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
Math Proficiency
School Connectedness
Pupil Support Service Personnel
Reading Proficiency
School Safety
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 2011-12, nearly 3.5 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 (4). Suspensions and expulsions disproportionately affect students of color (particularly African American boys), students with disabilities, and sexual minority youth (3, 4).
For more information on truancy, suspensions, and expulsions, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Ginsburg, A., et al. (2014). Absences add up: How school attendance influences student success. Attendance Works. Retrieved from:

2.  Child Trends Databank. (2014). High school dropout rates. Retrieved from:

3.  Carter, P., et al. (2014). Discipline disparities series: Overview. The Equity Project at Indiana University. Retrieved from:

4.  Losen, D., et al. (2015). Are we closing the school discipline gap? UCLA, Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2014, almost 2 million public school students in California, 31.1% 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 truant students rose between 2005 and 2014, from 23% to 31%. Nearly 280,000 students were suspended (4.4 per 100 students) and over 6,600 students (0.1%) were expelled in California in 2014.

In 2011-13, 19% of 7th graders, 31% of 9th graders, and 47% of 11th graders in California reported that they had skipped school or cut class at least once in the past year, but most reported only skipping a few times; about 7% of 11th graders, 1 in 14, reported skipping once a week or more. 16% of California public middle school staff reported that skipping school or cutting class was a "moderate" or "severe" problem at their school, but that percentage increased to almost half (47%) among high school staff. Students who felt less connected to their schools more often reported skipping school or cutting class.
Policy Implications
Frequent use of 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 absences – are at increased risk of academic failure and dropping out (3). While disciplinary removal may be necessary at times, research shows that students often are removed for minor disruptions, and suspensions/expulsions do not result in safer schools, better student behavior, or improved academic performance (1, 4, 5). Research also has documented significantly disparate disciplinary treatment of youth of color, students with disabilities, sexual minority youth, and other vulnerable groups (2, 6). In 2014, the U.S. government issued formal guidance urging school leaders to take immediate action to address school 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/expulsions in recent years, much more work is needed to ensure that all schools, including preschools, implement effective, equitable discipline policies and that all students have 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 performance (1, 3, 8).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could reduce truancy and excessive or disproportionate suspensions/expulsions include:
  • 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 absences) 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 formal collaborations (e.g., 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 LGBT identification, including cross-tabulations of these factors, e.g., African American boys with disabilities (1, 5, 7)
  • Following state and federal law, implementing 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 keep students in school when possible, and they should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practices. This will require regular training and support for all school staff. (4, 5, 7)
  • As part of school discipline policies, setting clear goals for reducing suspensions/expulsions and disparate use of such discipline; and 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)
For more policy ideas about truancy, suspensions, and expulsions, see’s Research & Links section, or visit Attendance Works and the Supportive School Discipline Communities of Practice. Also see Policy Implications under these topics: School ConnectednessHigh School Graduation, and Bullying and Harassment at School.

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:

2.  Carter, P., et al. (2014). Discipline disparities series: Overview. The Equity Project at Indiana University. Retrieved from:

3.  Ginsburg, A., et al. (2014). Absences add up: How school attendance influences student success. Attendance Works. Retrieved from:

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:

5.  U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Guiding principles: A resource guide for improving school climate and discipline. Retrieved from:

6.  Fix School Discipline. (n.d.). How we can fix school discipline: Toolkit for educators. Retrieved from:

7.  Losen, D. J., et al. (2014). Keeping California’s kids in school. UCLA, Center for Civil Rights Remedies. Retrieved from:

8.  California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. (2014). In school + on track: Attorney General's 2014 report on California's elementary school truancy & absenteeism crisis. Retrieved from:
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