The study led by Scott Carrell, an assistant professor of economics at UC Davis, and co-author Mark Hoekstra, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh cross-referenced the standardized test results and school disciplinary records with court restraining order petitions filed in domestic violence cases for more than 40,000 students enrolled in public elementary schools in Florida's Alachua County for the years 1995 through 2003.
It showed that children from households linked to domestic violence were 44 percent more likely to have been suspended from school and 28 percent more likely to have been disciplined for bad behavior and score lower in their tests.
The also found that these children not only affected their own test scores and behavioral patterns but also their classmates. Troubled boys caused the bulk of the disruption, and the largest effects were on other boys
Carrell and Hoekstra estimate that adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 children reduces the standardized reading and math scores of other boys in the room by nearly two percentile points.
And adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 students increases the likelihood that another boy in the class will commit a disciplinary infraction by 17 percent.
On the other hand troubled girls had only a small and statistically insignificant impact on the test scores or behavior of their classmates.
The study suggested that having a troubled student in a class reduced classmates' combined test scores by nearly 1 percentile point and increased their likelihood of getting into disciplinary trouble at school by 6 percent.
"Our findings have important implications for both education and social policy," Carrell and Hoekstra write.
"First, they suggest that policies that change a child's exposure to classmates from troubled families will have important consequences for his or her education outcomes. In addition, the results also help provide a more complete measure of the social costs of family conflict."
However, Carrell said that the research does not suggest that all disruptive schoolchildren come from families that experience domestic violence, nor are all children from domestic violence disruptive.
The study, "Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone's Kids," was published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.