Summary: School Attendance and Discipline
Learn More About School Attendance and Discipline
- School Attendance and Discipline
- 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)
- Children's Emotional Health
- Depression-Related Feelings, by Grade Level
- Students at School Are Well Behaved (Staff Reported)
- Student Depression or Mental Health Is a Problem at School (Staff Reported)
- School Emphasizes Helping Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems (Staff Reported)
- Disconnected Youth
- Pupil Support Services
- Impacts of Special Health Care Needs on Children and Families
- School Climate
- Academic Motivation (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- 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
- High Expectations from Adults at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Meaningful Participation at School (Student Reported), by Grade Level
- Students Are Motivated to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Motivates Students to Learn (Staff Reported)
- School Is a Supportive and Inviting Place to Learn (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Care About Students (Staff Reported)
- Adults at School Believe in Student Success (Staff Reported)
- School Welcomes and Facilitates Parent Involvement (Staff Reported)
- School Gives Students Opportunities to Make a Difference (Staff Reported)
- School Fosters Youth Resilience or Asset Promotion (Staff Reported)
- Students Respect Each Other’s Differences (Staff Reported)
- Cultural or Racial/Ethnic Tension at School (Staff Reported)
- Gang Involvement
- Health Care
- 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
- High School Graduation
- Why This Topic Is Important
Regular school attendance is a predictor of academic success (1). Frequent absences for any reason 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 excused absences (such as for health or personal reasons), truancy, and exclusionary punishment (suspensions and expulsions). Rates of chronic school absence tend to be higher among students who live in poverty, those with special health care needs or disabilities, youth of color, English learners, homeless students, and children in foster care (1).
Students who are suspended or expelled are more likely than their peers to have academic problems, drop out of school, and enter the juvenile justice system (3, 4). In the 2015-16 school year, U.S. public school students lost more than 11 million days of instruction due to suspensions (4). Suspensions and expulsions disproportionately affect children of color (particularly African American/black and American Indian/Alaska Native students), those with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth (3, 4).
Exclusionary punishment also leads to significant social costs. For example, dropouts resulting from suspensions have been estimated to cost California approximately $2.7 billion over the lifetime of a single 10th grade cohort (5). Costs are due in part to lost wages and tax revenue, increased crime, and higher health care expenses.For more information on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Chang, H. N., et al. (2018). Data matters: Using chronic absence to accelerate action for student success. Attendance Works & Everyone Graduates Center. Retrieved from: https://www.attendanceworks.org/data-matters
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Healthy People 2030: High School Graduation. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/healthypeople/priority-areas/social-determinants-health/literature-summaries/high-school-graduation
3. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (2019). Beyond suspensions: Examining school discipline policies and connections to the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color with disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.usccr.gov/reports/2019/beyond-suspensions-examining-school-discipline-policies-and-connections-school-prison
4. Losen, D. J., & Whitaker, A. (2018). 11 million days lost: Race, discipline, and safety at U.S. public schools (Part 1). Center for Civil Rights Remedies & American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. Retrieved from: https://www.aclu.org/report/11-million-days-lost-race-discipline-and-safety-us-public-schools-part-1
5. Rumberger, R. W., & Losen, D. J. (2017). The hidden costs of California's harsh school discipline. California Dropout Research Project & 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/the-hidden-cost-of-californias-harsh-discipline
- How Children Are Faring
Nearly 155,000 California K-12 public school students were suspended from school in 2020—25 for every 1,000. Suspension rates vary dramatically across regions with data, from 13 per 1,000 to 62 per 1,000 for counties and from fewer than 3 per 1,000 to more than 150 per 1,000 for school districts in 2020. Statewide, suspension rates by demographic group show disparate disciplinary treatment of students of color (particularly African American/black and American Indian/Alaska Native youth), students with disabilities, homeless students, foster youth, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. In 2018-2020, socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities were suspended at more than double the rate of their peers, and foster youth were suspended at more than four times the rate of non-foster youth.
In 2020, California students were expelled from school at a rate of 0.5 per 1,000, a drop of two-thirds compared with 2012. Among students with disabilities, foster youth, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and students of every race/ethnicity for which data are available, expulsion rates decreased between 2015-2017 and 2018-2020. Still, disparities persist. In 2018-2020, rates of expulsion among African American/black (1.6 per 1,000) and American Indian/Alaska Native (1.7 per 1,000) students were more than double the rate for Hispanic/Latino students (0.7 per 1,000), more than triple the rate for white students (0.5 per 1,000), and ten times the rates for Asian American and Filipino students (0.2 per 1,000). The rate at which homeless students were expelled from school was 1.6 per 1,000, up from 1.4 in 2015-2017, and more than double the rate for non-homeless students (0.6 per 1,000).Student reports from 2017-2019 show that an estimated 21% of 7th graders, 25% of 9th graders, 34% of 11th graders, and 39% of non-traditional students in California had skipped school or cut class at least once in the previous year. Students with low levels of school connectedness, those whose parents did not finish high school, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth were more likely to be truant from school than their peers in other groups. Staff reports that truancy or cutting class were at least a mild problem at their school ranged from 28% (elementary staff) to 86% (high school staff) during the same period.
