AIR Study Finds More Severe Suspensions Have Greater Negative Effects on Academic Outcomes, Attendance and Future Behavior
Findings raise serious concerns about the effects of exclusionary discipline
Arlington, Va. – Results from a new American Institutes for Research (AIR) study add to a growing body of evidence that raises serious concerns about exclusionary discipline practices in middle and high schools. AIR researchers analyzed data from the nation’s largest public school district, New York City, to determine the effects of different types and durations of discipline on the disciplined students, their peers, and the school climate.
Exclusionary discipline practices, such as out-of-school suspension (OSS) and in-school suspension (ISS), are used frequently in U.S. public schools, with more than 2.5 million students receiving at least one OSS and 2.6 million students receiving at least one ISS during the 2017-18 school year. The theory upon which these practices draw is that punishing a student will deter future misbehavior by that student and their peers, and that removing certain students from classrooms will improve the learning environment and school climate for others.
The results from the AIR study find that disciplining students through exclusion did not reduce future misbehavior for the disciplined students or their peers, nor did it result in improved academic achievement for peers or perceptions of positive school climate. Further, the more severe the exclusionary discipline, the greater its negative effects were on a student’s future academic performance, attendance, and behavior.
The results of our research, and related research on suspensions and the science of learning development, suggest these practices may be harming students’ long-term educational success and do not have a positive effect on the school community.
- David Osher, AIR Vice President and Institute Fellow
“Educators have very little information about the long-term consequences of their decisions related to suspension, and many believe it is a necessary response to make the school safer and more conducive for learning,” said AIR Vice President and Institute Fellow David Osher, co-author of the new study. “But the results of our research, and related research on suspensions and the science of learning development, suggest these practices may be harming students’ long-term educational success and do not have a positive effect on the school community.”
The analysis was done in cooperation with the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE), which wanted a better understanding of how disciplinary practices affect students later in life and affect the schools they attend.
“As we head into a new school year, the results of AIR’s research will be invaluable as we seek ways to make sure our schools are safe and welcoming and that we deal with disciplinary matters in a way that is effective and rooted in evidence,” said Kenyatte Reid, Executive Director of the NYC DOE's Office of Safety and Youth Development.
“While this study focuses on data from New York City schools, our findings can inform conversations and considerations about the effectiveness of disciplinary practices around the country,” said Christina LiCalsi, a principal researcher at AIR and lead author of the study. “Given that Black students and those with special needs are disproportionately disciplined in our public schools, this information is crucial to conversations about equity and opportunity gaps.”
About the Study
The AIR study is significant because it is larger and covers more years of data than most other studies of exclusionary discipline practices.
The AIR research team made five comparisons to estimate the effects of exclusionary discipline practices:
- Out-of-School Suspension (OSS) versus In-School Suspension (ISS)
- ISS of 2 or 3 days versus ISS of 1 day
- ISS of 4 or 5 days versus ISS of 2 or 3 days
- OSS of 6-20 days versus OSS of 1-5 days; and
- OSS of 21 or more days versus OSS of 6-20 days
The research team used administrative data for middle and high school students attending New York City public schools from 2009 to 2018. The researchers used sophisticated matching techniques to study every student who was eligible to be suspended and the short- and long-term effects of suspension over this 10-year period. During these 10 years, there were 1.24 million reported student behavioral incidents, ranging in severity from minor offenses, such as insubordination, to severe violent offenses, including use of a weapon.
The study follows students through graduation, dropping out, or until 2018 for students still enrolled. It compares the outcomes of students who received a harsher disciplinary response to the outcomes of students who have similar observable characteristics, yet received a less harsh response for the same type of offense.
The full range of outcomes of this research can be found in the report on the AIR website. Among the findings:
- More severe exclusionary discipline had a consistent negative effect on middle and high school students’ math and English language arts (ELA) credit accumulation and likelihood of on-time graduation. For example, high school students who received an OSS rather than an ISS were about three percentage points less likely to attain both a math and ELA credit the following year. An OSS of 21 or more days had the largest negative effects on graduation, with a five-percentage point reduction in the likelihood of graduating on time.
- More severe exclusionary discipline has a consistent negative effect on middle school students’ future reported behavior. Receiving an OSS rather than an ISS and receiving a longer OSS rather than a shorter one had particularly negative consequences. No effects were found for high school students. This suggests that more severe exclusionary discipline does not serve as a deterrent to reported future misbehavior and, for younger children, may exacerbate reported future behavior.
- The effects of exclusionary discipline on students’ later behavior and educational outcomes were similar for all students regardless of race, socioeconomic status or disability. However, since data show that Black students and students with disabilities face exclusionary discipline at much higher rates, the negative effects disproportionately impact students in those subgroups.
- The analysis did not find any effect of the severity of discipline a student receives on the behavior, attendance or achievement of their peers. Additionally, teacher and student reports of school climate, including school safety and classroom learning environment, were not affected by the severity of the discipline a student received.
Established in 1946, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of education, health and the workforce. AIR’s work is driven by its mission to generate and use rigorous evidence that contributes to a better, more equitable world. With headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, AIR has offices across the U.S. and abroad. For more information, visit www.air.org.