How Kickboard supported one Los Angeles school in decreasing the suspension rate from 15% of the student population to 2% in one year
KIPP Academy of Opportunity
Los Angeles Unified School District
Los Angeles, CA
- Middle School
- Grades 5-8
- 93% Eligible for free /reduced price meals
- 14% Receive Special Education Services
- 58% Black or African American
- 38% Hispanic or Latino
- <1% Asian
- 3% Other
Kipp Academy of Opportunity (KAO) has had a strong presence in the Los Angeles area since its founding in 2003. In 2018, the school building was relocated and there were changes in school leadership, giving the KAO community an opportunity to revitalize school culture. The new leadership team designed schoolwide culture systems that integrated best practices from PBIS and Restorative Justice models to create a positive learning environment and promote the social emotional growth of each student. The school also focused attention on the utilization of the Kickboard platform to properly track student behavior and implement better informed multi-tiered interventions.
KAO was successful in lowering suspension rates and chronic absenteeism while creating an overall happier, more positive atmosphere for students and teachers alike.
PBIS Best Practices at KAO:
- Creating incentive systems that motivate students to reach full potential
- Explicitly teaching expectations and helping students to identify desired behavior
- Utilizing behavior management systems that focus on accentuating positive student behavior
- Providing support and resources to empower teachers to use PBIS strategies in their classrooms
Restorative Justice Best Practices at KAO:
- Diminishing the zero-tolerance approach and increasing restorative approaches to behavior that reduce suspensions and keep students in the classroom
- Promoting utilization of positive discipline that helps students reflect on behavior with a growth mindset
- Understanding how past traumas may affect student behavior choices
- Improving communication between all stakeholders involved in student growth in order to resolve conflict
- Transition of leaders and teaching staff
- New building location
- Inconsistency in maintaining schoolwide systems
- Growing Special Education population
- High suspension rates in special education students and young boys of color
A Time of Transition
15 years after KIPP Academy of Opportunity’s initial founding, it was time for the school to move to their very own, brand new building. This was a time of many exciting changes for the school but the transition also came with moments of instability.
John Coleman took over as School Leader in the winter of 2018. “We went through a transition of school leaders which led to a lot of transition of teachers as well,” he explained. “We had a lot of substitutes in the building which brought inconsistency and difficulty in maintaining sustainability of our processes.”
KAO showed resilience in facing the challenge of constantly aligning new staff members to KIPP’s ideals in order to provide a level of consistency that students needed to be successful.
Understanding A Changing Student Population
Just after the staff of KAO was in a time of transition, the student population was rapidly changing as well. The number of special education students had doubled and the team was still in the process of figuring out how to best support them in their general population classes. “We went from 33 special education students in the 2017-18 school year to 66 in the 2018-19 school year,” Coleman stated, “That’s a drastic change.”
Not only had the population grown, but Coleman explained that “special education students and young boys of color were the leading groups in receiving suspensions.” Because many of the students at KAO have had experiences with past traumas that may affect their behavioral development, he wanted to move away from a “one size fits all” approach when dealing with discipline.
KAO leaders chose to focus on revitalizing the practice of using the Kickboard platform to help give structure to their new and changing environment. “It makes it very, very easy for our teachers to get accustomed and acclimated to our processes,” Coleman explained in reference to training new teachers. “It’s just easy to use.”
Kickboard has given the KAO administration the tangible data they needed to provide better informed support systems and professional development for staff while also facilitating schoolwide incentive systems for students and modeling the type of desired behavior they want their students to embody in their daily actions.
Kickboard data is used at Kipp Academy of Opportunity to:
- Focus on recognizing positive student behavior
- Support positive discipline systems that promote student reflection
- Give structure to reward systems like Kipp Cash, Student Store, Fun Friday Events
- Provide data for multi-tiered interventions
- Track behavior for students with special needs to better inform IEP meetings
- Provide data for Professional Development and KAO schoolwide assemblies
Inclusive Incentive Systems
KAO uses Kickboard data to support a “KIPP Cash” reward system where students can earn dollars to be used at the student store. The system also encourages students to work together to collectively earn the highly coveted Fun Friday event at the end of each week. KIPP Cash gives kid-friendly tangibility to the Kickboard data and provides various goals at the individual and group level that students enjoy working toward.
