This is the second of a three-part series on school discipline. The authors present information and provide discussion questions for the audience to respond. We hope the discussion will further an understanding of the complexity of school discipline and safe and orderly schools within the context of the presented data.

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Findings from Virginia Data

Data on school discipline are abundant, but not always reliable. The reasons are many. Overall, data are reported by infraction to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and to the Office of Civil Rights by each school division. One kind of infraction in one school division may be deemed another kind of infraction by another division. For example, using a curse word while talking to a teacher could be considered disrespect or a threat, depending on who is entering the data in the system. Although the VDOE has attempted to clarify the language over time, it still may not be reliable. For this reason, the data used herein refer to only a few data points of what is reported to the Office of Civil Rights by divisions for each school every two years in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018. This data can be found here. Some data are highlighted below.

Congruency Matters in Learning and Discipline Data

Congruency means that percent of total of a discipline indicator should be similar or equal to the enrollment percent of total. In other words, in 2017-2018, if 22 percent of students are Black, then 22 percent of Black students should have been suspended. In 2017-2018, 51 percent of the total number of suspensions were of Black students. This means that the Black population’s results are not congruent to the actual percent of the Black students in the total population.

Similarly, if learning and discipline are intertwined, then data should show that a change in the achievement (learning) should be equal to a similar or congruent change in discipline indicators. Hypothetically, if discipline improves, achievement improves, as it should.

The SOL pass rate for Black students stayed about even (-1 percent), suspensions (0 percent) and days missed from school (-3 percent) stayed about even, expulsions went down (-7 percent). School arrests for Black students went up by 19 percentage points. For White students, school arrests went down by -13 percentage points. A total of 480,542 days were missed due to suspensions in 2017-2018. That is a lot of time out of school for students who are already behind and were suspended.

Given the data below, how could school arrests increase and expulsions decrease for any subgroup? These data should be somewhat similar — if arrests increased, then expulsions should have increased. Perhaps some school arrests resulted in suspensions but then suspensions should have increased, not the case for Black students. This is what makes data analysis so difficult.

Understanding Disproportionality

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report, Pandemic Impact on Public K-12 Education (November 2022), pointed out that our students exhibited disruptive behavior as they returned to in-person instruction (though quantifying the increase is difficult because of data limitations).

There are additional factors at play today that have been persistent for years but have gained more of the spotlight in recent years. One of those factors is the significant disproportionality in school discipline between our Black and White students.

The April 2021 Board of Education (BOE) Presentation on Disproportionality in Discipline indicated that VDOE measures discipline disproportionality and reports using data reported by school divisions through the Student Behavior and Administrative Response (SBAR) Data Collection. The SBAR system attempts to inform practices through gathering comprehensive information on student behavior, discipline sanctions, behavioral interventions, and instructional supports; standardizing the definitions and calculations of metrics; and attempting to create consistency in communication and reporting.

Further, VDOE staff, as part of this presentation to the BOE, provided a recommendation by Virginia’s African American Superintendent’s Advisory Council and the Mid-Atlantic Comprehensive Center to include discipline disproportionality as an indicator in the state’s accountability system.

VDOE currently measures disproportionality as a “relative risk.” Relative risk for Black students is defined as:

Number of Black students suspended / Number of Black students
Number of non-Black students suspended / Number of non-Black students

Comparing the data from the Office of Civil Rights from Virginia for 2017-2018 and 2015-2016:

Black students are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended compared to non-Black students in 2017-2018.

No change at all.

Further Discussion Questions

A deep dive into school discipline is important. It allows one to see the other side of the story. Administrators are required to report data. Data collection is cumbersome and lengthy. The Office of Civil Rights requires school administrators to report 1,430 different data points for each school in each division. In addition, school divisions report all kinds of data to VDOE through secure web-based systems. The list from the VDOE website below does not include federally-required data for all of the Title programs. Also not on the list are ongoing formative assessment data that are key for understanding if students are learning and what they are learning.

