In 2018, after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the state Legislature passed a number of measures to prevent similar attacks in the future and make schools safer. Among them was a law requiring public schools to conduct student threat assessments, a process through which district personnel analyze reports of potentially dangerous behavior and create a plan to intervene.
The threat assessment approach was pioneered by the Secret Service, which has endorsed it as a key tool for community violence intervention efforts. It’s difficult to measure the efficacy of these strategies, though: As The New Yorker reported last year, there’s no reliable way to count shootings that never happened, and implementation varies from place to place. Most research on school-based threat assessment has focused on tangential effects, like whether these programs support overall student well-being.
But now, a comprehensive analysis of Florida’s program concluded that the practice has been “widely, but not uniformly, successful” in preventing threats to safety. Researchers from the University of Virginia reviewed reports of more than 23,000 threat assessments conducted in Florida public schools during the 2021-2022 school year, Education Week reported, and found that students carried out just about 6 percent of threats recorded in the data, with 0.23 percent resulting in serious injuries. There were shortfalls: Some schools hadn’t fully trained staff before researchers collected data, and there were clear racial disparities in the students who were referred for assessment and the severity of their discipline.
But “on a very large scale, we got good results,” Dewey Cornell, one of the report’s co-authors and a pioneer of school-based threat assessment, told Education Week. “What we hope to show in our future studies are the factors associated with good quality outcomes.”
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1 in 3 — the proportion of threat assessments in Florida schools that resulted in students being referred to mental health services. [Education Week]