Schools May Have a New Way to Avoid Student Suspensions

James M. Loy, Miami University

The use of student suspensions as a disciplinary measure has received heavy criticism in recent years.

For many students, out-of-school suspensions lead to lower academic achievement, lower high school and college graduation rates, and even diminished earning potential and work-related productivity as adults. Plus, experts say suspensions are also unlikely to deter future misconduct.

amity noltemeyer

But schools seeking to avoid suspensions may now have a better solution.

New research from Miami University and the Ohio Department of Education shows that the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is associated with lower rates of out-of-school student suspensions.

That is, schools that have successfully implemented a school-wide PBIS program suspend students less frequently than schools without a PBIS program.

“This is an important finding because prior research suggests there are negative outcomes associated with out-of-school suspensions,” says Amity Noltemeyer, Miami University professor of school psychology. “Schools may want to consider adopting and implementing core features of school-wide PBIS to reduce their use of exclusionary discipline in response to student behavior.”

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Published by the School Psychology Review, the study conducted by Noltemeyer and her co-authors -- which also included Miami University family science associate professor Anthony James -- looked at 153 Ohio schools to determine the relationship between school-wide PBIS implementation levels and student outcomes.

When it comes to discipline, Noltemeyer says most schools have traditionally been mostly reactive. Detentions and suspensions, for example, were typically enforced as punishments after a student broke the rules.  

“But we know that that does not change behavior,” she explains.

Instead, PBIS is about being preemptive by improving the entire school culture through an emphasis on positive social behaviors. It works by establishing and promoting a clear and consistent set of expectations, which are then modeled by everyone throughout the school. Positive reinforcement is also used to recognize students who follow the rules to curb misbehavior before it occurs.

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According to Noltemeyer, the core features of school-wide PBIS include:

  • Establishing 3-5 behavioral expectations, which are informed by staff, student, and family input
  • Providing opportunities to practice behavioral expectations across all school settings
  • Recognizing students when expectations are met and enforcing consequences when they are not
  • Engaging in data-based decision making and progress monitoring
  • Offering a culturally responsive multi-tiered system of behavioral supports
  • Building a leadership team to support all PBIS efforts

More information on PBIS is available on the Ohio Department of Education website.