Racial achievement gaps in the U.S. are stunning. According to 2015 NCES data, 43% of White 8th graders were proficient in math, while only 13% of Black students and 19% of Hispanic students tested at this level. A similar gap exists for reading, with 44% of White 8th grade students testing proficient, 21% of Hispanic students, and only 16% of Black students. While scholars offer numerous explanations for racial achievement gaps, Edward Morris and Brea Perry explore one explanation that is often overlooked: school punishment.
Morris and Perry use the Kentucky School Discipline Study (KSDS), which includes school records and supplementary data from parents in a large, urban public school district, to determine if school suspension increases the racial achievement gap in math and reading scores. Their sample included 16,248 students in grades 6 through 10, from 17 schools, over a period of three years. The authors test the association of race and suspensions, measure change in test scores over time, and predict test scores based on early and repeated suspensions.
The authors find that African American and Latino students are more likely to be suspended than Whites and Asians in the same school, and that suspensions–even just one–are related to a lower achievement growth rate over time. Finally, the authors determine that punishment accounts for approximately one-fifth of Black-White differences in test scores. Thus, the racial achievement gap is partially explained by a disproportionate use of school punishment for Black and Latino students.
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