Study Compares Suspensions and Expulsions for English Learner Students and their Non-English Learner Peers


Tuesday, August 4, 2015


A new REL Northwest study examines whether English learner (EL) students in six Oregon school districts were suspended or expelled with similar frequency—and for similar reasons—as non-English learner students. Conducted on behalf of the Oregon Leadership Network and drawing from school district data in the 2011–2012 school year, the study found that EL students and non-EL students were suspended or expelled at similar rates in elementary school; however, in middle school and high school, EL students were suspended or expelled at higher rates than non-EL students. Across all grades, aggression and insubordination/disruption were the most common reasons why EL and non-EL groups of students were suspended or expelled.

“Parents and educators nationwide have grown increasingly concerned over reports that schools discipline some groups of students more than others,” said REL Northwest’s Art Burke, lead author of the study. “Particularly worrisome is discipline that removes children from their classrooms for extended periods of time.”

The study also looks at the number of instructional days lost by EL students because of disciplinary actions and the rates at which they met standards for proficiency on state assessments in reading and math. EL students and non-EL students were suspended for similar numbers of days in elementary school and middle school; in high school, however, EL students were suspended for nearly a full day more than non-EL students. Additionally, EL students who were suspended or expelled had substantially lower achievement on state assessments in reading and math than EL students who were not subject to exclusionary discipline.

“The findings shed light on disciplinary practices in a group of Oregon districts with a growing number of English learner students and could help inform policy and practice decisions,” said Burke. “Other states and localities may wish to conduct similar comparisons of suspension and expulsion rates for English learner students and non-English learner students.”

The study follows a May 2014 study conducted by REL Northwest, which found disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color. The earlier study did not report results specifically for EL students, who are the fastest-growing student group in the state.

Download the full report at the Institute of Education Sciences website.


The Oregon Leadership Network is a statewide network that includes 22 school districts, along with ESDs, state agencies, professional associations, and higher education institutions working together to eliminate disparities in student success. OLN members collaborate with REL Northwest, one of 10 regional education laboratories funded by the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, in a research partnership that conducts studies and other activities aimed at eliminating gaps in graduation rates and disciplinary actions for different groups of students. REL Northwest is operated by Education Northwest, which works to transform teaching and learning throughout the region and beyond.