Reasons for School Absence in Past Month, by Race/Ethnicity
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 race/ethnicity and reason for absence (e.g., in 2015-2017, an estimated 27.1% of Hispanic/Latino students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs in California had missed school in the previous month because of illness).
Footnote: Years presented comprise two school years (e.g., 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years are shown as 2015-2017). 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.
Learn More About School Attendance and Discipline
Measures of School Attendance and Discipline on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org offers the following measures of school absence and exclusionary discipline:
The number and rate of K-12 public school students expelled, suspended, and reported truant from school, as recorded by the California Dept. of Education; depending on the indicator, data are available for the state, counties, and school districts overall, by disability status, by foster youth status, by homelessness status, by race/ethnicity, and by socioeconomic status
*These data come from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) and are available by grade level, 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. State-level CHKS estimates, although derived from the Biennial State CHKS, may differ from data published in Biennial State CHKS reports due to differences in grade-level classification of students in continuation high schools.
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 societal 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.
Nearly 220,000 California K-12 public school students were suspended from school in 2019—35 for every 1,000. Suspension rates vary dramatically across regions with data, from 17 per 1,000 to 86 per 1,000 for counties and from fewer than 5 per 1,000 to more than 200 per 1,000 for school districts in 2019. 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 2018-2019, students with disabilities were suspended at more than double the rate of their peers without disabilities, and foster youth were suspended at more than four times the rate of non-foster youth.
In 2019, California students were expelled from school at a rate of 0.8 per 1,000, a drop of more than 45% compared with 2012. Across groups with data, students with disabilities, foster youth, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and students of every race/ethnicity also experienced a decline in expulsion rates over this period. Still, disparities persist. In 2018-2019, rates of expulsion among African American/black (2 per 1,000) and American Indian/Alaska Native (2.3 per 1,000) students were more than double the rate for Hispanic/Latino students (0.9 per 1,000), more than triple the rate for white students (0.6 per 1,000), and ten times the rate for Asian American students (0.2 per 1,000).
Student reports from 2015-2017 show that an estimated 26% of 7th graders, 33% of 9th graders, 45% of 11th graders, and 58% of non-traditional students in California had skipped school or cut class at least once in the previous year. Across all grade levels, more than one in three students statewide were reported to school authorities as truants (meaning they missed more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three or more times during the school year) in 2016, a 20% increase compared with 2012.
In general, whether children miss school, and their reasons for absence, vary by student and family characteristics. According to 2015-2017 estimates, 43% 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 2015-2017, reasons for absence not related to physical illness were commonly lack of sleep, needing to assist family or friends, boredom with school, and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, stress, or anger.
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:
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, including disabilities (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, publicly 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)