Risk Assessment Tools for School Discipline?

child-in-prison-with-graphicBy Nick McDaniels — About a week ago, in lieu of attending district professional development, I attended the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, DC.

I attended a few panel discussions, all of which were informative, but one of which was illuminating. The panel was on the Youth PROMISE Act. PROMISE is an acronym for Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education. Though the act does not yet have the force of law (H.R. 1318 & S. 1307), it will, when it eventually passes, ensure funding for programs that will keep young people out of prisons.

It seems like a bipartisan no-brainer. In fact, one of the panelists, a judge from Georgia, talked about how Georgia, a heavily red state, has already taken measures to implement practices to reduce the number of youth in prison. In light of this, my gut tells me that the Youth PROMISE Act will eventually pass, no matter how ineffective our US Congress is.

One of the panelists, Mr. Melvin Carter of the Minnesota Department of Education, talked about the implementation of a Risk Assessment Tool in the juvenile justice system in the Twin Cities. A Risk Assessment Tool, in the context of Juvenile Justice, is an instrument that assesses the risk that an offender will re-offend. Such tools have many uses and benefits, not the least of which, is keeping kids out of jails, and, ultimately prisons. Statistically, the experience of one night in jail drastically increases a juvenile’s likelihood of re-offending.

So, while I was interested in the use of risk assessment tools generally in the context of the justice system, I couldn’t help but want to apply such a tool to a school situation. That is, after each school infraction, a student would be given a risk assessment to determine the likelihood of a repeat offense. Then, we could make a decision about disciplinary action for that student.

To me, this solves the problem of reacting to infractions rather than reacting to the impact of the infractions on the learning environment. If a student, according to a risk assessment, presented a high likelihood of repeat offense, and that offense would impair the learning environment, then interventions (and/or punishments) would have to be put into place before the student could be confidently returned to the learning environment. Likewise, if limited risk of re-offense was exhibited, a student could be given a reasonable consequence and returned immediately to the learning environment without long term intervention strategy necessary.

What if we made our efforts to reduce suspension rates in school more purposeful? If we used a risk assessment tool with a student after each infraction, could we then do a better job of deciding which infractions from which students warrant suspension, removal from class, any other number of disciplinary actions?

Of course, I don’t have the answers to these questions, nor do I have a great model of what a school Risk Assessment Tool may look like, but I think it may be worth exploring.

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