The discipline gap at Oak Park and River Forest High School has been as perplexing an issue for the school as the academic achievement gap between black and white students.
In the 2004-05 school year, suspensions exploded with black students racking up the most compared with other students, a trend that hasn’t changed. That explosion prompted the District 200 Board of Education to call on administration to report out discipline data at mid-year, in addition to the regular fall report at semester’s end. It was the first time the high school would report data at mid-fall.
But since the 2007-08 school year, the high school has not reported early data on suspensions, detentions and expulsions, officials saying a mid-year report is too early and doesn’t paint a complete picture of student behavior and interventions at the high school.
Janel Bishop, OPRF assistant principal for student health and safety, however, said administration would provide the board with specific discipline data earlier, but if asked. Bishop, a former discipline dean at OPRF, added that the high school wouldn’t report early anecdotal information about student behavior. Bishop said a first semester report is expected early spring.
“If a board member asked, we would pull specific stats and give them that instead of arbitrary information,” she said.
Mid-semester vs. end-of-semester data
What the mid-semester data did show was how many consequences were handed out in the first few weeks and months of the school year. For fall of 2005 and 2006, first-quarter data was reported from mid-August to mid-October. In 2005 at mid-fall, 249 students received consequences, 128 of them black. In 2006 for the first quarter, 117 students received consequences, 62 of them black.
Dist. 200 board member John Rigas, who was board president in 2005, said members were concerned about how severe discipline was handed out, which he says has changed.
“Once we saw that things were being done toward intervention, we felt a quarterly report wasn’t necessary,” he said. “The level of intervention has increased significantly.”
Within the last year, the board and administration have discussed expanding intervention efforts. A board policy was also passed encouraging every adult in the building, and not just security personnel and deans, to intervene when students are behaving inappropriately. And there’s been discussion about how to gauge student behavior as the school year gets under way.
Carl Spight, OPRF’s data consultant who previously worked part-time as the school’s institutional researcher, said whether done earlier or at mid-year, the school needed to report on progress toward interventions.
“It has not been the case that there’s been too little data reported. There needs to more frequent and more edifying reports on interventions and interdictions, not less,” Spight said. “It needs to be more insightful and more focused. They can do it if they want to do it. The system can be made to work on that.”