Disciplinary Referrals for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students with and without Disabilities: Patterns Resulting from School-Wide Positive Behavior Support

Claudia Vincent, Jessica Swain-Bradway, Tary Tobin, and Seth May wrote an article “Disciplinary Referrals for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students with and without Disabilities: Patterns Resulting from School-Wide Positive Behavior Support.” This article discussed a study that examined if school-wide positive behavior support implementation was associated with reductions in the discipline gap. The study looked at the percent of students enrolled in school in comparison to the percent of students with office discipline referrals within each racial-ethnic category. The percent of students with office discipline referrals and individualized education plans was compared across racial-ethnic categories. The results of the study showed that a discipline gap existed in schools that implemented school-wide positive behavior support as well as schools that did not implement such support with African American students having the largest number of office discipline referrals. In schools engaged in school-wide positive behavior support, the gap was statistically significantly smaller than in schools not involved in school-wide positive behavior support implementation.


Vincet et al explain that the goal of school-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) is to prevent inappropriate student behavior which would in turn increase student access to academic instruction. “The overall goal hinges on the following premises: (a) a common and positive school culture can be derived from clearly defined behavioral expectations, consistent acknowledgement of appropriate behaviors, and consistently implemented consequences for inappropriate behaviors; (b) proactive teaching of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior in various school settings creates a level playing field where all students can be held to the same behavioral standards; and (c) continuous collection of discipline data allows efficient and effective allocation of resources based on students’ responses to the level of behavioral support they receive” (Vincent et al, 2011, 176).


SWPBS is designed to provide behavior support for students with multiple support needs. There is universal support for the student population as a whole. This consists of annual education and acknowledgement of the school’s behavioral policies. Students who are not receptive of the universal tier of support tend to benefit from a secondary intervention that includes additional support to increase the structure and predictability of behavior. This includes an increase in feedback from adults throughout the day as well as assistance in setting and meeting individual behavior goals. If there are students with significant behavior challenges, it might be necessary for them to undergo intensive individualized interventions in the form of personalized intervention plans that develop from functional behavior assessments. “Little is known about the shared characteristics of the approximately 20% of students unresponsive to universal interventions. Proactive prediction of support needs is therefore difficult” (Vincent et al, 2011, 177).


Vincent et al offered some recommendations for further research on how SWPBS could be better implemented to address the discipline gap. They state, “It appears that decisions regarding the behavioral support needs of CLD students should be based on disciplinary data from CLD students. Careful collection of ethnicity information and review of disciplinary data disaggregated by students’ racial-ethnic background seems a needed step in this process” (Vincent et al, 2011, 186). The emphasis placed on data-based decision making and continued data collection and review that SWPBS places on schools should cause them to breakdown their discipline data by race to see if any patterns surface. Such an examination should help them refine their support practices so they are more beneficial to students (Vincent et al, 2011).


More work needs to be done to find different approaches to discipline that create more equitable disciplinary referrals for students from diverse cultural backgrounds with and without a disability. It seems appropriate to encourage more culturally responsive SWPBS implementation given the proven effectiveness of SWPBS implementation on reductions in overall office discipline referrals (Vincent et al, 2011).

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