Summary: School Attendance and Discipline

Spotlight on Key Indicators: School Attendance and Discipline

Learn More About School Attendance and Discipline

School Attendance and Discipline
Bullying and Harassment at School
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
Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
School Climate
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’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:

2.  Child Trends Databank. (2015). 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:

5.  U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2016). 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection: A first look. Retrieved from:
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:
  • 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)
For more information, 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 Connectedness, High 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.  Attendance Works, & Everyone Graduates Center. (2016). Preventing missed opportunity: Taking collective action to confront chronic absence. 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.  Public Counsel. (2017). Fix school discipline: Toolkit for educators. Retrieved from:

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:

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:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For School Attendance and Discipline