Students from lower income families or those who stay in rural areas are more likely to attend schools with high suspension rates, notes a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
The study also found that those attending schools with high suspension rates experience lower levels of ‘connectedness’.
“School connectedness” refers to students’ belief that adults and peers in the school care about them and their education.
Previous research has found that:
- A positive school climate is associated with both adolescent well-being and higher academic achievement.
- Greater youth civic engagement (e.g. volunteering) is associated with positive adult outcomes that include better health and development indicators, higher levels of education and higher income.
The study used data from adolescents ages 12-17 who responded to the 2015, 2016 or 2017 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) along with school-level data on suspension rates from the California Department of Education.
The link between suspension rates and school connectedness
Researchers found that teens attending schools with low total suspension rates were more likely to report high levels of school connectedness than teens attending schools with high suspension rates (53 percent versus 44 percent).
They also note that higher suspension rates were associated with less volunteering. Over half (51 percent) of teens attending schools with low suspension rates had volunteered in the past year, compared to just 34 percent of teens at schools with high suspension rates.
Another finding was that school-level suspension rates differed by income, race/ethnicity and urban/rural area of residence.
For instance, they note that Latino teens are more likely than white teens to be in schools with high suspension rates – 54 percent and 41 percent respectively.
Meanwhile, adolescents from low-income families were more likely to go to schools with higher suspension rates.
They found that 60 percent of teens from families with incomes below the poverty line attended schools with high suspension rates, compared to 38 percent of those from families with incomes of 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and above.
Nearly two-thirds of adolescents living in rural areas (63 percent) attended schools with high suspension rates, compared to 46 percent of those living in urban areas.
Why school connectedness matters
The researchers note: “A feeling of school connectedness is a protective social factor that can help promote adolescent health and well-being. This is evidenced in the current analysis, which found that feelings of school connectedness were associated with perceived safety at school, volunteering, and fewer sick days.”
They note that teens who reported high levels of school connectedness were more likely than those with low levels to report feeling safe at school all the time (75 percent versus 61 percent).
Students reporting higher levels of school connectedness were more likely than those reporting lower levels to have volunteered in the past year (53 percent versus 40 percent) and less likely to have missed school for health reasons (20 percent versus 29 percent).
Based on these findings, the researchers note that increasing the level of school connectedness among these groups and providing them with more opportunities and support for volunteering could help reduce disparities in youth well-being.
Some of the strategies to increase school connectedness and promote healthy development could include:
- Strengthening feelings of school connectedness, especially among low income youth and youth of colour.
- Encouraging schools to move away from exclusionary discipline practices in favor of practices that are consistent and fair and contribute to a positive school climate.
- Offering volunteer opportunities and/or connections to community service opportunities.
- Encouraging schools to emphasise the importance of creating positive relationships among students, as well as between teachers and students.