New state data released Monday shows how many times students are suspended or expelled in Washington, for how long and for what misbehavior.
Last May, state education officials released numbers showing how many Washington students miss school because of discipline, as well as percentages from each racial group for those who get expelled or suspended.
On Monday, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) added more details to that picture, including new numbers breaking down suspensions and expulsions by specific types of misbehavior.
The new data, available online at the OSPI website, also track the latest numbers by racial group, allowing school districts to compare their discipline patterns with other districts, as well as the state average.
The May release showed that in Washington — as nationally — black students are suspended at rates that far exceed their overall enrollment.
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In the 2014-2015 school year, for example, about 10 percent of the 44,655 kids removed from Washington classrooms were African American, but they make up less than 5 percent of all students.
A state law that went into effect last fall requires schools to keep better track of discipline and show whether they are providing academic help to suspended kids.
That’s not been easy because Washington’s 295 school districts have lacked both consistent definitions for types of misbehavior and common reporting procedures.
And if a kid’s misbehavior doesn’t fit an official category, it gets lumped into a catchall “other” category that doesn’t tell educators what led to a suspension or expulsion, or if racial disparities exist.
In 2013-2014, for example, the state didn’t know the reason for half of all suspensions and expulsions because they were lumped into the “other category.”
“Every district has done its own thing, and the category of ‘other’ has kind of been the thorn in our foot because we don’t know what it means,” said Gil Mendoza, the state’s deputy superintendent.
He said this year’s data gets closer to establishing a uniform system.
For example, the ‘other’ category for the 2014-15 school year has been whittled down to about 36 percent. That’s because the state asked districts to carve out two new, more specific reasons for suspension or expulsion: “failure to cooperate” and “disruptive conduct.”
Disruptive conduct — which the state defines as “conduct that materially and substantially interferes with the educational process” — was the single largest specific reason why students missed school for misbehavior, about 15 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.
The state doesn’t provide examples of that misbehavior, so it’s still pretty much a judgment call that could vary from school to school and district to district.
Statewide, 7,368 students were suspended or expelled at least once for disruptive conduct in the 2014-15 school year.
Of those, African Americans made up about 16 percent, three times their 5 percent share of the population. No other racial group was as overrepresented.
That disparity is evident in Seattle Public Schools, where black students represent 52 percent of all students disciplined for disruptive conduct, but make up only 17 percent of the student body.
This school year, the state is collecting data for even more categories that used to fall under the umbrella of “other,” including sexual and discriminatory harassment, vandalism, theft and academic dishonesty (such as plagiarism).
State education officials said more training is needed so that schools will define and report misbehavior consistently.
And a few more years of data will be required before the state can make broad judgments about whether districts are fairly applying discipline policies.