Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Specialization

School Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Kathleen Gorman

Abstract

Exclusionary discipline practices have been associated with a range of negative student outcomes, both academic and behavioral, as well as a higher likelihood of later school drop-out and involvement in the juvenile justice system. Alternatively, more positive school climate has been associated with a variety of favorable student outcomes including higher levels of academic achievement and fewer behavioral infractions. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between school climate and exclusionary discipline practices and policies in the Rhode Island public elementary and secondary schools. More specifically the study sought to investigate the association between teacher and student perceptions of school climate and variations in the number of in-school suspensions (ISS), out-of-school suspensions (OSS), and alternative placement programs (APP). Additionally, we examined whether school discipline policies moderated the relationship between school climate and school discipline practices.

Data from 261 elementary and secondary schools were included. Measures of teacher and student ratings of school climate, school discipline practices (i.e., suspensions and alternative program placements) and demographic variables were publicly available through the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) through their website InfoWorks!. School discipline policies were publicly available via school and school district website and analyzed using content analysis.

Significant disparities in suspension rates and perceptions of school climate were found between groups, such that schools that served higher proportions of historically marginalized students (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities, low SES) were associated with lower ratings of school climate among students and teachers, and the more frequent use of exclusionary discipline practices (i.e., suspensions and alternative program placements). Bivariate associations indicated that more positive ratings of school climate by teachers and students were significantly associated with lower rates of OSS, ISS and APP. However, after controlling for demographic variables in multiple regression analyses, student perceptions of school climate remained significantly inversely related to OSS. Furthermore, results of multiple regression analyses indicated that more proactive and less reactive school discipline policies were associated with higher rates of APP. There were no significant associations between school climate and school discipline policies. Results of the moderation analyses were inconclusive.

Most notable were our findings that school discipline policies and practices were not aligned. This is critical information as large-scale school-wide interventions are launched to address the disproportionality and overuse of exclusionary discipline practices. It is helpful then to consider who is writing the discipline policies, the degree to which they are implemented and enforced in schools, and to identify the ways in which they can be improved, and aligned with more proactive discipline practices.

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