Data Sources and Methodology

Data Sources and Methodology
This report analyzes school- and district-level suspension data from the Elementary and Secondary Education Civil Rights Compliance Survey from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  The survey is more commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC is conducted biennially in every state, and includes school-level data on out-of-school suspensions from approximately one-third of the nation’s school districts. The survey instrument also collects racial and gender enrollment data. 

The civil rights compliance survey explicitly requires that schools do not report the number of suspensions (incidents), but instead report the number of students suspended at least one timeduring the surveyed school year. Therefore, the data represent how many students were suspended, but do not represent how many suspensions were meted out. Because many students are suspended more than once in a given year, the data should be regarded as a conservative estimate of the frequency of the use of suspension by a given school or district, or experienced by a given racial/ethnic group.

Analytical Tools. The central statistic used in this report is the risk index, which represents the percentage of a given group suspended in a single school year. To calculate the risk index, one divides the number of students in a given group (e.g., Hispanic) suspended at least once by the total enrollment for that group.  The result is an estimate of the risk for suspension. 

Levels of Analysis. Unlike most data reported by state educational agencies, OCR’s data can be disaggregated by race and gender, not only for states and school districts, but for individual schools as well. Using the school-level data set, estimates were made of the risk of suspension in approximately 9,220 middle schools from every state in the nation.  This large sample was not “weighted” and is therefore not presented as a projected estimate of a national middle school suspension rate. Using the CRDC, this report also provides a more detailed analysis of patterns and trends in middle school suspension risk for 18 of the nation’s largest school districts.  (For more information on the OCR data, see Appendix 3:  Issues in Using U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Compliance Survey Data). 

District Selection. This report highlights the use of suspension by middle schools in 18 of the nation’s largest school districts to provide a clear picture of middle school disciplinary practices in large urban districts. The districts were selected in an attempt to capture both diverse regional representation and trends in suspension use over time - only districts that had data for two CRDC surveys (2002 and 2006) were included.

Specifically, this report analyzes suspension rates derived from the CRDC in middle schools within each of the following 18 urban school districts: Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; Hartford, CT; Miami-Dade, FL; Palm Beach, FL; Atlanta, GA; Indianapolis, IN; Des Moines, IA; Springfield, MA; Baltimore, MD; Jackson, MS; Charlotte, NC; Providence, RI; Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; San Antonio, TX; Seattle, WA; and Milwaukee, WI.