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Keeping Kids in Class: How an Oregon School District Is Reducing Exclusionary Discipline

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This week we are hearing from REL Northwest (@relnw), which is located at Education Northwest (@educationnw). Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: Partnering to Reduce Disproportionate Exclusionary Discipline in Oregon.

This post is by Jon Bridges, administrator for accountability at Beaverton School District (@BeavertonSD), the third largest school district in Oregon.

For the past four years, with a focus on equity, the Beaverton School District has sought to reduce exclusionary discipline practices such as suspensions and expulsions. Specifically, we prioritized minimizing the percentage of students who are excluded from class for disciplinary reasons, as well as the amount of time they are excluded. This is important because, put simply, the more time kids have in class, the higher their academic achievement.

We still have work to do, but the results have been promising so far—we have seen a 40 percent reduction in the number of students who receive exclusionary discipline.

How did we get there?

Several years ago, the Beaverton School District began collecting data on the number of discipline referrals that led to student exclusion. We recognized disproportionate discipline was a problem, and we decided to do something about it.

Then we heard that REL Northwest was forming a research alliance of like-minded school districts in our region: the Oregon Leadership Network (OLN). We joined this group, and in collaboration with our fellow alliance members, we began to focus on effective data use and effective discipline interventions.

The initial questions we sought to answer were:

  • What are our discipline policies and practices?

  • What does our data say about exclusionary discipline—particularly regarding students of color?

A key step in our group process was comparing all the districts' policy handbooks. Our goal was to find positive examples that could be replicated.

During the policy review, we found that the level of discipline a student received was often at the discretion of the administrator, which can be problematic.

Given what we learned, we and the other OLN alliance members formally changed our philosophy about exclusionary discipline: We moved away from zero tolerance and escalating responses and toward restorative justice which focuses on mediation, relationship-repairing and -building, and agreement instead of punishment.

We and our fellow OLN alliance members then began to ask ourselves other questions, such as:

  • How do you reduce the number of discipline referrals within schools?

  • How do you change the system and the way educators handle conflicts?

  • How do we change instruction to prevent behaviors that lead to exclusion?

In Beaverton, we initially focused our efforts at middle schools. Our goal was to get administrators to change policies regarding criteria for referrals and to work with teachers on building better relationships with students. We are now replicating our work at the high school level.

To achieve our goal, we needed to look at our data to identify disparities and monitor progress—which is where our research-practice partnership with REL Northwest was really valuable.

When the districts first came together as the OLN research alliance, we found that we all collected data in different ways, making it hard to compare. In addition, we didn't always collect or display data in ways that were helpful.

REL Northwest helped us establish relative rate ratios to compare the suspension rate of students in different racial/ethnic groups with the suspension rate of white students. REL Northwest also conducted literature summaries that gave us information about interventions that had proven effective in similar contexts.

In addition to benefiting from the best practices expertise of REL Northwest, we found that being a part of the OLN research alliance and engaging with other districts in collective professional learning on effective data use created a sense of shared accountability.

The group dynamic also pushed us to learn more and maintain momentum—two things we continue to do today.

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