Facilitating Threat Assessment Implementation in Schools: From Training to Outcomes

Stohlman, Shelby, Clinical Psychology - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Cornell, Dewey, Human Services, School of Education and Human Development

Despite the widespread use of threat assessment in schools, there are important gaps in the research literature. First, there is limited research regarding how students can be introduced to the concept of threat assessment and encouraged to report threats. Second, there is little research on the process of training staff to conduct threat assessments. Finally, studies have yet to investigate the graduation rates for students who undergo a threat assessment. This three-paper dissertation explores threat assessment training and graduation rates for students who receive a threat assessment using the Comprehensive Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) model.

The first paper (Stohlman & Cornell, 2019) investigated an online educational program to increase student knowledge of threat assessment and willingness to report threats of violence in a sample of 2,338 students. There were two primary research questions: (1) How are student characteristics of gender, grade level, and ethnicity/race associated with student knowledge of threat assessment and willingness to report threats? (2) Does the program increase knowledge of threat assessment and willingness to report threats? Male students were less willing to report threats than female students at pretest, but these differences were no longer significant at posttest. Older students were less willing to report threats than younger students at pretest, and these differences remained at posttest. Post-program questions revealed that the program significantly increased knowledge and willingness to report threats.

The second paper (Stohlman et al., 2020) investigated the effects of a day-long training workshop for school personnel on their knowledge of threat assessment and their attitudes towards using this approach to violence prevention in a sample of 4,666 participants across 100 workshops. There were four primary research questions: (1) How does the workshop affect school personnel knowledge of threat assessment? (2) How are school personnel characteristics of gender, occupation, work experience, and prior threat assessment training and experience associated with knowledge of threat assessment, threat classification accuracy, and evaluations of the workshop? (3) Are workshop effects comparable across different trainers? (4) How do the environmental factors of seat location, seat comfort, and room temperature influence workshop experience? After workshop completion, all groups, across all trainers, showed significant gains in their knowledge of threat assessment and threat classification accuracy. Additionally, nearly all participants provided positive evaluations of the workshop. Regarding environmental influences, participant ratings of seat comfort were positively associated with participant workshop ratings.

The third paper examined the graduation rates of 146 students from two large school districts who underwent a threat assessment, and compared them to overall district graduation rates as well as to the rates of a sample of students with a documented disciplinary history. There were two primary research questions: (1) How do the graduation rates for students who undergo a threat assessment compare to those of their peers? (2) How are graduation rates related to the seriousness of the threat incident, suspensions from the threat incident, race/ethnicity, gender, economic disadvantage, and special education status? The graduation rate for these students was 86% in District A and 79% in District B. These graduation rates were somewhat lower than the district-wide rates, but comparable to the rates for students who received a school suspension. In one district, we found that students receiving special education services were significantly more likely to graduate compared to students in general education. Aside from this notable finding, there were no significant differences in graduation rates by threat seriousness, suspension from the threat, gender, race/ethnicity, economic disadvantage, or grade level. Overall, students who made threats were usually able to complete high school and did not appear to be disadvantaged by the threat assessment process.

Taken together, the first two studies revealed that threat assessment training improves knowledge of threat assessment, encourages students to report threats, and bolsters staff attitudes towards this approach to violence prevention. The third study provides preliminary evidence that students who undergo a threat assessment tend to graduate high school at rates comparable to their peers.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Threat assessment, School safety, Training, Violence prevention
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