Accurate data make it possible to take appropriate steps to create a climate conducive to learning.
Incident data are vital to focus school efforts to maximize the success of students (Holcomb, 1998). To reiterate the theme of this report, collecting and using incident data are essential to creating the safe and orderly environments that students need in order to learn. Data are important to help
While a comprehensive incident database makes it easier to manage resources and complete state and Federal incident reports (see Appendix A), the most important reason to collect data is to facilitate activities that promote learning (i.e., improving school safety and focusing discipline reform efforts). Using incident data to make a difference in schools is a cyclical activity. Without accurate data, it is difficult to take appropriate steps to create climates conducive to learning. The figure below illustrates the cycle of data collection which begins and ends with gathering information on disciplinary incidents.
Communicating with the community about prevention
needs is especially important. Parents, community members, and funders
need facts to make informed decisions about the needs of schools (Bernhardt,
1998). Legislatures and community foundations have targeted millions of
new dollars for prevention and intervention efforts after learning about
incident data. For example, Pennsylvania, responding to increasing concerns
about violence in schools, awarded nearly 9 million dollars in safe-school
grants to school districts across the state to strengthen their violence
prevention programs and to make schools safer (Pennsylvania Department
of Education, 2001). Similarly, the Colorado Trust in 1999, recognizing
the need for violence prevention efforts, committed 1 million dollars
over 3 years to support the Safe Communities - Safe Schools Initiative
in 8 schools and school districts (Colorado Trust, 2000).
Accurate data can be collected when a comprehensive database is developed and staff are trained on what kinds of problem behaviors are to be reported.
This process is a never-ending story. Along the way, it will be necessary to address the challenges of data collection such as ensuring accuracy and concerns about school image. Accurate data can be collected when a comprehensive database is developed and staff are given training about what types of problem behaviors are to be reported. Actions to ensure reliability and validity are important. Such actions include clearly defining problem behavior, performing data checks, and comparing and contrasting incident data with other sources. While it is reasonable to be concerned about how data will be used, proactively communicating with the public regarding school needs (i.e., the problems that need to be addressed) and educating the public about the need to invest resources in efforts to promote school safety are critical to gaining support.
In closing, it is insufficient to simply collect incident data. Rather, collecting incident data is the beginning of working towards school improvement. It is important for schools, school districts, and states to use that data to develop plans for action in order to make a difference and improve the teaching and learning environment.