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Safety in Numbers: Collecting and Using Crime, Violence, and Discipline Incident Data to Make a Difference in Schools
Chapter 1
  Using Data to Make a Difference
Chapter 2
    Meeting the Challenges of Data Collection
Chapter 3
    Reporting Incident Data
Chapter 4
    Collecting Data
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Ghedam Bairu

(202) 502-7304

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
  • Replace hunches with facts,
  • Identify the causes of problems,
  • Assess needs so that services can be targeted,
  • Determine whether goals are being accomplished,
  • Understand the impact of prevention and intervention, and
  • Answer community questions regarding the results of their investment (Bernhardt, 1998).

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.

Graphic of 'The Cycle of Data Collection'

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.

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