Report: Suspension Rates Down in California as Graduation Rates Rise


According to a new study released by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, the number of school suspensions handed out in California between 2011 and 2014 has seen a tremendous decrease as academic achievement in the state has been on the rise.

The study found that suspension rates dropped across the state as districts punished fewer students for “disruption or willful defiance,” otherwise known as nonviolent infractions, such as purposely interrupting a teacher or disrupting the class.  A 2014 law banned such suspensions for students in kindergarten through the third grade, although the study used data before the law went into effect.

The total number of suspensions dropped in the state from 709,580 in the 2011-12 school year to 503,101 in 2013-14.  Although the largest drop in suspensions were seen among black students, they were still found to be more likely to be suspended.  While there were 33 suspensions for every 100 black students in the 2011-12 school year, that number has since dropped to 25.6 suspensions per 100 students, although this is still 19 more than white students, writes Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post.

Using district abd state-wide data, the study suggests that the move away from such disciplinary practices has benefited schools across the state, as academic achievement has risen, especially among black students, reports Sonali Kohli for The Los Angeles Times.  While lower suspension rates were found to be linked to higher scores on the California Academic Performance Index, the report could not say one caused the other.  The study notes that “we do know from other research that efforts to improve achievement could be consistent with efforts to reduce suspensions.”

The data “pushes back on the assumption that if you lower suspension rates bad things are going to happen,” said Daniel Losen, author of the study and director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies. “Where you tend to find higher-than-average achievement, you also find lower-than-average suspension rates — especially for black kids.”

The authors suggest that when students are taken out of the classroom for suspensions, graduation rates decrease while incarceration rates go up.

The data better shows the efforts of districts like Los Angeles, who banned disruption suspensions before the law went into effect.  However, some teachers in the district report having not received sufficient training or the resources to successfully handle conflict or misbehavior without the use of suspensions, arguing that their classrooms are becoming increasingly unruly.

The study was released at the same time as schools are facing increased scrutiny over their use of tactics that cause students to drop out of school, making them more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, in a “school-to-prison pipeline.”  This was found to be especially true for students of color, who are more likely to be suspended or expelled.

The report suggests districts offer increased support in order to increase student engagement, while also pushing for state and district policymakers to consider banning suspensions for minor offenses in all grades.