Panel Paper: The relationship between disability type, educational setting, and disciplinary outcomes for students with disabilities

Saturday, November 10, 2018
McKinley - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kaitlin Anderson, Michigan State University

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (2018), students with disabilities (SWDs) made up about 12% of the 2015-16 student population, but 28% of referrals to law enforcement or school-related arrests, 26% of students receiving one or more OSS, and 24% of students expelled. However, these figures may mask important heterogeneity, as it is possible that a student’s disability type and educational setting (e.g., inclusion in a general education classroom versus self-contained) may be associated with his risk of disciplinary referrals and consequences. Students with emotional disturbances, for example, may be at higher risk for referrals, yet may be less likely to receive exclusionary discipline if misbehavior is determined to be a manifestation of the student’s disability. In terms of educational setting, inclusion might make SWDs feel more accepted and less isolated, which could improve behavioral outcomes or, alternatively, SWDs might become more disruptive in a general education classroom if there is less opportunity for one-on-one attention.

This study examines the relationship between disability type, educational setting, and student disciplinary outcomes, using five years of student-level demographic data, and student-by-year discipline incident data (from 2012-13 to 2016-17) for all students identified as receiving special education services in the state of Michigan. Michigan is a particularly relevant context this in which to study these issues given the state’s recent identification as the only state in the nation in need of intervention for failing to meet Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements (U.S. Department of Education, 2018).

In this work, I assess whether certain types of disabilities, educational settings are associated with higher risk for referral for each of twelve different infraction types, and whether conditional on referral, these factors are associated with the type of consequence received (e.g., expulsions, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, or removals to alternative educational settings. In descriptive models, I assess whether other characteristics of students (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, free- and reduced-price lunch eligibility, and English proficiency) interact with disability type or educational setting to contribute to the risk of discipline referrals and consequences. In addition, in student fixed effects models, I limit selection bias into disability type or educational setting by identifying the relationship these and disciplinary outcomes using within-student variation over time.

This work has important implications for the IDEA’s requirement for schools to provide a “free and appropriate education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). Moreover, while discipline disproportionalities for a variety of groups of students are well documented, this work provides novel evidence on how a variety of student characteristics and educational settings interact to contribute to a student’s risk of involvement in the disciplinary system.


U.S. Department of Education (July 5, 2018). 2018 Determination Letters on State Implementation of IDEA. Retrieved from:

U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (2018). School climate and safety: Data highlights on school climate and safety in our nation’s public schools. Retrieved from: