Threat Assessment Research


Student Threat Assessment as a Safe and Supportive Prevention Strategy

We have two bodies of research on threat assessment. This page describes our federally funded project to study threat assessment in Virginia public schools. Schools in Virginia can use any threat assessment model that generally conforms to the state requirements. Another page describes our research specifically concerned with the threat assessment model we developed, the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines. Here is a compilation of 15 of our published studies on threat assessment.

In 2013, Virginia legislation (in § 22.1-79.4) required that “Each local school board shall adopt policies for the establishment of threat assessment teams, including the assessment of and intervention with students whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of school staff or students consistent with the model policies developed by the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety…” and that “Each division superintendent shall establish, for each school, a threat assessment team that shall include persons with expertise in counseling, instruction, school administration, and law enforcement.” 

In 2014, our research team at the University of Virginia was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate and improve the implementation of student threat assessment in Virginia public schools. The grant involves several phases carried out over four years. The project began with a series of reports concerning how threat assessment is being implemented across all Virginia public schools.

Our report concerning the 2014-15 school year: click here.

Here are three recent peer-reviewed studies:

Cornell, D., Maeng, J., Burnette, A.G., Jia, Y., Huang, F., Konold, T., Datta, P., Malone, M., Meyer, P. (2017 online). Student threat assessment as a standard schools safety practice: Results from a statewide implementation study. School Psychology Quarterly.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000220

Objective: Threat assessment has been widely endorsed as a school safety practice, but there is little research on its implementation. In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate student threat assessment in its public schools. The purpose of this study was to examine the statewide implementation of threat assessment and to identify how threat assessment teams distinguish serious from non-serious threats.

Method: The sample consisted of 1,865 threat assessment cases reported by 785 elementary, middle, and high schools. Students ranged from pre-K to grade 12, including 74.4% male, 34.6% receiving special education services, 51.2% White, 30.2% Black, 6.8% Hispanic, and 2.7% Asian. Survey data were collected from school-based teams to measure student demographics, threat characteristics, and assessment results. 

Results: Logistic regression indicated that threat assessment teams were more likely to identify a threat as serious if it was made by a student above the elementary grades (odds ratio 0.57; 95% lower and upper bound 0.42 - 0.78), a student receiving special education services (1.27; 1.00 – 1.60), involved battery (1.61; 1.20-2.15), homicide (1.40; 1.07 – 1.82), or weapon possession (4.41; 2.80 - 6.96), or targeted an administrator (3.55; 1.73 – 7.30). Student race and gender were not significantly associated with a serious threat determination. The odds ratio that a student would attempt to carry out a threat classified as serious was 12.48 (5.15 - 30.22). 

Conclusions: These results provide new information on the nature and prevalence of threats in schools using threat assessment that can guide further work to develop this emerging school safety practice.

Cornell, D., Maeng, J., Huang, F., Shukla, K., & Konold, T. (in press). Racial/ethnic parity in disciplinary consequences using student threat assessment. School Psychology Review.  (Pre-publication copy available upon request). 

School psychologists are frequently called upon to assess students who have made verbal or behavioral threats of violence against others, a practice commonly known as threat assessment. One critical issue is whether the outcomes of a threat assessment generate the kind of racial disparities widely observed in school disciplinary practices. In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate threat assessment teams in all public schools. This study examined the disciplinary consequences for 1,836 students who received a threat assessment in 779 Virginia elementary, middle, and high schools during the 2014-15 school year. Multilevel logistic regression models found no disparities among Black, Hispanic, and White students in out-of-school suspensions, school transfers, or legal actions. The most consistent predictors of disciplinary consequences were the student’s possession of a weapon and the team classification of the threat as serious. We discuss possible explanations for the absence of racial/ethnic disparities in threat assessment outcomes and cautiously suggest that the threat assessment process may reflect a generalizable pathway for achieving parity in school discipline.

Cornell, D., & Maeng, J. (2017 online). Statewide implementation of threat assessment in Virginia K-12 schools. Contemporary School Psychology.https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs40688-017-0146-x.pdf

In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate the use of threat assessment teams in its K-12 public schools. We provide an account of the development and adaptation of threat assessment as a school safety practice and research on the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines in Virginia schools. We describe the state law and the question of whether suicide assessment should be considered a form of threat assessment. We then describe research on the statewide implementation of threat assessment and summarize results indicating overall positive outcomes for schools who are actively engaged in threat assessment, but qualitative findings from a needs assessment identified team training gaps as well as a need to orient the larger school community to the threat assessment process. We describe a series of online programs to educate students, parents, teachers, and other school staff about the threat assessment process. In conclusion, this paper presents some lessons learned in the statewide implementation of threat assessment as a safe and effective violence prevention strategy.

Our research team has developed a free online educational program to improve awareness of school safety and the threat assessment process. The program has separate units for students, parents, and teachers, as well as three units for threat assessment team members. For more information, or if your school division is interested in participating, please contact Jennifer Maeng, Ph.D., project director at jlc7d@virginia.edu.

This project is supported by Grant #NIJ 2014-CK-BX-0004 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in our reports are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.