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- Definition: Estimated percentage of public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs who have missed school in the previous 30 days, by grade level and reason for absence (e.g., in 2013-2015, an estimated 28.9% of 7th graders in California had missed school in the previous month because of illness).
- Data Source: WestEd, California Healthy Kids Survey. California Department of Education (Jul. 2017).
- Footnote: Years presented comprise two school years (e.g., 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years are shown as 2013-2015). County- and state-level data are weighted estimates; school district-level data are unweighted. Students in non-traditional programs are those enrolled in community day schools or continuation education. The notation S refers to (a) data for school districts that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 10 respondents in that group, and (b) data for counties that have been suppressed because the sample was too small to be representative. N/A means that data are not available.
- Measures of School Attendance and Discipline on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org offers the following measures of school absence and exclusionary discipline:
*These measures are available by grade level (7, 9, 11, and/or non-traditional), gender, level of school connectedness (based on a scale created from responses to five questions about feeling safe, close to people, and a part of school, being happy at school, and about teachers treating students fairly), parent education level, and sexual orientation.
- The number and rate of K-12 public school students expelled, suspended, and truant from school, as recorded by the California Department of Education
- Estimates of reasons for absence in the past month and truancy in the past year among students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs, derived from student reports*
- Staff reports of the extent to which truancy or cutting class is a problem at their school
- School Attendance and Discipline
- Students Truant from School
- Students Suspended from School
- Students Expelled from School
- Reasons for School Absence in Past Month, by Grade Level
- Truancy (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Truancy or Cutting Class Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Bullying and Harassment at School
- Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Bias-Related Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Disability as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Gender as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Race/Ethnicity or National Origin as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Religion as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Sexual Orientation as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Grade Level
- Cyberbullying, by Grade Level
- Student Bullying/Harassment Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Disconnected Youth
- High School Graduation
- Impact of Special Health Care Needs on Children & Families
- Math Proficiency
- Health Care
- Pupil Support Services
- Reading Proficiency
- School Safety
- Perceptions of School Safety, by Grade Level
- Fear of Being Beaten Up at School, by Grade Level
- Physical Fighting at School, by Grade Level
- Carrying a Gun at School, by Grade Level
- Carrying a Weapon Other Than a Gun at School, by Grade Level
- Perceptions of School Safety for Students (Staff Reported)
- Perceptions of School Safety for Staff (Staff Reported)
- Student Physical Fighting Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Student Weapons Possession Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
- School Climate
- School Connectedness (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- School Supports (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Caring Relationships with Adults at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Meaningful Participation at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Students Who Are Motivated to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Motivates Students to Learn (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Care About Students (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Believe in Student Success (Staff Reported)
- School Gives Students Opportunities to Make a Difference (Staff Reported)
- School Fosters Youth Resilience or Asset Promotion (Staff Reported)
- Why This Topic Is Important
Regular school attendance is a predictor of academic success (1). Frequent absences (excused or unexcused) are linked to negative school outcomes, including lower test scores and higher dropout rates, which can have lifelong effects on employment and earning potential (1, 2). A child might miss school for many reasons, including health problems or other excused absences, unexcused absences (truancy), and exclusionary punishments (suspensions and expulsions).
A growing body of research shows that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to have academic problems, drop out of school, and enter the juvenile justice system (3, 4). In the 2013-14 school year, 2.8 million K-12 public school students were suspended from school at least once in the U.S., resulting in a significant loss of classroom instruction time (5). Suspensions and expulsions disproportionately affect students of color (particularly African American boys), students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth (3, 4, 5).For more information on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Attendance Works, & Everyone Graduates Center. (2016). Preventing missed opportunity: Taking collective action to confront chronic absence. Retrieved from: http://www.attendanceworks.org/research/preventing-missed-opportunity
2. Child Trends Databank. (2015). High school dropout rates. Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=high-school-dropout-rates
3. Carter, P., et al. (2014). Discipline Disparities Series: Overview. The Equity Project at Indiana University. Retrieved from: http://rtpcollaborative.indiana.edu/briefing-papers
4. Losen, D., et al. (2015). Are we closing the school discipline gap? UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from: https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/are-we-closing-the-school-discipline-gap
5. U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2016). 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection: A first look. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/crdc-2013-14.html
- How Children Are Faring
Whether children miss school, along with their reasons for absence, vary by student and family characteristics. According to 2013-2015 estimates, 41% of California students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs with high levels of school connectedness did not miss any school in the previous month, compared with 27% of students with low levels of connectedness. Across groups with data in 2013-2015, common reasons for absence not related to physical illness were lack of sleep, needing to assist family or friends, boredom with school, and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, stress, or anger.
