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Student Threat Assessment as a Method of Reducing Student Suspensions

Authors: Dewey Cornell, Ph.D. , Peter Lovegrove, Ph.D.
Date Published: April 06, 2013

Prepared for the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the Research-to-Practice Collaborative, National Conference on Race and Gender Disparities in Discipline
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Editor's Note: This research is part of the “Closing the School Discipline Gap Conference” of January 2013. An overview of the research project can be found here; for a list of the sixteen studies presented, click here


This paper presents two studies of the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines, which is a systematic method for schools to respond to student threats of violence without resorting to zero tolerance suspension. The first study reports secondary analyses from a randomized controlled trial which previously reported that students attending schools using the Virginia Guidelines were less likely to receive a long-term suspension (Odds Ratio = .35) than students attending control group schools using a zero tolerance approach (Cornell, Allen, & Fan, 2012). The secondary analyses found no difference in the impact on White versus Black students, which means that both racial groups benefitted from the intervention. The second study examined the scaled-up implementation of the Virginia Guidelines in Virginia public schools using a retrospective, quasi-experimental design. Schoolwide annual suspension rates were compared in 971 schools that chose to adopt the Virginia Guidelines versus 824 schools not using the Virginia Guidelines. Use of the Virginia Guidelines was associated with a 19% reduction in the number of long-term suspensions and an 8% reduction in the number of fewer short-term suspensions schoolwide during the 2010-2011 school year. Length of implementation was associated with greater reductions in suspensions. Schools with formal training in the Virginia Guidelines had greater reductions than schools that adopted them without formal training. There was not a significant interaction between use of the Virginia Guidelines and minority composition of the school, which means that schools of different racial composition demonstrated similar reductions. In conclusion, the two studies support use of the Virginia Guidelines as a promising approach for reducing suspension rates.


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