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Institute of Education Sciences

What Are Threat Assessment Teams and How Prevalent Are They in Public Schools?

As part of the Safe School Initiative, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service authored a report in 2004 that described how schools could establish a threat assessment process “for identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.” School-based threat assessment teams are intended to prevent and reduce school violence and are adapted from the U.S. Secret Service’s threat assessment model.

The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) collected data on the prevalence of threat assessment teams in schools for the first time in 2015–16 from a nationally representative sample of 3,500 K–12 public schools. The questionnaire defined a threat assessment team as “a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools.” School-based threat assessment teams are usually composed of some combination of school administrators, teachers, counselors, sworn law enforcement officers, and mental health professionals.

While 42 percent of all public schools reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015–16 school year, the prevalence of threat assessment teams varied by school characteristics.


Percentage of public schools that reported having a threat assessment team, by school level and enrollment size: School year 2015–16

1Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools include all other combinations of grades, including K–12 schools.
NOTE: A threat assessment team was defined for respondents as a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 35.


For example, a higher percentage of high schools (52 percent) than of middle (45 percent), primary (39 percent), and combined schools (28 percent) reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015–16 school year. Further, 57 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 1,000 or more students reported having a threat assessment team, compared with 31 percent of schools with an enrollment size of less than 300 students; 40 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 300–499 students; and 45 percent of schools with an enrollment size of 500–999 students.

Threat assessment teams were also more prevalent in schools that had at least one security staff[i] member present at school at least once a week during the 2015–16 school year (48 percent of schools with security staff present vs. 33 percent of schools without security staff present). The percentage of schools reporting a threat assessment team was also higher in schools that reported at least one violent incident[ii] had occurred at school during the 2015–16 school year (44 percent) compared with schools that had no violent incidents (35 percent).

How often a threat assessment team meets can be an indication of how active the team is in the school.  The majority of schools with a threat assessment team in 2015–16 reported that their teams met “on occasion” (62 percent), followed by “at least once a month” (27 percent), “at least once a week” (9 percent), and “never” (2 percent).


Among public schools that reported having a threat assessment team, percentage distribution by frequency of threat assessment team meetings: School year 2015–16

!Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: A threat assessment team was defined for respondents as a formalized group of persons who meet on a regular basis with the common purpose of identifying, assessing, and managing students who may pose a threat of targeted violence in schools. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 35.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES and Melissa Diliberti, AIR

 

[i] Security staff includes full- or part-time school resource officers, sworn law enforcement officers, or security guards or security personnel present at school at least once a week.

[ii] Violent incidents include rape or attempted rape, sexual assault other than rape (including threatened rape), physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery (taking things by force) with or without a weapon.

 

Explore Data on Mental Health Services in K–12 Public Schools for Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s important for schools to help ensure students are safe and healthy, both physically and mentally, so that learning can occur. In addition to implementing security measures on school campuses, there has been a growing focus on whether schools provide mental health services. In school year 2015–16, some 71 percent of public schools reported having diagnostic assessments for mental health disorders available to students, and 64 percent of schools reported having treatment available. [i]

These data come from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). The 2015–16 SSOCS questionnaire added new questions asking principals to report whether diagnostic assessment and treatment services for mental health were available to students under the official responsibilities of a licensed mental health professional.[ii] Diagnostic assessments are used to identify whether a student has one or more medical and/or mental health diagnoses. Treatment is a clinical service, such as psychotherapy, medication, or counseling, which is intended to lessen or eliminate the symptoms of a disorder.

The prevalence of mental health services varied by school characteristics. In both middle and high schools, diagnostic assessment services were more common than treatment services: 74 percent of middle schools and 79 percent of high schools reported diagnostic assessments were available, compared with 66 percent of middle schools and 69 percent of high schools reporting treatment services were available. Compared to primary schools, a higher percentage of high schools reported that both types of mental health services were available.


Figure 1. Percentage of public schools reporting the availability of mental health services under the official responsibilities of a licensed mental health professional, by type of mental health service and school enrollment size: School year 2015–16

1Mental health disorders were defined for respondents as, collectively, all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.
NOTE: Mental health services are provided by several different types of mental health professionals, each of which have their own training and areas of expertise. The types of professionals who may provide mental health services include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners, psychiatric/mental health nurses, clinical social workers, and professional counselors. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 40.


The percentage of schools with 1,000 or more students that reported having diagnostic assessment services available (80 percent) was higher than the percentages of schools with fewer than 300 students (69 percent), 300–499 students (68 percent), and 500–999 students (71 percent).

The questionnaire also asked principals to report to what extent certain factors limited the school’s efforts to provide mental health services to students. The most common limiting factors reported by schools were inadequate funding (75 percent) and lack of parental support (71 percent).