In 2015 more than 2 million California students—almost one-third of public school students statewide—were truant (meaning they missed more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three or more times during the school year). That same school year, more than 243,000 students were suspended and nearly 5,700 students were expelled. The rate of students suspended has declined in recent years, from 5.7 students per 100 in 2012 to 3.8 per 100 in 2015.
Student reports from 2013-2015 show that an estimated 29% of 7th graders, 34% of 9th graders, and 49% of 11th graders in California had skipped school or cut class at least once in the previous year. Across student groups, rates of skipping school at least once were 50% or higher for students in non-traditional programs, students with low levels of school connectedness, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. A survey of public school staff from the same period shows that student truancy or class cutting was a moderate or severe problem according to 17% of reports from middle school staff, 46% of reports from high school staff, and 58% of reports from staff at non-traditional schools.
- Policy Implications
Frequent disciplinary removal from school is associated with higher student dropout and delinquency rates (1, 2). In fact, students who regularly miss school for any reason—unexcused or excused—are at increased risk of academic failure and dropping out (3). While disciplinary removal may be necessary at times, students often are removed for minor disruptions, and suspensions and expulsions do not result in safer schools, better student behavior, or improved academic performance (1, 4, 5). In addition, research has documented disparate disciplinary treatment of youth of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable groups (2, 6). The U.S. government has issued formal guidance urging school leaders to take immediate action to address discipline disparities, and state and federal law now require use of alternatives to exclusionary discipline (5, 6).
While California has made progress in reducing suspensions and expulsions in recent years, much more work is needed to ensure that all schools—from preschool to high school—implement effective, equitable discipline policies and provide healthy learning environments (5, 7). In accordance with state and federal guidelines, many districts are turning to evidence-based strategies that focus on creating a positive school climate and providing students with the support they need to succeed (1, 5, 7). In addition, policies that help schools document absenteeism and truancy early, and intervene in non-punitive ways, can help reduce student absences and improve academic success (1, 3, 8).
Policy options that could reduce school absences, suspensions, and expulsions include:
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, or visit Attendance Works and the Supportive School Discipline Communities of Practice. Also see Policy Implications under these kidsdata.org topics: School Connectedness, High School Graduation, and Bullying and Harassment at School.
- Ensuring that schools engage families and community partners to create positive school climates, which can help prevent problematic student behavior; such efforts should involve staff training, programs to build student social-emotional and conflict resolution skills, and systems to address student behavioral health or other needs, including early screening for disabilities (4, 5)
- Uncovering and flagging chronic absenteeism—both unexcused and excused—early in elementary and middle school by tracking individual student attendance in real-time and by collecting and publicly reporting absence data at the district, school, grade, and student subgroup levels (3, 8)
- Ensuring that schools and community partners use attendance data to reach out to parents early, before absences become chronic, to offer support and promote good attendance; also, creating or increasing use of formal collaborations (such as school attendance review boards) among local agencies and service providers to engage hard-to-reach families and address underlying causes of absences (3, 8)
- Collecting, reporting, and using data at the school and district levels on the prevalence of suspensions and expulsions by student race/ethnicity, gender, disability, English learner status, and LGBTQ identification, including cross-tabulations of these factors, e.g., African American/black boys with disabilities (1, 5, 7)
- Implementing and training staff on non-punitive school discipline policies that are clear, fair, consistent, and promote a positive learning environment; such policies should be based on a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keeps students in school when possible, and should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practices (4, 5, 7)
- Setting clear goals for reducing exclusionary punishments and the disparate use of such discipline, while continuously evaluating the impact of discipline policies on all students, as directed by federal guidelines (4, 5, 7)
- Addressing discriminatory discipline policies through administrative or legal enforcement (5, 6, 7)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Losen, D., et al. (2015). Are we closing the school discipline gap? UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from: https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/are-we-closing-the-school-discipline-gap
2. Carter, P., et al. (2014). Discipline Disparities Series: Overview. The Equity Project at Indiana University. Retrieved from: http://rtpcollaborative.indiana.edu/briefing-papers
3. Attendance Works, & Everyone Graduates Center. (2016). Preventing missed opportunity: Taking collective action to confront chronic absence. Retrieved from: http://www.attendanceworks.org/research/preventing-missed-opportunity
4. Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/school-discipline-consensus-report
5. U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Guiding principles: A resource guide for improving school climate and discipline. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/guiding-principles.pdf
6. Public Counsel. (2017). Fix school discipline: Toolkit for educators. Retrieved from: http://fixschooldiscipline.org/educator-toolkit
7. Losen, D. J., et al. (2015). Closing the school discipline gap in California: Signs of progress. UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from: https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/summary-reports/ccrr-school-to-prison-pipeline-2015
8. California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General. (2016). In school and on track 2016: Attorney General's 2016 report on California's elementary school truancy and absenteeism crisis. Retrieved from: https://oag.ca.gov/truancy
- Websites with Related Information
- Attendance Works
- California Dept. of Education: Safe Schools
- California Dept. of Justice, Office of the Attorney General: Truancy Hub
- California School Boards Association: Safe and Supportive School Environment
- Civil Rights Project / Proyecto Derechos Civiles: School Discipline, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
- Dignity in Schools Campaign
- Fix School Discipline
- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
- National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments: Discipline, American Institutes for Research
- National Clearinghouse on Supportive School Discipline
- National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Neglected or Delinquent Children and Youth (NDTAC)
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Dept. of Justice
- School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, U.S. Office of Special Education Programs
- Youth.gov, Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs
- Key Reports and Research
- 2020 California Children's Report Card, Children Now
- Attendance Playbook: Smart Solutions for Reducing Chronic Absenteeism in the Covid Era, 2019, FutureEd & Attendance Works, Jordan, P.
- Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities, 2019, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
- California ESSA Consolidated State Plan, 2019, California Dept. of Education
- Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences, 2017, Academic Pediatrics, Stempel, H., et al.
- Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff Is Harming Students, 2019, American Civil Liberties Union, Whitaker, A., et al.
- Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success, 2018, Learning Policy Institute, Darling-Hammond, L., & Cook-Harvey, C. M.
- Educational Exclusion: Drop Out, Push Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline among LGBTQ Youth, 2016, GLSEN
- Protecting Students' Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline, 2019, Learning Policy Institute, Cardichon, J., & Darling-Hammond, L.
- Pushing Back Against School Pushout: Student Homelessness and Opportunities for Change, 2018, California Homeless Youth Project, Herr, E., et al.
- Race, Discipline, and Safety at U.S. Public Schools, American Civil Liberties Union
- School Discipline Consensus Report: Strategies from the Field to Keep Students Engaged in School and Out of the Juvenile Justice System, 2014, Council of State Governments Justice Center, Morgan, E., et al.
- School Discipline Practices Associated with Adolescent School Connectedness and Engagement, 2019, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Babey, S. H., et al.
- The Hidden Costs of California's Harsh School Discipline, 2017, California Dropout Research Project & Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Rumberger, R. W., & Losen, D. J.
- The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health, 2019, Pediatrics, Allison, M. A., et al.
- The Unequal Impact of Suspension on the Opportunity to Learn in California, 2018, Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Losen, D. J., & Martin, K.
- Using Chronic Absence Data to Improve Conditions for Learning, 2019, Attendance Works & American Institutes for Research, Chang, H. N., et al.
- County/Regional Reports
- 2018-19 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being, Children Now
- Live Well San Diego Report Card on Children, Families, and Community, 2019, San Diego Children’s Initiative
- New Measures, Similar Results: Oakland Public Schools and the New State Dashboard, 2018, Oakland Achieves Partnership
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card, Santa Monica Cradle to Career
- Youth Need Data, Get Healthy San Mateo County
- More Data Sources For School Attendance and Discipline
- California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys Public Dashboards, WestEd & California Dept. of Education
- California School Dashboard, California Dept. of Education
- Child Trends Databank: Student Absenteeism
- Civil Rights Data Collection, U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights
- Civil Rights Project / Proyecto Derechos Civiles: Online Data Resources, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
- Crime and Safety Surveys, National Center for Education Statistics
- DataQuest, California Dept. of Education
- Education Data Partnership (Ed-Data), California Dept. of Education, et al.
- KIDS COUNT Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation
- Local Control Funding Formula Reports, California Dept. of Education
- National Center for Education Statistics: Data Tools, U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
- What Are the Factors that Affect Learning at Your School? Chronic Absence: School and Community Factors, 2019, Brookings Institution, Hamilton Project
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