Integrated Data to Reduce Disproportionality in School Discipline Referrals and Increase Access to Supports

How might an integrated data-based decision making framework reduce racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline referrals and access to school-based mental health supports?

Schools are a critical setting for students to gain access to behavioral and emotional supports, but students are often referred for supports or disciplinary action as a reaction to an observed behavior that is perceived to violate school expectations. This reactive mode of referral is susceptible to teachers’ racial bias and does not allow for prevention and early intervention for mental health risks. In response, Naser and colleagues will develop and evaluate the Integrated Data-Based Referral (IDBR) framework, a proactive approach to guiding teachers’ decision making that better positions teachers to make disciplinary decisions and referrals to mental health supports. The IDBR will integrate emotional and behavioral risk data and daily student behavior and discipline data with a form that guides teachers through the process of making disciplinary referrals. This form will prompt teachers to consider behavioral risk, applicable preventative interventions available at the school, and questions for self-reflection that encourage rational assessments of and responses to a student’s behavior. Naser’s team will develop and implement the IDBR framework for the fourth through eighth grades of a diverse, primarily low-income urban school in northeast Ohio. During the first year of the study, the team will collect baseline data on existing disciplinary and mental health referral practices and develop the IDBR processes. In the second year, the team will determine whether implementation of the IDBR framework decreases disproportionate school discipline referrals for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and increases these students’ referral to and receipt of mental health interventions. These analyses will be supported by data from focus groups to understand the IDBR framework’s impact on student–teacher relationships and perceptions of behavioral referrals and mental health supports. Findings from the study will be used to refine the framework in ways that promise more equitable school discipline practices and more proactive efforts to address students’ mental health needs.