A school can suspend a student for a number of offenses—fighting, disorderly conduct, insubordination, truancy, vandalism—temporarily removing the student from either the classroom or the school building for a set amount of time. But how do suspensions impact student outcomes such as achievement or grade retention?
“We often make very strong assumptions about the causal impact of something like a suspension on these outcomes, because it's very intuitive to suggest that if a kid is not in school, they can't learn,” says Kaitlin Anderson, an assistant professor of educational leadership. “And if the actual negative academic consequences precede the misbehavior—for example, if students are already struggling in school, they already are disengaged from school, they already don't feel like their teachers respect or want them there—then they might act up in school.” In this case, the consequence can be suspension.
Anderson calls this a “vicious cycle,” as these other factors related to misbehavior make it challenging to identify the causal relationship between suspensions and negative student outcomes. Studies have demonstrated that exclusionary discipline correlates with negative student outcomes, Anderson says, but “we still aren't really fully able to capture that causal relationship because it is so entangled in that cycle.”