A study of national suspension rates shows a “discipline gap,” with African-American and disabled students having the highest rates and Asian and white students the lowest. Altogether, 3.5 million public school students were suspended from school at least once in 2011-12.
“Given that the average suspension is conservatively put at 3.5 days, we estimate that U.S. public school children lost nearly 18 million days of instruction in just one school year because of exclusionary discipline,” according to the study, Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?, by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
Out-of-school suspensions, the authors say, exacerbate the achievement gap. They point to a 2014 study by Attendance Works that found that missing three days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress test translated into 4th-graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on the test.
The UCLA study found a suspension rate for middle and high school students of 23.2 percent for African-American students and 18.1 percent for students with physical and mental disabilities. That compares with 6.7 percent for white students and 2.5 percent for Asian students. Latino students had a suspension rate of 10.8 percent.
At the elementary level, the suspension rates were much lower, but African-American students and students with physical and mental disabilities still were the most likely to be suspended, with a rate of 7.6 percent for African-Americans and 5.4 percent for students with disabilities. That compares to 1.6 percent for white students and 0.5 percent for Asian students. Latino students had a rate of 2.1 percent. Among the elementary school students with disabilities, children with an emotional disturbance or with significant learning disabilities had the highest risk for suspension, the authors said.
California’s overall suspension rate for middle and high schools was 9 percent, with a black/white gap of 13 percentage points. Although Wisconsin had a lower overall rate, it had the highest black/white gap – 34 percentage points. Vermont had a black/white gap of 1 percentage point, the lowest in the country. The report listed Visalia Unified as one of the 10 districts in the country that had reduced its secondary suspension rate the most from 2009-10, cutting it from 40.5 percent to 15.5 percent in 2011-12.
At the elementary level, California had an overall suspension rate of 2.6 percent, with a black/white gap of 5.6 percentage points. Missouri had the highest gap at 12.5 percentage points. North Dakota was the only state with no black/white gap.
However, the report noted that the data do not reflect the recent change in California’s law that makes it illegal to suspend a K-3 student for willful defiance – the most common reason for out-of-school suspensions in this state. The law took effect in January.