• Student Record Collection
• Master Schedule Collection
• Student Behavior and Administrative Response Collection
• Positions and Exits Collection
• SOL Substitute Test Collection
• Finance
• Career & Technical Education
• Special Education
• Pupil Transportation
• School Safety
• Educational Registry Application
• Virginia Youth Survey
• Calendar of Data Collections (PDF)

Are these collections unfunded? Time-consuming? Necessary? When do principals and teachers have the time to review this data? Does the quest for data inadvertently cause misleading conclusions or less-than-reliable reporting?

Given the data, there was no change at all from 2015-2016 through 2017-2018 in the relative risk for Black students being suspended. What does this tell us? Did we ignore the problem of disproportionality? According to the data from the Office of Civil Rights, 37 percent of total school-related arrests were of Black students in 2015-2016. And 56 percent of total school-related arrests were of Black students in 2017-2018, an increase of 19 percent. Suspensions remained about the same and expulsions showed a decrease of 7 percent. Does this data show any congruence?

A total of 480,542 days were missed due to suspensions in 2017-2018. Of the total number of days missed, 55 percent were missed by Black students. What effect did this have on disproportionality and SOL scores?

Another conundrum for consideration: a principal is told by central office staff that the school’s disproportionality rate is too high, that it appears that Black and Brown students are being suspended disproportionately compared to White students. What does he/she suggest to his faculty? How does he/she mitigate the factors of cultural differences versus unacceptable behavior? For example, using a cell phone in class or bullying a peer?

We welcome your discussion.

Part III will discuss how Virginia is reframing school discipline.

Matthew Hurt is director of the Comprehensive Instructional Program, a coalition of non-metropolitan school districts. Dr. Kathleen M. Smith has been an educator since 1975. She has served as Regional Director for the Mid-Atlantic States for Advanced l Measured Progress and Director of the Office of School Improvement with the Virginia Department of Education.


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Comments

34 responses to “Part II: School Discipline, Virginia Data and Virginia’s Disproportionality Concerns”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “The SOL pass rate for Black students stayed about even…”

    Maybe I am missing something but between when and when…?

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      2015-2016 and 2017-2018. The fed data is behind and done every two years.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Did the feds not suspend reporting during COVID?

        1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
          Kathleen Smith

          Yes, it will be collected this year, but I am not sure if it is for 21-22 or 22-23? I suspect the latter.

  2. So, why is this happening and what should be done? (Warning – the video is graphic)

    “A vicious fight caught on camera inside of a Northern Virginia high school sent one student to the hospital with a concussion, and parents are demanding safety improvements.”

    “The fighting at Riverbend High School began before class Tuesday morning.”

    “Several students are seen throwing punches. Then the video follows two boys and shows one teen slam another student to the hallway floor, where he remained motionless.”

    “He suffered a severe concussion, according to the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office.”

    “It’s been nothing but fight after fight after fight,” said the mother of a freshman who says fighting has been an issue all schoolyear.

    “The sheriff’s office filed charges against eight students in Tuesday’s fight – including malicious wounding, assault by mob, and assault and battery. Additional charges are possible pending the investigation.”

    https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/northern-virginia/student-hospitalized-after-vicious-fight-at-virginia-high-school/3258079/

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Episodes such as what happened at Riverbend are becoming more frequent and the new norm. I attribute this to school leaders overlooking discipline infractions in the name of making sure the bar graphs by subgroups line up properly. You can’t blame an individual school leader for this. They are being told to make the square pegs fit in the round hole by superintendents and school boards. Teachers have declared Appomattox. They can’t win in this scenario. More chaos is likely to come until policies are revised.

      1. We’ve got to do better.

        I watched the video one time, and will not do so again. Seeing that child’s head slammed against the hard floor is sickening.

    2. Thanks for the reference, Nathan, I have posted the video on the blog.

  3. So, why is this happening and what should be done? (Warning – the video is graphic)

    “A vicious fight caught on camera inside of a Northern Virginia high school sent one student to the hospital with a concussion, and parents are demanding safety improvements.”

    “The fighting at Riverbend High School began before class Tuesday morning.”

    “Several students are seen throwing punches. Then the video follows two boys and shows one teen slam another student to the hallway floor, where he remained motionless.”

    “He suffered a severe concussion, according to the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office.”

    “It’s been nothing but fight after fight after fight,” said the mother of a freshman who says fighting has been an issue all schoolyear.