Students may collect rewards from the student store at any point during the week using their dollars earned from Kickboard. This was created once the leadership team realized that students with behavioral difficulties, who were struggling to hold on to their dollars long enough to reap the benefits, were losing hope in possible success within the system. Being able to spend whatever amount they reach on a daily basis allows students to see the positive gains in their behavior development, no matter how small.
In addition, Coleman rewards high utilization of Kickboard from teachers during KAO assemblies. He presents Kickboard data based on homerooms to acknowledge the classrooms who were using the platform to uplift positive student behavior. The data tells a story of each homeroom class. He says that this leads to teachers having their own “aha!” moments and reflecting on the way that they are using the platform to benefit their classroom.
Punitive to Positive
Administrators at KAO were striving to shift behavior management systems to have a more positive underlying purpose. They wanted to acknowledge students’ success instead of reacting to negative behavior choices.
As a school leader, Coleman wanted students to care about attaining dollars in their Kipp Cash reward system instead of worrying about getting deductions, which can spark emotions of being unjustly punished. “I don’t want students getting deductions really. That’s not the behavior we’re working towards. I’m working towards them meeting the desired behavior goal.” Once he saw that teachers were leaning more towards accentuating the positive, he noticed a healthier balance in behavior management throughout the school.
Reflective Discipline systems
“Last year we were suspending kids for any kind of physical altercation,” John Coleman explains. However, out of respect for each child’s individual developmental process, he wanted to instead create “a strong protocol on how we investigate so we could make decisions on a case by case basis.” He expressed a desire to have a more empathetic approach when dealing with such situations.
Aiming to diminish suspension rates aligns with Restorative Justice best practices. Reports conducted by The American Psychological Association conclude that zero-tolerence discipline policies fail to actually make schools safer and often damage student-teacher relationships and student self esteem. Research shows that removing students from school for long periods of time is not an effective way to manage student behavior. The policies also do not open up the space for students to effectively resolve their issues that cause the behavioral infractions.
The KAO leadership team also worked to reframe mindsets regarding punishments. Detentions became viewed more as interventions. “Yes, kids were given a referral, but they ended up at the last hour of the school day in more of an intervention. The intervention is all about Kickboard talk. We’re talking about how they did that day. The idea is that the process is starting off with a reflection, so it can actually be used as something more therapeutic.” Resolving issues while they were still small and manageable helped to reduce bigger behavior infractions that had warranted a suspension in the past.
Another aspect of restorative practices is acknowledging the root cause of negative student behavior, which may have been caused by past trauma. KAO administrators are working diligently to include classroom teachers in the conversation concerning triggers to negative student behavior. Identifying patterns in student behavioral data allows for more open means of communication and leads to a more empathetic approach when dealing with such sensitive matters.
Meeting Diverse Student Needs
In response to the KAO’s growing special education population, Kickboard data is used to track and recognize patterns in student behavior that require differentiated support. “Kickboard is extremely, extremely useful when it comes to IEP meetings. A big part of our IEP meetings is classroom culture. They do talk about academics but being able to pull data and show families and go over the trends of their child’s behavior makes things very, very easy,” said Coleman.
The established school culture systems are also meant to support students in different tiers within the PBIS model. The Kickboard-supported incentives can be used for small behavior management strategies for Tier I behaviors or to support more substantial interventions for Tier II and III behaviors.
When asked about his general feelings about school culture since the revamping of Kickboard at KAO, Coleman responded with, “Well, my kids have more joy on our campus. They’re happier.” He says that kids have dealt with a lot of judgement from people in their lives who sometimes do not understand the developmental stages of a child, which can negatively affect a student’s self-esteem. However, when students are rewarded for the gains they have made, it can really turn things around for them.
“I’m a huge advocate for Kickboard,” said Coleman. When he visits other schools in the area that have similar student populations he thinks that Kickboard could be useful “to add a little life to the classrooms.”
Beyond the perceived positive shift in culture, KAO has evidence of improvement as well. KAO started the 2017-18 school year with high rates of referrals and suspensions along with high levels of chronic absenteeism. Based on the records presented on the California Dashboard, the school suspension rate dropped from 14.9% of the student population during the 2017-2018 school year to 1.9% in the 2018-2019 school year. Additionally, they experienced a drop in chronic absenteeism from 20% to 15% in the same time period.
“I can definitely say that I attribute what we’ve been able to do this year in terms of turning around culture to our practice of utilization of the Kickboard platform,” Coleman says. Regarding the upcoming school year, he adds that, “It puts us in a place where we can see where we need to go.”