Figure 2. Percentage of public schools reporting that their efforts to provide mental health services to students were limited in a major or minor way due to specified non-school-level factors: School year 2015–16

1Mental health disorders were defined for respondents as, collectively, all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.
2Mental health services are provided by several different types of mental health professionals, each of which have their own training and areas of expertise. The types of professionals who may provide mental health services include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners, psychiatric/mental health nurses, clinical social workers, and professional counselors. 
3Examples of legal issues provided to respondents were malpractice and insufficient supervision.
NOTE: Respondents were asked to rate the level of limitation in their school’s efforts to provide mental health services to students for each factor. Survey response options included “limits in major way,” “limits in minor way,” or “does not limit." Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016. See table 39.


You can find more information on school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16 and the 2017 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

 

By Rachel Hansen, NCES and Melissa Diliberti, AIR

 

 

[i] Includes services available at school by a mental health professional employed by the school or district; services available at school by a mental health professional other than a school or district employee, funded by the school or district; and services available outside of school by a mental health professional other than a school or district employee, funded by the school or district.

[ii] The 2015–16 questionnaire provided formal definitions for many terms, including at school, diagnostic assessment, mental health disorders, mental health professionals, and treatment.

 

 

Data on New Topics in the School Survey on Crime and Safety Shed Light on Emerging Areas of Interest

By Rachel Hansen, NCES; and Melissa Diliberti and Jana Kemp, AIR

For more than 15 years, the National Center for Education Statistics has administered the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) to provide timely, high-quality data on crime and safety in U.S. public schools. Information collected on SSOCS includes the frequency and nature of crime; disciplinary actions; crime prevention and the involvement of law enforcement; and challenges to reducing and preventing crime. Conducted with a nationally representative sample of public schools, the sixth, and most recent, administration of SSOCS took place during the 2015–16 school year. The first report highlighting key findings from that survey was released in 2017.

For the 2015–16 survey, we included new and expanded questions on several topics to address emerging policy issues and to identify common practices in school safety, including:

  • School law enforcement, including questions on how schools involve sworn law enforcement officers in daily activities and whether schools outline the responsibilities of these officers at school. For instance, one new item asks whether law enforcement officers routinely wear a body camera, while another item asks if the school has a formalized policy defining officers’ use of firearms while at school;
  • Preventative measures used in public schools, including new questions on more recent security practices. For example, one new item asks schools to report whether they have a threat assessment team to identity students who might be a potential risk for violent or harmful behavior;
  • Preparations for crisis situations, such as whether schools drill students on the use of evacuation, lockdown, and shelter-in-place procedures. Other new items ask whether schools have panic buttons that directly connect to law enforcement and whether they have classroom doors that can be locked from the inside;
  • Student involvement in crime prevention, such as whether schools use peer mediation, student court, restorative circles, or social emotional learning training for students as part of a formal program intended to prevent or reduce violence; and
  • Staff training in discipline policies and practices, including those related to bullying and cyberbullying or strategies for students displaying signs of mental health disorders.

While previous administrations of SSOCS have asked schools to report the number of hate crimes that occurred during a given school year, the 2015–16 questionnaire asked schools to also report the bias (e.g., national origin or ethnicity, gender identity, etc.) that may have motivated these hate crimes. For the first time, the SSOCS questionnaire also asked schools to report the number of arrests that occurred at school.

In addition to these new and expanded questions, SSOCS continues to collect detailed information on schools’ safety practices, the number and type of crime incidents (e.g., sexual assault, physical attack or fight) that occur at school, and the extent to which schools involve law enforcement, parents, and other community groups in their efforts to reduce and prevent crime. To allow for trend comparisons, many items included on SSOCS questionnaires have remained consistent between survey administrations.

Due to the sensitive nature of SSOCS data, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the SSOCS:2016 restricted-use data file. A public-use data file, with some variables removed, was released in March of 2018. Public-use data files from previous SSOCS administrations are also available on the SSOCS website and in DataLab

 

International Comparisons of School Crime and Safety

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Indicators of School Crime and Safety provides a wealth of information on the safety of schools and colleges. The report is updated annually, which allows the public to compare many data points over time in the United States. But how does crime and safety for U.S. students compare to students from other countries? This year’s report helps put some of the U.S. data in an international context by comparing it to crime and safety indicators in other countries.

For example, 15 percent of U.S. fourth-grade students reported experiencing bullying at least once a month, which was lower than the international average (16 percent).[1] This percentage was also lower than the percentages in 16 countries, higher than the percentages in 21 countries, and not measurably different from the percentages in 10 countries. Similarly, the percentage of U.S. eight-grade students who reported experiencing bullying at least once a week was lower than the international average (7 vs. 8 percent), and was lower than the percentages in 13 countries. The U.S. percentage was higher than the percentages in 16 countries, and not measurably different from the percentages in 6 countries.