    “The sheriff’s office filed charges against eight students in Tuesday’s fight – including malicious wounding, assault by mob, and assault and battery. Additional charges are possible pending the investigation.”

    https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/northern-virginia/student-hospitalized-after-vicious-fight-at-virginia-high-school/3258079/

  4. Bob X from Texas Avatar
    Bob X from Texas

    What the data is trying to explain is that teenage boys have too much testosterone.
    Mandatory pre-school five mile runs is a good way to burn it off.
    Having a teenage boy sit in class for six hours without exhausting them is a sure way to cause a testosterone eruption.

  5. The federal data is interesting as far as it goes. But it frames the analysis in such a way as to predispose the outcome by contrasting “Black” versus “White” or “NonBlack.”

    Asians are excluded from the analysis. As it happens, Asian students are suspended, arrested, or otherwise disciplined at significantly lower rates than any other racial/ethnic group.

    To acknowledge that fact requires one to acknowledge that different racial/ethnic groups have different socioeconomic, family, and cultural factors that might influence how children behave in schools. And that raises the issue of whether race is the determinative variable or behavior is the determinative variable in school discipline outcomes.

    The federal analysis ignores the correlation between socioeconomic status and household status (intact two-parent households vs. single-parent households) and a child’s behavior at school and makes race the primary variable for analysis. If race is the only variable considered, than race-based explanations for group differences — systemic racism, etc. — seem to be called for.

    But race is correlated with socioeconomic status and household composition. And it is possible (indeed I would say likely) that socioeconomic status and household composition are the actual drivers.

    Actually, we could delve even deeper to see to what degree parental abuse or neglect, prevalence of crime in the neighborhood, or other factors — which are correlated with socioeconomic status and household composition — are related to school suspensions and arrests.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      It seems that you are assuming that discipline for equal offenses is being handed out equally – so you are looking to other societal and economic factors to explain the disproportionality. I am absolutely not saying those factors may not have an impact (I suspect they surely do). I just think it short-sighted to assume there are not factors at play that schools themselves could easily rectify – well at least would be in the position to rectify.

      1. So it’s guilty until proven innocent?

        1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          This is not a court of law so assuming innocence does no one any favors. Please note, I am not assuming guilt just saying do not dismiss the possibility. It has been demonstrated, however, that there was a black/white disproportionality in prison sentences for equal offenses. What makes you think that school administrators are any less susceptible than judges?

      2. To the contrary. The common practice is to assume that all disparities between racial/ethnic groups are the result of racism. I am pointing out that many other factors may have far more explanatory value, and I’m suggesting that racism is a minor factor at best.

        1. VaNavVet Avatar

          You seem to be ignoring institutional bias and implicit prejudice.

          1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            How is that a factor in Virginia’s Black-run school divisions.

          2. VaNavVet Avatar

            It could well be so with individual teachers and administrators who have come to expect that behavior problems will come from their minority students.

        2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          Based on what…?

      3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
        Kathleen Smith

        So if I am in a school that doesn’t have the same proportion of demographics as Virginia, I am not going to get the same results in the same proportions and it might be different as my population is different. You are correct! One of the problems.

    2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      The data is available. But the analysis would take a lot of time. If you would like the analysis, let me know. I only did black, white and other. I believe there were 181 data points each for what I gave. 181 for enrollment, 181 for suspensions, 181 for expulsions, etc.

    3. Bob X from Texas Avatar
      Bob X from Texas

      To some, Asian students being suspended, arrested, or otherwise disciplined at significantly lower rates than any other racial/ethnic group is an indicator of Systemic RACISM.
      I see Asian student’s discipline and achievements as a result of discipline and a home culture that appreciates education.

      1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
        Kathleen Smith

        I visited a 100% Asian private school. Most parents were embassy employees. They started school at 6:30 a.m. and finished at 5:30 p.m. No sports, only PE as required.

        1. It’s culture, not race.

          While my two boys were in K-12 we had a neighbor raising a boy the same age as my oldest. The environment in that home was almost a polar opposite of what we were working to provide. It was opposite in culture, but same race, same neighborhood, same schools, and similar family income.

          That boy had no responsibilities, no supervision much of the time, no family mealtime, and no positive male role model in the home, etc.

