All students have the right to safe and supportive learning environments. However, research literature and government reports show that this is not necessarily the case in many classrooms across the United States. Minority students are often over-represented in special education referrals and placements, as well as in discipline reporting (Skiba et al., 2011). It is important for districts and states to look at disaggregated discipline data so that they can see these sorts of trends and develop policies that promote equity and culturally responsive practices.
West Virginia is doing just that. Thanks to funds from the National Association of State Boards of Education, the West Virginia Department of Education and West Virginia Board of Education were able to examine and reform disciplinary policies from a state-level perspective. Although most students did not have discipline referrals, the report found that minority students and students with disabilities were more likely to experience exclusionary discipline actions than their peers. West Virginia is looking more closely at alternatives to detention, suspensions, and expulsions, and offering professional development and technical assistance opportunities to school districts in an effort to minimize disparities in discipline practices.
West Virginia has also improved its discipline data collection tool. The new discipline monitoring system (DMS) allows schools to track the most prevalent incident types; identify when and where these behaviors are most likely to occur; identify which students have the highest need for services; and track the outcomes of behavioral interventions. The DMS also allows for more customizable, real-time reporting.
Using data is an important first step in improving the learning environment of classrooms. West Virginia is using this opportunity to improve school discipline data collection and reporting across the state, empowering school districts to make informed decisions about interventions and supports needed to ensure success for ALL West Virginia students.