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Data on poor in-school behavior in Carroll schools paints mixed picture – Baltimore Sun

First of a series.

There have been more incidents of Carroll County elementary school students receiving major incident referrals for poor in-school behavior this year than last year, according to school officials. Meanwhile, referrals and suspensions are trending lower this year for middle and high school students.

Superintendent Cynthia McCabe said the uptick in behavior incidents among elementary students is a vestige of at-home learning amid the pandemic, which deprived younger students of the valuable social learning they would have received in classrooms.

“What we found was when students came back from COVID, the physical interactions went way up, and one of the reasons for that is that there was really very little social interaction going on at home,” McCabe said during a March 18 student behavior workshop. “There was very little opportunity for very young children to be together and be in an environment where they are with other students and supervised by an adult so that they could learn those pro-social behaviors that we would like them to learn.

“So, they had an extended period of time of learning, if you will, the wrong behaviors,” McCabe added.

Students who had an atypical early childhood education experience in 2020 because of COVID are now entering the final grades of elementary school.

“It’s obviously the interaction they lost,” Board of Education Vice President Tara Battaglia said. “They lost how to have those relationships with their peers.”

There have been a total of 4,275 major discipline referrals issued to elementary school students between the beginning of this school year to Feb. 28, according to the school system. This is up from 3,370 referrals issued to elementary students during the same timeframe last school year. Physical interaction, disrespect, and unsafe behavior were the most prominent reasons for an elementary student to receive a referral.

This academic year, 709 distinct elementary school students have been issued a referral, up from 628 during the previous school year, as of Feb. 28, 2023. That number for the 2021-22 school year was 513 during the same time period.

The total number of elementary school suspensions has dropped during the same time, from 27 last school year to 19 this year.

In middle schools, there were 1,822 referrals and 221 suspensions issued to students, as of Feb. 28, down from 2,194 referrals and 324 suspensions from this time last year.

In county high schools, major discipline referrals issued to students dropped from 2,492 to 2,341 over the last year, while high school suspensions fell from 474 to 405, according to the presentation.

“We knew it was going to be difficult when everyone came back [to in-person learning],” McCabe said, “but it has been much harder than we even thought it was going to be. That’s why you’re seeing some of the data that you’re seeing.”

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Nicholas Shockney said student referral and suspension data can be a measure of student behavior, but does not paint a complete picture and should not be treated as a singular indicator.

“One thing I really, really want to point out and emphasize is that increases or decreases in the number of these two types of discipline, referrals or suspensions, is not necessarily an indicator of a success or a problem,” Shockney said. “We use discipline to communicate clearly with families and with students, and to shape the behavior that we’re looking for. So, oftentimes we might talk about a reduction in a referral, that doesn’t necessarily mean things are getting better. We might also see increases in a particular area, which may mean it’s a point of emphasis for us, so we’re using the discipline system to make sure we’re communicating those behaviors.”

Carroll school system staff are not discouraged to issue referrals so that their school may look better, McCabe said, which would threaten the data’s integrity.

The criteria to suspend a student is set by Maryland, but each county may develop its own codes for issuing referrals. In Carroll County, minor referrals may be submitted by relevant staff, but each major referral noted in the data presented was addressed by school administrators. Shockney said students in grades two and below may not be suspended, as per state law, which results in fewer suspensions in the elementary school category.

Board of Education President Marsha Herbert said home life is the most significant factor in determining student behavior, based on her experience as a teacher.

“It really does start at home,” Herbert said, “and it starts at an early age.”

Coming in Monday’s Carroll County Times: Referrals for fighting are up 70% in Carroll’s elementary schools over the past 2 years

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