Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Ellis Gesten, Ph.D

Committee Member

Wally Borman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bob Friedman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Charles D. Spielberger, Ph.D.


discipline, referrals, suspensions, dropout, longitudinal


Utilization of a large, diverse sample provided a rare opportunity to advance our understanding of gender, race, and socioeconomic differences in school-based problem behavior. Yearly assessment of discipline referrals and suspensions received within the school context from 5th- through 11th-grade, as well as assessment of school dropout, provided an opportunity to examine these issues through an extended prospective longitudinal design. Results highlight the middle school transition as a time when discipline referrals and suspensions increase markedly, while student reports of connections to others, motivation, and optimism decline sharply. Results indicate that boys, African-American students, and students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds report lower levels of connections to others, motivation, and optimism in 5th-grade. Boys, African-American students, and students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds also receive more discipline referrals and suspensions from 5th-grade onward and are more likely to experience dropout. However, regardless of demographic group membership, students who report stronger connections to others, motivation, and optimism in 5th-grade receive fewer referrals and suspensions from 5th- through 11th grade, and are much less likely to dropout of school than are students who report lower levels of connections, motivation, and optimism in 5th-grade. These results highlight the need to address students' sharp declines in functioning across the middle school transition through both ecological and person-centered prevention and school restructuring efforts. Results also highlight the utility of movement away from a static, demographic based understanding of problem behavior toward a clearer understanding of person and environment factors that may underlie both between and within demographic group differences in outcomes. Placing emphasis upon factors that are potentially amenable through school based prevention efforts considerably increases the likelihood that all of our nation's children are provided with equal opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.