In general, whether children miss school, and their reasons for absence, vary by student and family characteristics. According to 2017-2019 estimates, 49% 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 33% of students with low levels of connectedness. Across groups with data in 2017-2019, reasons for absence not related to physical illness were commonly lack of sleep, needing to assist family or friends, and not feeling safe at school.
- 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 for academic failure and dropping out (3). While disciplinary removal may be necessary at times, suspensions and expulsions generally do not result in safer schools or better student behavior (1, 4). In addition, research has documented disparate disciplinary treatment of youth of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth (1, 2).
California has enacted numerous policy changes over the last decade to improve school discipline and attendance, including a recent ban on out-of-school suspensions in grades K-8 for minor disruptive or defiant behavior (5, 6, 7). While substantial progress has been made, much more work is needed to ensure that all schools, beginning with pre-K, implement effective, equitable discipline policies and provide positive learning environments (4, 8). In accordance with state guidelines, many districts are employing evidence-based strategies that focus on improving school climate and providing students with the support they need to succeed (8). In addition, increased efforts have focused on identifying absenteeism and truancy early, and intervening in non-punitive ways, to help improve student attendance and success (3, 7).
Policy and practice options to continue progress on school discipline and attendance include:
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit Attendance Works and Fix School Discipline. Also see Policy Implications under these kidsdata.org topics: School Climate, School Safety, and Bullying and Harassment at School.
- Increasing awareness about the need to address chronic absenteeism and school discipline, and strengthening the capacity of districts and schools to carry out comprehensive, prevention-oriented solutions (3, 4, 9)
- Providing schools with adequate support to improve school climate and to adopt a whole-child approach to education, which is linked to better student engagement and behavior; such efforts should involve families and community partners, provide staff training and instruction on social-emotional skills, and implement systems to address behavioral health and other needs (9)
- Ensuring that schools have non-punitive, restorative discipline policies that are clear, fair, and consistent, and that teachers and administrators are adequately trained; this should include trauma-informed, culturally-sensitive practices and a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keeps students in school when possible (4, 9)
- Ensuring that high-suspending schools have technical assistance and resources to make necessary improvements; also, continuing efforts at the state and local levels to eliminate the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor misbehavior (4)
- Collecting, reporting, and using data at the school and district levels on exclusionary punishment and resulting days of missed instruction, with detail by student race/ethnicity, gender, disability status, LGBTQ identification, and reason for removal (4)
- In accordance with state policy, improving efforts to uncover and flag chronic absenteeism—both unexcused and excused—early in elementary and middle school by tracking attendance in real-time and analyzing absence data at the district, school, grade, and student subgroup levels (3)
- Ensuring that schools and community partners use attendance data to reach out to parents and students early—before absences become chronic—to offer support; as part of this, increasing formal collaboration (e.g., through school attendance review boards) with local agencies and service providers to engage hard-to-reach families and address underlying causes of absences (3)
- Ensuring consistent administration of school climate surveys, and strengthening the capacity of schools and districts to use the results as a tool for change (4, 8)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Cardichon, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2019). Protecting students’ civil rights: The federal role in school discipline. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/student-civil-rights-school-discipline-report
2. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (2019). Beyond suspensions: Examining school discipline policies and connections to the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color with disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.usccr.gov/reports/2019/beyond-suspensions-examining-school-discipline-policies-and-connections-school-prison
3. Attendance Works, et al. (2018). Seize the data opportunity in California: Using chronic absence to improve educational outcomes. Retrieved from: https://www.attendanceworks.org/policy/state-education-policy/california/seize-the-data-opportunity-in-california
4. Losen, D. J., & Martin, K. (2018). The unequal impact of suspension on the opportunity to learn in California. Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from: https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/school-discipline/the-unequal-impact-of-suspension-on-the-opportunity-to-learn-in-ca
5. Freedberg, L. (2019). California to extend ban on pushing students out of school for disruptive behavior. EdSource. Retrieved from: https://edsource.org/2019/california-to-ban-pushing-students-out-of-school-for-disruptive-behavior/617326
6. Bohan, S. (2018). The collective impact of suspending suspensions. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from: https://ssir.org/books/excerpts/entry/the_collective_impact_of_suspending_suspensions
7. Attendance Works. (n.d.). State attendance policy: California. Retrieved from: https://www.attendanceworks.org/policy/state-education-policy/california
8. Furger, R. C., et al. (2019). The California way: The Golden State's quest to build an equitable and excellent education system. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/california-way-equitable-excellent-education-system-brief
9. Darling-Hammond, L., & Cook-Harvey, C. M. (2018). Educating the whole child: Improving school climate to support student success. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/educating-whole-child-report
- Research & Links
- 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: Governance and Policy Resources
- Child Trends: School Discipline
- 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 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 Discipline Support Initiative
- School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
- Youth.gov. Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.
- Key Reports and Research
- 2022 California Children's Report Card. Children Now.
- Attendance Playbook: Smart Solutions for Reducing Chronic Absenteeism in the Covid Era. (2020). 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. (2022). 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. 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
- 2023 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being. Children Now.
- Live Well San Diego Report Card on Children, Families, and Community. The 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.
- 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 and 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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