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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Using risk ratios as a method of calculating substantial racial and ethnic disproportionality rates in school discipline Ghemraoui, Adam


The discipline gap – a phenomenon by which students of colour (e.g., Black students) are disproportionately affected by school exclusionary discipline compared to their White peers – has been reliably documented for more than 50 years. Researchers have relied on different metrics, analysis methods, and data sources to measure the discipline gap. Regulators have proposed the standard use of risk ratios as a metric to measure disproportionality. Risk ratios require that the target group (e.g., Black students) be compared to another group (e.g., White students), however, there is a paucity of studies on the differential impact of using White students versus all other students as comparison groups. I analyzed data from 5,422 schools from the 2012 – 2014 academic school years across the United States by fitting two series of mixed models to account for the nested structure of the data. I evaluated the effect of using different comparison groups on risk ratio values as well as school disproportionate status. Results indicate that the use of all other students as a comparison group yields significantly higher mean risk ratio values over three years for Black students to receive at least one out-of-school suspension (OSS) by a factor of 2.621. The predicted odds of a school’s risk ratio value being significantly disproportionate (i.e., compared to a threshold value) increases by a factor of 1.790 when using all other students as a comparison group. The mean risk ratio values for Black students to receive at least one OSS were significantly higher in 2014 – 2015 than in 2012 – 2013, regardless of which comparison group is used. Implications for both policy makers and researchers are discussed in light of the findings and proposed legislation.

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