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Student Discipline Data Reports and the Rethinking Discipline Initiative

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 18, 2016

This fall the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) published its annual report of student discipline data, as required by the Board's regulation, 603 CMR 53.14. Data from the 2015-2016 school year is available on the Department's School Profiles Pages, through the Student Discipline and the Student Discipline Days Missed reports. These reports contain information on student discipline and offenses in public schools, as reported by school districts through the School Safety Discipline Report (SSDR) due each summer for the preceding school year.

There was a slight increase in the 2015-2016 incidences reported by Massachusetts schools compared to the 2014-2015 school year. Both the 2015-16 and 2014-15 years were consistent, however, in that approximately 10,000 fewer students were suspended or expelled when compared to 2013-2014, the year before the new state law and the Board's regulations took effect (Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012 and 603 CMR 53.00, respectively). Nearly half of the offenses in both years were in the non-drug, non-violent category. The Department is working with districts and others to consider creating meaningful sub-categories within that larger grouping, to provide better information about why students are being suspended and what steps could be taken to address challenges.

Of particular concern is the continued and even increasing disproportional rates of suspension for students based on race and ethnicity, special education status, gender, and income status. For example, a total of 4.3 percent of all students received at least one suspension during 2015-2016 compared to 4.1 percent in 2014-2015. Rates for certain populations are higher than the overall rate. In 2015-2016, the suspension rate for English Language Learners was 5.4 percent, for students who are economically disadvantaged it was 7.7 percent, and for students with disabilities it was 8.3 percent. Differences by gender are striking too: the rate was 2.5 percent for females compared to 5.9 percent for males. Statewide differences by race/ethnicity are also of great concern: the rate for African American/Black students (9.3 percent) was nearly 3.5 times, and for Hispanic/Latino (7.7 percent) nearly 2.9 times, of that of white students (2.7 percent). These patterns are not unique to Massachusetts; they are a concern for schools across the nation.

To help address these issues, in June 2016 the Department created the Rethinking Discipline Professional Learning Network (PLN) to work with schools and districts to reduce the inappropriate or excessive use of long-term suspensions and expulsions, including disproportional rates of suspensions and expulsions for students with disabilities and/or students of color. This network includes more than three dozen schools and districts that the Department identified as having some of the highest rates of suspension/expulsion and/or the most disproportionate use of suspension/expulsion based on their 2014-15 submitted SSDR data. We will revisit participation in this initiative now that we have 2015-16 data.

During the summer, each identified school and district scheduled a conference call with Department staff from the Offices of Student and Family Support, Special Education Planning and Policy, and Charter School and School Redesign. Calls included discussion of school/district specific data, as well as information about successful strategies that schools and districts have implemented, and challenges they are facing related to student discipline practices.

On October 28, 2016, the Department staff and teams from each participating school and district participated in the PLN's first in-person gathering in Leominster. The keynote, "Building a Positive School Climate Through a Continuum of Student Support," was delivered by Sandra Williamson, who is Director of the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments and a Vice-President at American Institutes for Research. Breakout sessions then focused on: Key Elements for Student Engagement and Preventing School Exclusion (led by Dr. Karla Estrada, Deputy Superintendent in Boston Public Schools); Addressing the Root Causes of Disparities in School Discipline (Sandra Williamson); Introduction to Restorative Practices in Schools: More than Repairing Harm (Kara McLaughlin, Project Director for the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership); and Understanding Trauma and Building a Trauma Sensitive School (Ryan Powers, Assistant Superintendent, Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District).

After hearing from a student speaker (Kalise Osula, Boston Community Leadership Academy alumna), participants met in cross-district groups to discuss successes and challenges with rethinking discipline work. The day concluded with information about action plans that the schools and districts will be submitting to the Department this winter (to describe work during 2016-2017) and next summer (to provide outcome information from 2016-2017 and plans for 2017-2018). These action plans are required under the Board's regulation, 603 CMR 53.14 (4). The Department soon will be confirming the types of support and offerings that will be available to PLN participants during the remainder of this school year. The Department is also analyzing the 2015-2016 data to inform the next annual determinations.

Additionally, during the past several weeks, the Department's Problem Resolution System unit, in collaboration with staff from the Department's Legal, Student and Family Support, and Special Education Planning and Policy teams, hosted a series of four "Sharing Solutions" trainings for schools, districts, and education collaboratives regarding discipline and alternatives to suspension, bullying, and restraint regulations, among other topics. Representatives from approximately 130 public school districts and 32 education collaboratives attended. Department staff highlighted common issues identified through the Department's problem resolution process. These trainings are another way the Department seeks to support educators in the field in implementing new requirements and safeguards.

If you have questions regarding the Department's discipline initiatives, please contact Rachelle Engler Bennett, Associate Commissioner via or 781-338-3205.

Enclosure: Press Release- Massachusetts Releases Second Year of Suspension Data

Last Updated: November 28, 2016
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