The Government Accountability Office has a new report titled "Education Needs to
Address Significant Quality Issues with its Restraint and Seclusion Data."
The Department of Education’s (Education) quality control processes for data it collects from public school districts on incidents of restraint and seclusion are largely ineffective or do not exist, according to GAO’s analysis of school year 2015-16 federal restraint and seclusion data—the most recent available. Specifically, Education’s data quality control processes were insufficient to detect problematic data in its Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC)—data Education uses in its efforts to enforce federal civil rights laws (see figure). For example, one rule Education used to check the quality of data submitted only applied to very large school districts, although GAO and Education’s own analyses found erroneous reporting in districts of all sizes. Education also had no rules that flagged outliers that might warrant further exploration, such as districts reporting relatively low or high rates of restraint or seclusion. GAO tested for these outliers and found patterns in some school districts of relatively low and high rates of restraint or seclusion. Absent more effective rules to improve data quality, determining the frequency and prevalence of restraint and seclusion will remain difficult. Further, Education will continue to lack information that could help it enforce various federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination.
Officials in the nine school districts GAO visited lacked a common understanding of the CRDC’s restraint and seclusion definitions. Similarly, officials GAO interviewed in all three state educational agencies (Kentucky, Washington, and Wisconsin) and all seven stakeholder groups expressed similar concerns about the clarity of these definitions. For example, officials inconsistently interpreted the word alone in the definition of seclusion and, therefore, on whether to count an incident if a teacher was in the room. Absent clearer definitions, Education will continue to lack quality information on restraint and seclusion in public schools. Officials in school districts GAO visited identified several benefits to collecting these data, including identifying patterns in student behavior and developing interventions that can reduce the need for restraint and seclusion. Officials also said that analyzing their data helped them identify needs for additional staff training and student support services.In its letter to Congress, GAO says:
Although Department of Education (Education) data show that the number of incidents of restraint and seclusion of students in K-12 public schools is small, data analyzed for our June 2019 report showed that the\true nationwide extent of these practices cannot be determined because the data do not reflect all incidents of restraint and seclusion. This is particularly concerning because, as we reported earlier, some of the most vulnerable public school students—students with disabilities—are disproportionately affected.