Measuring Discipline Disparities

There is no standard method for characterizing or calculating overrepresentation in school discipline.[1] The methods used most commonly by jurisdictions, researchers, policy analysts and advocates to measure discipline disparities vary widely.[2] Each method shares a different story or perspective about the impact of disciplinary practices on student outcomes. How indicators of discipline disparities are used is not uniform as they may be:

  • derived from different formulas (e.g., risk ratio vs risk gap),
  • generated by different types of data (e.g., infraction-level vs. student-level),
  • sensitive to contextual factors (e.g., homogenous vs heterogeneous student populations),
  • disaggregated differently (e.g., by race/ethnicity vs by race/ethnicity, gender and disability status), and/or
  • reported differently (e.g., school-level vs district-level).

Consequently, the choice of indicator affects what questions can and cannot be answered about a school’s disciplinary practices and can lead to different findings about the degree to which disproportionality exists in a given educational setting.[3]

No single indicator can adequately reflect the impact of disproportionate disciplinary practices on student outcomes. Using multiple indicators is essential to accurately identify discipline disparities and inform decisionmaking about how to address those disparities.


[1] Data Accountability Center (October, 2011). Methods for Assessing Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education: A Technical Assistance Guide (Revised), Westat, Rockville, MD, Julie Bollmer, Jim Bethel, Tom Munk, and Amy Bitterman; Coutinho, M. J., & Oswald, D. P. (2004). Disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education: Measuring the problem. Practitioner Brief Series: National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems; Gregory, A., Skiba, R. J., & Noguera, P. A. (2010). The Achievement Gap and the Discipline Gap Two Sides of the Same Coin?. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 59-68.

[2] Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Standards Needed to Improve Identification of Racial and Ethnic Overrepresentation in Special Education: (Appendix III is particularly interesting because it lists the various ways in which States measure overrepresentation for discipline)

[3] Skiba, R. J., Michael, R. S., Nardo, A. C., & Peterson, R. L. (2002). The color of discipline: Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. The urban review, 34(4), 317-342.

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General Info: 

Discipline Disparities Risk Assessment Tool

(2015) National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments

This resource provides a series of Microsoft Excel–based worksheets with detailed instructions on what data to collect, how to collect them, how to enter them into the tool, how to answer key questions, and how to analyze your results. The tool autogenerates graphic representations of your results.

This tool can be used as-is, modified, or serve as a model for designing a tool that can integrate with or import data from an existing school or district database or student management system. The tool also can be used in concert with existing data collection efforts, such as PBIS. 


Suspension Data by State or School District

(2013) Center for Civil Rights Remedies

This web tool quickly sorts through data on more than 26,000 U.S. schools and approximately 7,000 districts and presents the reader with clear yet detailed graphs based on the analysis published in two recent CCRR reports – Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School  and Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools.

The web tool lets users access suspension data by state or school district according to:

  • Secondary school results
  • Elementary school results
  • K-12 school results
  • Comparison of elementary and secondary school results

The tool makes it easy for users to compare two districts and search for data based on race, ethnicity, English learners, students with disabilities, and gender. Users can even compare discipline rates by race/ethnicity that are further broken down by gender or by disability status. The data derives from the U.S. Department of Education’s collection of discipline data from a sample covering approximately 85% of the nation’s K-12 students in 2009-2010.  The web tool will be updated with the latest data soon after it is released next year.