Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions

Spotlight on Key Indicators: Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions

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Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions
Bullying and Harassment at School
College Eligibility
Community Connectedness
Disconnected Youth
High School Graduation
Impact of Special Health Care Needs on Children & Families (State-Level Data)
Math Proficiency
Pupil Support Service Personnel
Reading Proficiency
School Safety
School Connectedness
Why This Topic Is Important
Regular school attendance is a predictor of academic success. Conversely, frequent absences are related to negative outcomes, such as dropping out of high school, 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).

Research shows that suspensions and expulsions can exacerbate student academic problems, amplify the achievement gap between low-income children and their higher-income peers, and contribute to student involvement in the juvenile justice system (3). Suspensions and expulsions disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, students in foster care, and non-heterosexual youth (4, 5, 6, 7). In 2009-10, well over 3 million U.S. K-12 students were suspended from school (7).

For more information on truancy, suspensions, & expulsions, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Child Trends. (2012). Student absenteeism. Retrieved from:

2.  Aud, S., et al. (2010). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups. (NCES 2010-015). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from:

3.  Dufresne, A., et al. (2010). Teaching discipline: A toolkit for educators on positive alternatives to out-of-school suspensions. New Haven, CT: Connecticut Voices for Children. Retrieved from:

4.  Losen, D. J. (2011). Discipline policies, successful schools, and racial justice. Boulder, CO: Discipline in Schools Campaign, National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from:

5.  Leone, P., & Weinberg, L. (2010). Addressing the unmet educational needs of children and youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Washington, DC: Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University. Retrieved from:

6.  Himmelstein, K., & Brückner, H. (2011). Criminal-justice and school sanctions against nonheterosexual youth: A national longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127(1), 53. Retrieved from:

7.  Losen, D. J., & Gillespie, J. (2012). Opportunities suspended: The disparate impact of disciplinary exclusion from school. Retrieved from:

How Children Are Faring
In 2013, more than 1.9 million public school students in California, 29.3% of all public school students that year, were truant (i.e., they missed more than 30 minutes of school instruction without an excuse three or more times during the year). The percentage of students who are truant rose between 2005 and 2013, from 23% to 29%. Nearly 330,000 students were suspended (5.1 per every 100 students) and over 8,200 students (0.1%) were expelled in California in 2013.

In 2008-10, about 8% of 7th graders, 18% of 9th graders, and 29% of 11th graders in California reported that they had skipped school or cut class in the past year. Students who felt less connected to their schools more often reported skipping school or cutting class.
Policy Implications

In recent years, school suspensions and expulsions have increased with adoption of “zero tolerance” discipline policies designed to combat school violence and other transgressions, ranging from dress code violations to drug possession (5).  While removing disruptive or dangerous students sometimes is necessary, research indicates that suspension/expulsion can have adverse effects on academic performance and student behavior (2, 5, 7).

Researchers also have documented significant disparate disciplinary treatment of African American/Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Latino students (6). 

Policies that help schools document absenteeism and truancy early, identify patterns, and then intervene in non-punitive ways can ameliorate the negative effects of children missing school and potentially address root causes (1, 2). Effectively addressing truancy requires collaboration from schools, law enforcement, courts, social services, and other community organizations (2).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could reduce chronic truancy and ensure that discipline is both equitable and effective include:

  • Uncovering and flagging chronic absenteeism (including excused or unexcused absences) early in elementary and middle school through specific data reporting at the individual, classroom, and school levels (3, 4, 5)
  • Recognizing and promoting good attendance, and providing individualized and supportive attention from adults and the community (4, 5)
  • Collecting data at the school and district levels on the prevalence of suspensions and expulsions by student racial/ethnic background, gender, and disability status; and tracking data on the effectiveness of school discipline policies and their impact on learning (6, 7)
  • Addressing discriminatory discipline policies through administrative or legal enforcement (6)
  • Implementing school- or district-wide, preventive approaches, such as positive social and behavioral learning programs (5)
  • Supporting use of alternative, non-punitive discipline approaches that address the unique needs of students and their families, promote good behavior, and minimize loss of learning time; these may include restorative justice strategies and programs that focus on skill-building (2, 5, 7)

For more policy ideas about Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions, see’s Research & Links section, or visit Attendance Works, the National Center for School Engagement, and the Dignity in Schools Campaign.  Also see Policy Implications on under these topics: School ConnectednessHigh School Graduation, and Bullying/Harassment at School.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Maynard, B. R., et al. (2012). Indicated truancy interventions: Effects on school attendance among chronic truant students. Campbell Collaboration. Retrieved from:

2.  Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Families, Children & the Courts. (2012). Truancy and school discipline: An overview of the literature and statistics. Retrieved from:

3.  Blazer, C. (2011). Chronic absenteeism in the elementary grades. Information Capsule: Research Services, 1009. Retrieved from:

4.  Cole, J. F. (2011). Interventions to combat the many facets of absenteeism: Action research. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 18(1), 62-70. Retrieved from:

5.  Boccanfuso, C., & Kuhfeld, M. (2011). Multiple responses, promising results: Evidence-based, nonpunitive alternatives to zero tolerance. Child Trends: Research Brief. Retrieved from:

6.  Losen, D. (2011). Discipline polices, successful schools, and racial justice. National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from:

7.  Losen, D., & Martinez, T. E. (2013). Out of school and off track: The overuse of suspensions in American middle and high schools. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
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