School Safety Audit Program - Virginia High School Safety Study

Including a survey of a Sample of 9th Grade Students' and Teachers' Perceptions of School Climate

The Virginia High School Safety Study serves to identify student safety, discipline, and support practices that best maintain a safe and orderly school environment conducive to learning. The study, conducted as part of Virginia’s School Safety Survey program, was mandated by Virginia Code § 22.1-279.8 and § 9.1-184.

Why complete a school safety study?

National concern over school violence has stimulated widespread changes in school policies and practices, but how do we know whether these changes are effective in reducing violent and disruptive behavior? Some efforts—such as zero tolerance discipline practices—are intended to create a more structured school environment, while other efforts concentrate on building supportive relationships with students. Does zero tolerance make schools safer? Do student support efforts improve student engagement in school? More broadly, what is the right balance of structure and support to maintain a safe and orderly school environment? The Virginia High School Safety Study will provide some answers to these questions.

Who participated in the study?

All Virginia public high schools participate in the study. In April 2007, a student survey was distributed to all high schools containing a ninth grade level. Data was collected from a random sample of approximately 25 ninth grade students and 10 ninth grade teachers from each high school. Ninth grade was selected for study because ninth graders account for 45% of the discipline violations in Virginia’s high schools. The study uses ninth grade surveys to characterize the ninth grade, not the entire school. The annual School Safety Survey will be augmented for one year with data collected from this study.

How was this data used?

Data from the School Safety Survey program is combined with the Department of Education’s Discipline, Crime, and Violence database in order to identify patterns of structure and support that are associated with lower rates of discipline problems, suspensions, and expulsions, as well as more positive student and teacher perceptions of the school climate. Because school violence is affected by community as well as school climate factors, the study takes into account differences in community poverty and crime for each school division. Individual schools are not identified, but all high schools receive reports of overall study findings and practice implications.

Who conducted this study?

The High School Safety Study is conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Center for School Safety of the Department of Criminal Justice Services, and the Department of Health. The 2007 study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, is being conducted as part of the statewide School Safety Audit program.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact Donna Michaelis at 804.371.6506.

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