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The suspension rate in San Diego County schools has fallen by more than 40 percent since the 2011-2012 school year. Not only that, schools are suspending students in every demographic less than they were a decade ago.
Good news? Not exactly. The across the board decrease hasn’t eliminated long-standing disparities in the rates at which schools suspend kids.
Two types of suspension metrics. While certain demographics may have smaller overall numbers of suspensions, these two metrics control for a student group’s population. This helps make accurate comparisons. First, let’s look at some numbers relating to suspension rate.
Behind the Suspension Rates
Countywide suspension rates: Suspension rate denotes the percentage of students in a particular demographic that have received at least one suspension. So let’s say that a district has 100 White students, and 10 of them have received a suspension – that would put the district’s suspension rate at 10 percent.
By this metric, schools are more likely to suspend students of color, and particularly Black and Indigenous kids, than any other demographic. Similar to the overall countywide drop, the suspension rate of Black students has dropped by more than 40 percent. Still, even given that significant decline, the suspension rate of Black kids is nearly three times higher than that of White kids.
But for the first time in at least a decade, the suspension rate of Indigenous students in the 2021-2022 school year was higher than that of Black students. This metric is in need of an asterisk, though, as education reporter Jakob McWhinney recently found that a single district was suspending Indigenous kids at such a high rate that it had inflated the countywide rate.
Total number of suspensions: The second metric is the total number of suspensions issued to those students. Let’s again look at that hypothetical district with 100 White students: while only 10 of those students have been suspended, each of them could have received multiple suspensions.
To understand if students are suspended in line with how many are at the district, it’s useful to create what’s called a disproportionality index. To create this number, a demographic’s population percentage is divided by their share of the suspensions issued. A score of “1” indicates that students are suspended in line with their share of the population. A score of more than “1” means they are suspended more than their share of the population.
What Stands Out
The thing that stands with this metric: Although suspension rates have dropped over the past decade, who schools are suspending hasn’t so much. For example, the disproportionality of suspensions of Black students has dropped from a 2015 high to almost exactly the same as it was a decade ago.
The big difference is the disproportionality of suspensions of Indigenous students, which has risen significantly since 2011, so much so that it has eclipsed that of Black students. But again, don’t look at this number in a vacuum. The same district responsible for the inflation of the county’s suspension rate is also responsible for the inflation of Indigenous students’ total suspensions.