JRSA Forum. March 2015. Volume 33, Number 1.

Virginia SAC Partners with University of Virginia to Examine School Threat Assessments

The Virginia SAC and the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education are partnering on a four-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to examine how school threat assessments are conducted statewide in Virginia. The grant, one of 24 awarded by NIJ in 2014 under the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, is part of a large-scale, integrated research effort to build knowledge about what works to increase the safety of schools nationwide.

Threat assessment is a structured process used to determine the credibility and seriousness of a threat and the likelihood that it will be carried out. In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate that threat assessment teams be established in all K-12 public schools, and that the schools conduct formal threat assessments on students who may pose a safety threat to the school. The primary goal of the threat assessments are being conducted, characteristics of the various threat assessment models that schools are using, and how various measures of school safety and climate are related to the use of threat assessments.

The primary role of the SAC will be to incorporate data collection for the study into its annual School Safety Audit survey of the nearly 2,000 K-12 public schools in Virginia. The SAC developed and implemented the online survey in 2005 to assist the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety with its mandate to conduct annual school safety audits and provide reports on the results of these audits. The University of Virginia (UVA), which has developed and disseminated one of the threat assessment models now being used, will conduct the majority of the design and analytic work on the grant project. SAC staff are working with UVA staff to develop the study questions, incorporate them into the annual survey, and communicate with the schools about the study.

Teacher and student surveys will also be used to measure school climate by assessing perceived fairness of school discipline, the supportive quality of teacher-student relations, and student engagement. Levels of violence and bullying and school suspension rates (especially for disproportionately suspended minority students) will be measured using annual School Discipline, Crime and Violence reports data collected by the Virginia Department of Education.

Another component of the study will examine the effects of providing randomly selected schools with technical assistance for improving the fidelity of threat assessment model implementation and reducing school suspension among minority students.

This four-year project will produce instruments, procedures, standards, archived data, and training materials that can be used to establish a national model of threat assessment as an effective school discipline and safety practice.