Impact of Ninth Grade Disciplinary Alternative Education Program Assignments on Graduation Rates in Texas
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Background: Although many researchers have found connections between exclusionary discipline and negative life outcomes, there is a dearth of research on the specific impacts that assignments to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) have on graduation outcomes. This study aimed to add to the literature by exploring the connection between multiple assignments to DAEPs and four-year graduation outcomes for students in Texas. DAEPs are a form of exclusionary discipline that have existed in Texas for years. Students are sent to these programs for a set number of days for violating student code of conduct or the law. These placements can be well longer than a typical in-school or out-of-school suspension. The state legislature in 2019 passed a law to make it easier for schools to place students in DAEPs, yet we do not know the long-term impact of these programs on students. Purpose: The goals of this analysis were (a) to understand who is most likely to be suspended or assigned to a DAEP multiple times in the critical ninth-grade year, (b) to examine the relationship between multiple assignments to DAEP and graduation, and (c) to compare the impact of DAEP assignments to the impact of in-school suspension (ISS) and out-of-school suspension (OSS) on four-year graduation rates. Methods: This quantitative study used a causal-comparative design to determine how multiple placements at DAEPs impact four-year graduation rates. Graduation outcome data for first-time ninth-grade students who were placed in ISS, OSS, or DAEP once, more than once, and not at all were analyzed. The first analysis investigated the relationship between demographics and multiple assignments to exclusionary discipline. The second analysis considered the proportional impact of DAEP, OSS, and ISS assignments on four-year graduation rates. Results: Students who were assigned to DAEPs have the lowest four-year graduation rates of all disciplined students. Other findings largely echo prior research on the impact of exclusionary discipline on graduation: students who are disciplined have lower rates of graduation. Furthermore, student characteristic—including race, receiving special education services, and socioeconomic status—impact the rate of exclusionary discipline assignments. Conclusion: The use of exclusionary discipline, DAEPs in particular, are negatively related to graduation rates. Future work should focus on examining strategies for evaluating disciplinary systems and ensuring they support students' scholastic advancement. Further steps, including implementing positive behavioral systems, were examined to help reach Texas's stated goals.