exclusionary discipline and school absences have adverse effects on key outcomes such as test scores, GPA, grade retention, and dropping out – including research conducted using the Arkansas dataset by a member of this same research team, examining grade retention.

For these and other reasons, the reviewers caution that this paper should not be used to guide disciplinary policy and practice.

Find the review by Brea L. Perry and Daniel Losen at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-discipline

Find Understanding a Vicious Cycle: Do Out-of-School Suspensions Impact Student Test Scores? by Kaitlin P. Anderson, Gary W. Ritter, & Gema Zamarro, published by The University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform, at:
http://www.uaedreform.org/downloads/2017/03/understanding-a-vicious-cycle-do-out-of-school-suspensions-impact-student-test-scores.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu