JCPS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A University of Louisville researcher who has been studying disproportionality in suspensions at Jefferson County Public Schools will soon share his findings with the school district, he told WDRB News.

The data comes as the district puts renewed focus on racial equity in JCPS classrooms, including attempts to cut disproportionality in suspensions between white and minority students.

The Jefferson County Board of Education extended a contract with the U of L Research Foundation on Tuesday for a study on disproportionate suspensions of minority and disabled students conducted by Terry Scott, director of U of L's Center for Instructional and Behavioral Research in Schools, through May 1. The original contract, worth nearly $95,000, expired Feb. 1.

Scott, who began work on the project Oct. 17, has been tasked with evaluating 59 schools identified by JCPS that have high disproportionalities in suspensions of minority and disabled students.

He said he expects his team will wrap up its schools observations, which gives them a look at how adults interact with students and whether schools have positive behavioral interventions and supports in place, by early next week. Scott has also requested suspension data throughout JCPS and tried to get a better understanding of the climates at the 59 schools by looking at Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning surveys, which are filled out by school staff.

Scott says once the research is complete, he wants to be able to predict not only a school's suspension rate based on several variables, but also its disproportionality rate. Based on the preliminary results of his team's research, "there are a couple of things that appear to be significant" indicators, he said.

But Scott said he would not discuss any results until the research is complete.

"I'd rather wait until we have the statistical power to say that we know these are for sure significant," Scott said. "Like I said, I did it as a pilot just to see if there was something there, and it's very promising."

Disproportionality in suspensions between white and minority students is one target of the district's racial equity plan, which the board passed Jan. 8. In the first semester of the current school year, black students made up 36 percent of the district's enrollment and 66 percent of its suspensions.

Students identified with learning disabilities made up about 30 percent of suspensions at JCPS in the first semester. In a Feb. 5 report on the status of the district's corrective action plan on special education issues, the Kentucky Department of Education also found "significant" disproportionality for black special needs students who were suspended more than 10 days as recently as the 2016-17 school year.

Scott said he hoped JCPS would use the research data to improve training for staff.

"If we said, 'Wow, in schools where teachers say positive things to kids in the hallway, we get less suspensions or we get less disproportionality,' that doesn't mean for certain that that causes it, but it would let us say to the district, 'Why don't we start talking to teachers about doing that in a set of schools and follow them and see what happens?'" Scott said.

"This is really an exploratory type of research right now, but once we find something, we would want to go in and train schools and teach teachers to do things and follow that to see if we can get an effect."

Carmen Coleman, chief academic officer for JCPS, said the data will give the district a better look at which schools need more help.

"They (U of L researchers) take their results from their visit, and then they give it to us in a way that helps us to see what schools might need additional support, maybe where there are some individual teachers that are really struggling with engagement and just management," Coleman said after Tuesday's school board meeting. "And so that's how we will use it, just to help us know how to direct our supports."

Scott says he's been conducting classroom observations for nearly a decade and has completed about 13,000.

In his experience, minority students and those with disabilities often get "less instruction and more negatives from teachers."

"Black kids do not have more problem behaviors in the classroom than anybody else, but they're far more likely to be corrected negatively by the teacher for the same behaviors," Scott said.

Disproportionality in discipline is an "undeniable" issue that school districts across Kentucky and the country must grapple with, he said.

"It sticks to them (JCPS) because they're a big district and they've got a diverse population, and not all the districts in the state do," Scott said. "But the ones that do almost certainly have disproportionality."

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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