February 4, 2021

By Claire Smizer

Student behavior and the implementation of appropriate disciplinary practices have been a challenge since the beginning of formal education. Too often, the chosen disciplinary action removes or excludes a student from the classroom—and may result in learning deficits that affect students across specific demographics.

This blog focuses on exclusionary discipline, how it contributes to disproportionality, and what schools can do to begin to provide equitable disciplinary measures to help all students succeed.

What is exclusionary discipline?

According to the Committee for Children, exclusionary discipline refers to “any type of school disciplinary action that removes or excludes students from their usual educational setting.”

Common examples of exclusionary discipline include practices such as:

  • Office discipline referrals
  • In-school suspension
  • Out-of-school suspension
  • Expulsion
  • School arrests
  • Seclusion
  • Restraint
high school students in class

What is disproportionality?

Disproportionality is the over- or under-representation of a group of students that exceeds expectations for that group or differs substantially from the representation of other students in the same category.

How does exclusionary discipline tie into disproportionality?

When discussing the connection between disproportionality and exclusionary discipline practices in our schools, we are referring to the disproportionately high rates at which students from certain backgrounds are subjected to disciplinary measures that require them to leave the classroom or otherwise miss out on critical learning opportunities.

Several studies (Girvan et al., 2017; Monahan et al., 2014; Welch et al., 2010), as well as research by the United States Government Accountability Office, illustrate the fact that…

  • Students of color;
  • Boys; and
  • Students with disabilities

…are at a higher risk of encountering exclusionary discipline practices, which can lead to higher rates of academic failure and a lack of future social and economic success.

This trend was found across all school types, regardless of factors such as overall school poverty rate and students’ grade level (United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters, 2018).

Too often, school personnel rely upon exclusionary discipline measures to punish and deter student misbehavior—without addressing the root causes or underlying reasons for the offending behavior.

The fallout of exclusionary discipline is associated with significant negative outcomes for students, schools, and communities, including the following (Balfanz et al., 2014; Monahan et al., 2014):

  • Disrupting the student learning process
  • Causing students to miss class time and fall behind academically
  • Student disengagement and negative attitudes toward education
  • Dropping out of school
  • Increasing the likelihood of a student needing to repeat a grade level
  • Exhibiting delinquent and potentially criminal behaviors
  • Becoming involved with criminal justice systems
  • Decreasing students’ future earning potential
  • Adding costs to society, including incarceration and lost tax revenue

Improving outcomes and reducing disproportionality by rethinking teacher and administrator actions

Because the issue of exclusionary discipline and disproportionality is so pervasive, it can become a challenge to enact real and meaningful change. However, being aware of and consistent with consequences is the first step to bringing equity and justice for students who are disproportionately punished.

Research indicates a strong correlation between exclusionary discipline practices and overall academic failure, but many educators cite in-the-moment escalation as the determining factor in selecting a disciplinary consequence. This leaves little room for more objectively weighing the benefits and drawbacks of disciplinary actions.

While it is easier said than done, reflection can be a key component to beginning a cycle of change. To begin the process of reflection before implementing consequences, ask yourself the following questions when you encounter negative student behaviors:

  • Why is this student choosing to behave in this way?
  • Are there underlying factors that should be considered before determining a consequence?
  • Is this consequence being issued consistently across all groups of students?
  • Is the behavior so severe that it merits losing academic time—especially when the loss of instructional time can actually compound problems for the student?

With an issue as complex and far-reaching as exclusionary discipline, educators must ask themselves how they can best meet the needs of all students while still maintaining behavior standards.

I believe that the answer is through monitoring both behavior and academic data for students who are at high risk for exclusionary discipline practices and tracking each student’s overall incident report to identify key trends.

Let’s explore this point.

Understanding whole child data

Discover how Renaissance solutions support more effective data collection and analysis.

Using data to track exclusionary discipline practices and discourage disproportionality

Teachers and administrators need the right tools to track and categorize incidents of exclusionary discipline and monitor the punitive measures that are being used with different student groups with respect to behavior.

By using a data management platform, educators can track discipline referrals by:

  • Behavior
  • Location
  • Time of day
  • Individual student
  • Monthly averages

Analyzing these reports helps teachers and administrators to see trends among referrals and behavior incidents. For example, after running a Behavior Referrals by Location report, it may become obvious that the common areas within the school, such as lockers or bathrooms, are prime locations for problem behaviors to take place.

This insight gives administrators and teachers the opportunity to enact preventative measures to help ward off potential problem behaviors, such as additional adult supervision or limiting the number of students in the problem area.

Educators can also use reporting around the given consequences for offending behaviors to better understand the number of enacted consequences. This can be done by observing key indicators such as the students’:

  • Ethnicity
  • Grade level
  • Special education status
  • English Learner status

This can help to identify whether a particular demographic group of students is experiencing a disproportionate severity of disciplinary action when compared to students of other demographics. Schools and districts can also monitor the impacts of different disciplinary actions on groups of students to gauge effectiveness and outcomes.

teen girl on ipad

Implementing PBIS for preventative action

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, “is an evidence-based, three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes” (United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters, 2018).

The general purpose of PBIS is to improve both student and teacher outcomes, as well as to reduce the exclusionary discipline rate of all students—especially those groups who historically experience disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates.

Positive behavioral interventions and supports allow schools and districts to institute behavioral expectations that are based on clear and actionable procedures and systems. Depending on the needs of students engaging in noncompliant behavior, Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports are provided, which involve students and staff in more intensive behavioral interventions.

To best determine which level of intervention intensity each student needs, PBIS relies heavily on collecting and analyzing disaggregated behavior data and progress monitoring.

This is where Renaissance can help.

Renaissance and PBIS work hand-in-hand to combat disproportionality

PBIS is a popular method of behavior management and is well-respected in many districts and schools across the country. To effectively implement these procedures and systems, collecting and analyzing data is non-negotiable.

Renaissance’s eduCLIMBER platform provides strong analytic tools for teachers and administrators who are seeking to implement PBIS, track student outcomes, and minimize exclusionary discipline practices. This interactive system focuses on the individual needs of each student by fully integrating whole child data into a single platform with built-in tools for:

  • Intervention tracking
  • Collaborative workflows
  • Effectiveness reporting

eduCLIMBER also helps administrators to monitor key performance indicators and increase equity, while giving teachers the tools they need to see the details about all students in one place. This means each team member gets a holistic view of what’s happening in the district across…

  • Academics;
  • Social-emotional behavior;
  • Attendance;
  • Interventions;
  • And more

…to drive real-time adjustments that advance equity, reduce disproportionality, and bolster school improvement.

Discover how eduCLIMBER can enable your team to collaborate around real-time data and turn insights into action with a user-friendly interface designed to support effective PBIS. Connect with an expert today to learn more.


Balfanz, R., Byrnes, V., & Fox, J. (2014) Sent home and put off-track: The antecedents, disproportionalities, and consequences of being suspended in the ninth grade. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 5(2).

Girvan, E., Gion, C., McIntosh, K., & Smolkowski, K. (2017). The relative contribution of subjective office referrals to racial disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(3), 392–404.

Monahan, K., VanDerhei, S., Bechtold, J., & Cauffman, E. (2014). From the school yard to the squad car: School discipline, truancy, and arrest. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(7), 1110–1122.

United States Government Accountability Office (2018). Report to Congressional Requesters: K–12 education: Discipline disparities for Black students, boys, and students with disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-18-258

Welch, K., & Payne, A. A. (2010). Racial threat and punitive school discipline. Social Problems, 57(1), 25–48.

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