Students with disabilities, African-Americans suspended at disproportionately high rates, research finds
Despite recent efforts in the state of Maryland to reduce school disciplinary measures that exclude children from the classroom, a new report by UMD College of Education researchers finds that students with disabilities and black students were disproportionately suspended from school at all levels.
Across all Maryland public schools, 196 of them—or 14 percent—suspended 25 percent or more of students in one or more subgroups, including racial minorities, English learners and students with disabilities. These high-suspending schools were located throughout the state in both rural and urban areas and in small and large districts, the report said.
“The variation in suspension rates suggests that the school and district a child goes to makes a difference, as some schools are doing things differently in how they handle discipline,” said Gail L. Sunderman, director of the Maryland Equity Project at the UMD College of Education and a co-author of the report with Robert Croninger, associate professor of education and co-director at MEP.
The researchers analyzed data on suspensions and school-level variables from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection and the Maryland State Department of Education.
Among the main findings, close to 60 percent of out-of-school suspensions are of black students, even though they make up only 35 percent of public school enrollment in Maryland. Students with disabilities represent 13 percent of enrollment in Maryland public schools but 25 percent of out-of-school suspensions.
In addition, schools with higher enrollments of black students, students with disabilities, and low-income students and lower enrollments of white, Asian and Hispanic students suspended more students in multiple subgroups.
The study showed that high-suspending schools were less successful academically, had lower graduation rates, lower attendance, higher mobility and fewer experienced teachers. In other words, these were struggling schools.
Maryland adopted new disciplinary guidelines in 2014 that included efforts to make exclusionary discipline a tool of last resort, yet the variability across schools and districts suggest that school- and district-level policies and practices regarding discipline contribute to differences in suspension rates, the report says.
“In some school districts, more than 40 percent of secondary schools were high suspending, which indicates a need for more support in terms of training, leadership or culture change to address exclusionary discipline,” Sunderman said.
She recommended that educators and policymakers investigate the reasons for the disparities in exclusionary discipline, which has long-term consequences for student success.
“Extensive research on the short and long-term consequences of suspensions shows that it leads to lower academic performance, a higher dropout rate, and increased risk of contact with the juvenile justice system,” Sunderman said. “When thinking about school reform, keeping kids in school would really help in improving performance and may reduce the achievement gap. When you’re not in school, you’re not learning.”