Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $2,497,529)
This project will evaluate and improve the implementation of student threat assessment in Virginia public schools, demonstrating that it can be used nationwide as a safe and effective violence prevention strategy that reduces use of school suspension, including the disproportionate suspension of minority students.
The study will involve Virginia's 1,900 public schools serving 1.2 million students, carried out in partnership with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and Department of Education.
Student threat assessment was first recommended by the FBI, Secret Service, and U.S. Department of Education, and uses a multidisciplinary school-based team to investigate and resolve threatening situations such as student conflicts and bullying before they escalate into violence. The University of Virginia model has been widely implemented in Virginia schools, along with other models. Controlled studies have found that the Virginia model is a safe and effective practice associated with lower school suspension rates.
In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate threat assessment in its K-12 schools, providing a unique opportunity to examine its impact under realistic scale conditions. Research phase 1 will consist of a comprehensive statewide inventory of how threat assessment has been implemented. The inventory will identify different models of threat assessment and develop an instrument to assess fidelity of implementation.
Phase 2 will use propensity score matching to create contrasting groups of schools using different models of threat assessment that will be compared on key student and school outcomes. Student outcomes are resolution of threats without violence, continuation in school without suspension, and provision of student support services. School outcomes are reductions in violence and bullying, fewer school suspensions, especially for disproportionately suspended minority students, and improved school climate. School climate is measured using teacher and student surveys to assess fairness of school discipline, supportive quality of teacher-student relations, and student engagement.
Phase 3 will consist of a randomized controlled study comparing 50 secondary schools that receive technical assistance with 50 control schools. Technical assistance will focus on improving implementation fidelity, broadening the use of threat assessment principles across a wider range of student disciplinary infractions, and further reducing school suspension.
The project will produce instruments, procedures, standards, and training materials that can be used to establish a national model of threat assessment as an effective school discipline and safety practice. Research findings will be widely disseminated through scholarly journals, professional conferences, and non-technical briefs for education and law enforcement. ca/ncf