          We tried to include him in what we were doing, like after school study time, but he wanted no part of that.

          The police visited the home several times while we lived there. The boy was eventually forced to attend to a special school because of discipline issues. I still check on him from time to time. He’s not doing as well as he is capable of, that’s for sure.

          I doubt there’s a data point for the differences in family culture.

  6. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    I wish there were data as to proportionality between the number of white/black students not disciplined for behavioral violations. I wonder if it tracks with prison sentences for drug violations…

  7. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    I just examined the numbers on the fall membership build-a-table website at VDOE.

    One-third of Black students in Virginia are registered in public schools in cities with majority Black student bodies and majority Black school boards using PBIS as the discipline system.

    That does not count the heavily Black counties across the boarder with North Carolina – the old Tobacco Belt.

    PBIS virtually bans out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. And expulsion data does not always capture data about transfers to system alternative schools designed for troubled, difficult-to-control students.

    So the average data across the state by division are not really relevant. I have found over the years that even divisional results in large divisions are meaningless in, say, the large counties in Northern Virginia.

    I have found that in large and very large divisions, I have to drill down to individual schools, check individual school demographics, and then I see that individual school principals clearly treat discipline problems, or at least reported discipline problems, very differently. I have written about failed schools in unexpected places like Loudoun and Fairfax Counties.

    I have found that aggregating all of that to the state level for analysis and assessment is not particularly informative.

    As I wrote last time, no school is the average school.

  8. If we are to truly consider all factors relating to discipline in schools, I think the current focus on disproportionality might also be examined.

    When I was attending K-12, my parents insisted on meeting my teachers to deliver what they considered to be a critical bit of information. It was important to my parents that teachers know that my parents would support whatever discipline to me the teacher determined to be necessary. My parents also wanted to be informed about any bad behavior on my part, so that I could get another helping of discipline at home. That message was always delivered to the teachers in my presence.

    I can’t say what impact that message may have had on my teachers, but it certainly had an impact on me, and my behavior.

    Discipline was viewed by my parents as a positive, and they wanted to make sure I got enough of it. There was much less concern about how much discipline other students got.

    Are students of whatever background well served by a focus on making sure nobody gets too much discipline? Today as I read about the Spotsylvania student who suffered a severe concussion, and the eight students facing charges, I can’t help but wonder.

    1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      Like Wayne my parents empowered my teachers to dole out any punishment the teacher saw fit. If my teacher threatened to call home I would literally beg for forgiveness. And if they did my mother would swiftly deal with me and then my father would do the same when he got home from work.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        You had it easy. In the home I grew up in I had my grandmother and great grandmother in the house. They knew about switches! It didn’t stop until I was 15!

    2. Your parents and my parents must have known each other…

    3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      One of the results of living in a rural area is that everybody knew each other. When I was in elementary school, my fourth grade teacher was the mother of my best friend who lived next to us. My fifth grade teacher was the sister of the fourth grade teacher and my parents, of course, know all of them.

      In those days, we got grades on “conduct” on our report cards. I once got a “C”, the lowest grade for conduct. I heard more about that C from my parents than I heard about any of my other grades.

      My mother was a math teacher in the high school I attended. I couldn’t have gotten away with anything if I had wanted to.

      1. That’s interesting.

        I started first grade in a rural three room schoolhouse not far from our home. The teachers had been teaching there since forever, and were very strict.

        In high school, my mother worked in the kitchen, so I can empathize.

  9. Turbocohen Avatar
    Turbocohen

    Notice that Asians generally set a better example for their kids. The presence of mothers by their side makes Asian children tend to be calmer and that is no accident. I give MOST of the credit to a proximal parenting style that is generally a larger part of Asian culture. This parenting style imprints self-regulation or the ability to control emotions, behavior, and attention. They also tend to be very worried about things that will happen in the future and convey this as their child develops an awareness of their interactions. Asian kids with this parenting style are more prone to follow the instructions of adults by the time they enter school. When they enter school, they are better prepared and their capacity is better developed and it shows up in their ability to work.

    Compared to the Western parents, Asian parents have strong beliefs that getting good academic results are more important than anything else.

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