Chapter 3: Reporting Incident Data
Sharing data voluntarily can help convey the message that a safe and
orderly school environment is not only important but also a top priority
of schools, districts, and states. Once incident data have been collected,
schools, districts, and states must decide what information will be
reported and to whom. One of the challenges of collecting data is how
this information shapes school image, as discussed in Chapter
2. Proactive, voluntary sharing of data can help convey a message
and has the potential to help frame schools in a positive light. While
it is true that not all data are positive, it is important to report
unfavorable results fully and openly along with an action plan to address
the issues these data identify. This may mean not only informing parents
and the media about the infractions and disciplinary actions that have
occurred, but also determining whether data reflect an increase or decrease
in the number or types of incidents, what the school has done to reduce
incidents, or what the school plans to do to address an increased number
of incidents. It is important to communicate this information to school
and district staff before sharing it with the public.
Report even unfavorable results openly along with a plan to address the issues identified.
When sharing data, it is important to be alert to privacy issues. Incident data should not be presented in ways that identify individuals. In some cases this means aggregating, rather than disaggregating, categories of data so that small groups of staff or students cannot be identified by unique characteristics. As noted in Chapter 2, both the Federal Government and many states have legislation regarding the confidentiality of student records and information.
The remainder of this chapter presents recommendations for methods to present data and mechanisms for reporting this information.
Incident data may be presented in a written format, graphically, or by a combination of the two. Graphs can be particularly useful in differentiating among variables such as month of or type of disciplinary action as seen in figures 3-1 and 3-2.
Incident data may be grouped by type or category in many ways including:
It may be useful to report rates as this helps to put levels of problem behavior in perspective. For example, if a school of 1,000 students had 20 fights, it certainly had more altercations than a school of 250 with 5 fights, but both schools had the same rate of fighting: 2 fights per 100 students. Furthermore, information on the cost of problem behavior may be of interest to parents and the public.
A concise explanation of what is being reported is an important first step when discussing the types of incidents that occurred in a school, district, or state.
Reporting Incident Data. A concise explanation of what is being reported is an important first step when discussing the types of incidents that occurred in a school, district, or state. It may be useful to briefly explain the criteria used to determine the severity and the category of an incident and its results. For example, incidents reported to police may differ from those that resulted in suspension or expulsion (i.e., not all incidents that are reported to the police will result in a suspension or expulsion and not all incidents that result in a suspension or expulsion will be reported to police). Therefore, the criteria used to decide when an incident is reported to law enforcement should be clearly stated (e.g., a weapon was used or a student was seriously injured in the incident).
It is also important to note whether or not law enforcement personnel are regularly stationed at the school. The presence of a school resource officer or other law enforcement officials may influence whether or not an incident is reported to law enforcement. Similarly, when discussing incidents that resulted in a suspension or expulsion, it is important to explain the category of suspensions being described. Are all suspensions (i.e., in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, and after-school suspension) being reported or are only specific types of suspensions reported? An explanation as to whether the data exclude incidents that resulted in other types of disciplinary actions (e.g., change in placement) will provide useful clarification.
Another way to report incident data is by category of problem behavior. For instance, data could be grouped into the following major categories:
Clear, accurate reporting tells the reader exactly what is being described.
When grouping information, define each grouping by the types of behaviors contained within the group. Depending on the local or state criteria, drug and alcohol offenses might include Alcohol (code 1000), Drug (code 1600), and Inappropriate Use of Medication (code 2100), while excluding Tobacco (code 3300). Clear, accurate reporting tells the reader exactly what is being described.
Subcategorizing incident data can also be informative. Month-by-month data can show how the level of problem behavior has changed at a school as staff work to implement a new behavior management program. Time and location are also commonly used to subcategorize incidents. For example, grouping incidents by time of day could illustrate the need for additional supervision during problem times (e.g., before school, during lunch). A school might communicate this information with a request to parents for volunteers to help supervise students during these times.
Reporting Disciplinary Actions. The number of disciplinary actions may also be of interest to parents and the public. These data could include the number of detentions, expulsions, and suspensions that were assigned. These figures are likely to differ from the number of incidents, as a fight can result in more than one student being suspended. When reporting multiple types of information (e.g., incidents and disciplinary actions or number of students involved), it may be useful to highlight the differences among them. Disciplinary actions can also be subcategorized by variables such as month, time, and location.
Reporting the Number of Students Involved. Data regarding
the number of students involved in incidents can be reported in several
ways. It may be necessary to create one set of reports to fulfill state
requirements and another set for parents and the public to identify
areas of improvement.
One of the benefits of maintaining separate data tables is that data can easily be aggregated to whatever level is desired. These data can also be readily subdivided by student characteristics such as gender or race/ethnicity. However, care needs to be taken when creating such figures that the presentation of information does not identify any small groups or individual students.
