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California Suspension Rates Continue to Drop as State Changes Policy on Defiance

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California schools continued a multi-year trend of suspending fewer students in the 2013-14 school year, and much of that decline can be traced back to a new state law that restricted schools' ability to suspend students solely for broad infractions like "defiance," says a new report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

An analysis of state-provided data shows that districts have significantly reduced suspensions in recent years, with totals dropping from from 709,580 suspensions in 2011-12  to 503,101 in 2013-14.

"When adjusted for enrollment, the rate of suspensions per enrolled students have declined as well, specifically, from 11.4 to 8.1 per 100 students enrolled over the three year period," says the study. "Moreover, 77% of this reduction in total suspensions is attributable to fewer suspensions in the category of disruption or willful defiance (disruption/defiance)."

As I wrote in a 2014 story about defiance suspensions:

"Those offenses are often poorly defined and open to varying interpretations of teachers and principals, leaving schools susceptible to meting out inconsistent and overly harsh discipline, school climate researchers say.

And such infractions are often heavy contributors to disparate discipline rates for some students, particularly those in racial and ethnic minority groups, researchers say, adding that such rules have been used to flag behavior as minor as talking in the hall or violating a school's dress code."

Despite overall drops in suspension rates, students of color are still more likely to be suspended in California, the report finds. Here's a graph that breaks down rates by racial/ethnic group.

casuspensionrates.JPGA statewide analysis included in the report also found a correlation between low suspension rates in school districts and higher academic achievement. But researchers didn't control for other factors, such as poverty or district policies, so correlation is not necessarily causation, the report cautions.

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