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Indicator 14: Retention, Suspension, and Expulsion
(Last Updated: July 2017)

Between 1994 and 2015, the total percentage of students retained in a grade decreased (from 2.9 to 2.2 percent). The decrease in retentions from 1994 to 2015 was also evident for White students (from 2.5 to 1.8 percent).

Retention in grade, suspension, and expulsion have all been associated with negative outcomes, such as an increased risk of dropping out of school.1 Students may be retained in a grade if they lack the required academic or social skills to advance to the next grade. Grade retention can happen at any school level. The October version of the Current Population Survey asks parents to report on different aspects of their child's enrollment in school, including the grade in which their child is currently enrolled and the grade in which their child was enrolled in October of the prior school year. Retained students are considered those who remain in the same grade from one school year to the next. Retention rates include K–12 students in public and private schools.


Figure 14.1. Percentage of elementary and secondary school students retained in grade, by race/ethnicity: October 1994 through October 2015

Figure 14.1. Percentage of elementary and secondary school students retained in grade, by race/ethnicity: October 1994 through October 2015


NOTE: Data are as of October of each year. Excludes students who were reported as being in a higher grade the previous year than the given year. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Totals include other racial/ethnic categories not separately shown.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, October, 1994 through 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 225.90.


In October 2015, about 2.2 percent of students in kindergarten through grade 12 were retained in the same grade in which they had been enrolled in the prior school year. This percentage was not measurably different from the percentage of students retained in grade in 2014. Between 1994 and 2015, the total percentage of students retained decreased (from 2.9 to 2.2 percent). The decrease in retentions from 1994 to 2015 was also evident for White students (from 2.5 to 1.8 percent).2 For most years between 1994 and 2015, higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students than of White students were retained.


Figure 14.2. Percentage of elementary and secondary school students retained in grade, by race/ethnicity and grade level: October 2015

Figure 14.2. Percentage of elementary and secondary school students retained in grade, by race/ethnicity and grade level: October 2015


NOTE: Data are as of October of the survey year. Excludes students who were reported as being in a higher grade the previous year than the given year. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Totals include other racial/ethnic categories not separately shown. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, October, 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 225.90.


Higher overall percentages of Black students (3.0 percent) and Hispanic students (2.9 percent) than of White students (1.8 percent) were retained in 2015 in kindergarten through 12th-grade. For those in kindergarten through grade 8, a higher percentage of Hispanic students (2.8 percent) than of White students (1.8 percent) were retained, but there was no measurable difference between the percentages of Black and White students retained. Similarly, 9th- through 12th-grade Hispanic students were retained at a higher rate (3.1 percent) than White 9th- through 12th-graders (1.8 percent), and there was no measurable difference between the retention rates of Black and White students in this grade span. Within each racial/ethnic group, there was no measurable difference between the percentage of kindergarten through 8th-grade students who were retained and the percentage of 9th- through 12th-grade students who were retained.

Students may be suspended (temporarily removed from regular school activities in or out of school) or expelled (permanently removed from school with no services) due to behavior problems. The Civil Rights Data Collection provides data on the number of public school students who were disciplined during the 2011–12 school year by the type of action taken (e.g., suspension, expulsion). The remainder of this indicator discusses the percentages of public school students who were suspended or expelled, by race/ethnicity.


Figure 14.3. Percentage of public school students who received out-of-school suspensions, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2011–12

Figure 14.3. Percentage of public school students who received out-of-school suspensions, by race/ethnicity and sex: 2011–12


NOTE: Data by race/ethnicity exclude data for students with disabilities served only under Section 504 (not receiving services under IDEA).The percentage of students receiving a disciplinary action is calculated by dividing the cumulative number of students receiving that type of disciplinary action for the entire 2011–12 school year by the student enrollment based on a count of students taken on a single day between September 27 and December 31. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection, "2011–12 Discipline Estimations by State" and "2011–12 Estimations for Enrollment." See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 233.28.


In 2011–12, about 3.2 million public school students (6.4 percent of public school students) received out-of-school suspensions. A higher percentage of Black students than of students from any other racial/ethnic group received an out-of-school suspension (15.4 percent). In contrast, a lower percentage of Asian students (1.5 percent) than of students from any other racial/ethnic group received an out-of-school suspension. A higher percentage of male students (8.7 percent) than of female students (4.0 percent) received an out-of-school suspension. This pattern of higher percentages of male than female students receiving out-of-school suspensions held across all racial/ethnic groups. In addition, the percentage of Black male students receiving out-of-school suspensions (19.6 percent) was nearly twice the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native males receiving them (10.5 percent) and more than twice the percentage of males from any other racial/ethnic group receiving them. Similarly, the percentage of Black female students receiving out-of-school suspensions (11.1 percent) was more than twice the percentage of any female racial/ethnic group examined—the group receiving the next highest percentage of suspensions was American Indian/Alaska Native females (5.1 percent).

About 0.2 percent of students were expelled in 2011–12, totaling about 111,000 students. The percentages expelled for Black students (0.5 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native students (0.4 percent) were higher than the percentages for students of any other racial/ethnic group. For students in the other racial/ethnic groups, the percentages expelled were 0.2 percent each for students of Two or more races, Hispanic students, and White students; 0.1 percent for Pacific Islander students; and 0.05 percent for Asian students. As with the percentages of students who were suspended, a higher percentage of male (0.3 percent) than female (0.1 percent) students overall were expelled, and the percentages of students expelled were also higher for males than for females within each racial/ethnic group.

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1 Jimerson, S.R., Anderson, G.E., and Whipple, A.D. (2002). Winning the Battle and Losing the War: Examining the Relation Between Grade Retention and Dropping Out of High School. Psychology in the Schools, 39(4): 441–457. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pits.10046/abstract; Stearns, E., and Glennie, E.J. (2006). When and Why Dropouts Leave High School. Youth & Society, 38(1): 29–57. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0044118X05282764.
2 Retention data are only available for White, Black, and Hispanic students. There are too few cases to conduct reliable analyses for students of other racial/ethnic groups.