If the public is aware of the specific amount that vandalism is costing a school district, the community might readily agree that spending a fraction of that cost on prevention efforts would be of great benefit.
Some jurisdictions count incidents using the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). This system looks at "events" in several ways, including a "by offense" count. Incidents of crimes against persons (Assault, defined here as Battery-code 1300, and Fighting (incidents that are serious enough to result in arrest)-code 1700; Intimidation, defined here as Threat/Intimidation-code 3200; Kidnapping -2300; and Sex Offenses, both Sexual Battery-code 2800 and Sexual Offenses, Other (incidents that are serious enough to result in arrest)-code 2900) are counted as multiple events if they involve multiple victims (Uniform Crime Reporting Program, 2000). Having separate incident and victim data tables allows computation of such information.
The Cost of Problem Behavior. Presenting
data on the cost of problem behavior can be especially helpful when
trying to obtain public support for prevention efforts. If the public
is aware of the specific amount that vandalism is costing a school district,
the community might readily agree that spending a fraction of that cost
on prevention efforts would be of great benefit. The cost of personnel
resources devoted to managing problem behavior and time lost to student
learning should be included as part of the total cost. For example,
a false bomb threat that requires a school of 250 students to be evacuated
for 4 hours has a student learning cost of 1,000 hours.
Clear and concise identification of what is being reported will assist the target audience in focusing on key points.
Presentation. Just as important as what data are presented is how the information is identified during the presentation. Clear and concise identification of what is being communicated will assist the target audience in focusing on key points. As discussed above, the number of incidents that were reported to law enforcement may differ from the number of incidents that resulted in suspension. Similarly, the number of students suspended may not match the number of suspensions. Clear labeling will help alleviate confusion. Thus, if incident data reported to law enforcement are being described, the title on the chart might read "Crimes Reported to Law Enforcement . . ." (see figure 3-3). Conversely, if a chart describes the number of students suspended, its title should read, "Number of Students Suspended . . . " (see figure 3-4) in contrast to the total number of suspensions as presented in figures 3-1 and 3-2.
Data on incidents reported to law enforcement provide an opportunity for schools and communities to discuss how law enforcement can work with schools to address problem behavior. It is helpful to report information on school/law enforcement partnerships when releasing information such as those shown in figure 3-3.
Figure 3-3. Incidents reported to law enforcement-Sample
Figure 3-4. Number of students suspended (out-of-school)-Sample Graph
Keep illustrations clear and simple.
Illustrations need to be clear and simple. This rule is especially important to remember when reporting data by subcategories. The presentation must make sense for the subcategories being reported. For example, a figure showing the number of students suspended out-of-school at least once in a month (i.e., an unduplicated count by month) would omit a total column. In this example (see figure 3-5), some students would be included in more than one column-those suspended in more than one month. An unduplicated total would be smaller than the sum of the months and would be confusing to readers. Thus, total out-of-school suspensions would be reported separately, as in figure 3-4 above.
Many reporting methods are available to schools, districts, and states. The appropriate medium will be determined by reporting objectives. Options include additions to existing periodic reports, specific publications dedicated to reporting data, and press releases. Each of these formats may include general or specific data depending on the school or district goals. Many states produce special incident reports (e.g., Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia), while other states include incident data in their Safe and Drug-Free Schools reports (e.g., Idaho, Maine, South Dakota). Wisconsin produces monthly newsletters that routinely report incident data. In some states, incident data are posted on the department of education's web site (e.g., Michigan, Washington). Florida distributes reports to the state legislature, state school board members, and school district superintendents.
Many states require schools and/or districts to produce report cards that include specific incident data, such as the number of certain types of incidents (e.g., drug and alcohol offenses, fights) or the number of students suspended. This information is often posted on school and district web sites in addition to being mailed to parents. Parent Teacher Association and other school newsletters may also provide a useful mechanism for reporting on problem behavior.
Press releases from a school are a form of proactive reporting.
State and local newspapers often report on school discipline. Press releases from a school are a form of proactive reporting, acknowledging problem areas and potential solutions as well as areas that have seen improvement. When statewide data are released by a department of education, a specific school or district may find itself on the defensive. With proactive reporting, the public would have previously been made aware of any problem areas and the statewide data would not come as a surprise. In Florida, local newspapers often print school-by-school "report card" data. Releasing news about prevention efforts at the same time the school report cards were released helped one school district put this information in a positive light. The headline of the local paper's article on the subject read, "Schools Tackle Discipline in Classrooms" (Valle-Greene, 2000). This proactive report assured the public that the school district had a plan to improve student behavior.
Public support is vital to the implementation of programs designed to ensure a safe, friendly learning environment. Schools and school districts need to examine and report not only data on incidents but also information on prevention and intervention programs. In this way, the public is not only informed, but also supports efforts to maintain discipline and enhance the education climate in the classroom.