Percentage of eighth-grade students who reported experiencing bullying at least once a month during the school year, by country or other education system: 2015

1 Norway collected data from students in their 9th year of schooling rather than in grade 8 because year 1 in Norway is considered the equivalent of kindergarten.
NOTE: Most of the education systems represent complete countries, but some represent subnational entities; England, for example, is part of the United Kingdom. Data are based on rounded estimates.
SOURCE: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), 2015.


Data from this spotlight come from the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The primary purpose of TIMSS is to compare the mathematics and science performances of fourth- and eighth-grade students in participating countries and education systems. In addition to assessments, TIMSS provides questionnaires to students who participate, as well as to the teachers and principals of participating students. The 2015 TIMMS questionnaire collected data on students’ reports of bullying, teachers’ reports of whether the school environment is safe and orderly, and principals’ reports of school discipline issues for students in grades 4 and 8.

In the U.S., 7 percent of participating fourth-grade students attended schools that were less than safe and orderly, according to the data reported by their teachers.[2] This was higher than the international average of 4 percent and higher than the percentages in 22 countries, while being not measurably different from the percentages in 19 countries. About 13 percent of participating U.S. eighth-grade students reported attending schools that were less than safe and orderly; higher than the international average of 8 percent and higher than the percentages in 26 countries.

About 3 percent of U.S. fourth-graders and 2 percent of U.S. eighth-graders attended schools with moderate to severe discipline problems, according to data reported by their principals.[3] These percentages were lower than the international averages for fourth-graders and eighth-graders (10 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

For more detailed information, visit the spotlight in Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2016.

 

[1] The bullying questionnaire item asked, “During this school year, how often have other students from your school done any of the following things to you (including through texting and the Internet)?” These behaviors were listed after the question: Made fun of me or called me names; Left me out of games or activities; Spread lies about me; Stole something from me; Hit or hurt me (e.g., shoving, hitting, kicking); Made me do things I didn’t want to do; Shared embarrassing information about me; Threatened me; and Posted embarrassing things about me online (only asked of eighth-graders).

[2] The questionnaire item was, “Thinking about your current school, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements,” and it was followed by these statements: This school is located in a safe neighborhood; I feel safe at this school; This school’s security policies and practices are sufficient; The students behave in an orderly manner; The students are respectful of the teachers; The students respect school property; This school has clear rules about student conduct; and This school’s rules are enforced in a clear and consistent manner.

[3] The questionnaire item asked, “To what degree is each of the following a problem among [fourth-grade/eighth-grade] students in your school?” These behaviors or occurrences were listed following the questionnaire item: Arriving late at school; Absenteeism (i.e., unjustified absences); Classroom disturbance; Cheating; Profanity; Vandalism; Theft; Intimidation or verbal abuse among students (including texting, emailing, etc.); Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff (including texting, emailing, etc.); Physical fights among students (only asked of fourth-grade principals); Physical injury to other students (only asked of eighth-grade principals); and Physical injury to teachers or staff (only asked of eighth-grade principals).

 

Bullying Down From a Decade Ago, but Unchanged Since 2013

By Lauren Musu-Gillette, Rachel Hansen, and Maura Spiegelman

Bullying prevention is a topic of perennial interest to policy makers, administrators, and educators, as well as students and their families. Data is a key component of measuring progress in a given area and NCES is committed to providing reliable and timely data on important topics such as bullying. NCES recently released a new report with data on bullying; Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2015 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

The School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey collects data on bullying by asking students ages 12–18 if they had been bullied at school during the school year. The percentage of students who reported being bullied at school during the school year decreased from 28 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2015. Similarly, the percentage of male students who reported being bullied at school decreased from 27 percent to 19 percent during the same time period. While the downward trend was not significant for female students, a smaller percentage reported being bullied in 2015 than in 2005 (29 vs. 23 percent). Additionally, the percentage of females who reported being bullied was higher than the percentage of males in most years that data were available (the exceptions were 2005 and 2009 when the percentages were not measurably different).  

However, as you can see in the graph below, most of the decline—overall and for males and females—occurred between 2007 and 2013. For the past two years, the percentages have been relatively unchanged.


Percentage of students, ages 12–18, who reported being bullied at school during the school year: Selected years, 2005 through 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005 through 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 230.40.


In 2015, higher percentages of Black students (25 percent) and White students (22 percent) reported being bullied in comparison to Hispanic students (17 percent). A greater percentage of students in 6th grade (31 percent) reported being bullied than students in grades 8–12, where reports of bullying ranged between 15 percent and 22 percent. No measurable differences were observed in the percentage of private and public school students who reported being bullied at school.

The frequency of bullying is another factor that is measured in the SCS. In 2015, about 67 percent of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied once or twice in the school year. About one-third (33 percent) indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month, with 10 percent of these students reporting being bullied once or twice a week and 4 percent reporting they were bullied every day.

Additional data from the 2015 report can be found in the tables in the report. These tables contain additional information on bullying-related topics such as types of bullying, and fear and avoidance behaviors at school.