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School Threat Assessment - An Evidence-based Violence Prevention Strategy (1 CE)


Psychologists are increasingly asked to evaluate students who have threatened violence. Traditional risk assessment methods have limited value because of their emphasis on predictive accuracy, which has little practical value when dealing with a specific threat case. In contrast, behavioral threat assessment and intervention is an approach that places more emphasis on assessment for the purpose of identifying interventions that reduce the risk of violence. In recent years, school-based threat assessment has become a widely used violence prevention strategy in U.S. schools. However, threat assessment was developed in law enforcement and must be adapted for use in schools. School threat assessment must advance the educational mission to help all students learn and it must operate from a developmental perspective that recognizes cognitive and social-emotional differences across youth.

The Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) was developed at the University of Virginia in 2001 and disseminated through a standard training program and manual. CSTAG training prepares school-based multidisciplinary teams to take a problem-solving approach to violence prevention that involves gathering information, identifying problems or conflicts underlying a student’s threatening behavior, and taking actions to support the student and protect others from harm. The CSTAG model uses a five-step decision tree to distinguish transient threats that are not serious from serious substantive threats that require protective action. In the most serious cases, a mental health professional conducts an assessment to identify needed services to help the student as well as actions to reduce the risk of violence. Clinical interviewing of the threatening individual and corroborating sources is an essential component of the threat assessment process. Personality assessment instruments can help the team formulate an understanding of the student’s risk and protective factors and shape intervention strategies.

The safety and effectiveness of CSTAG has been supported by a series of field tests and controlled studies. One of the important benefits of threat assessment is that it gives schools an alternative to a zero tolerance approach, leading to reductions in the use of school exclusion and law enforcement actions. Furthermore, threat assessment can help reduce racial/ethnic disparities in discipline by prioritizing problem resolution over punishment. Several case examples illustrate the school threat assessment process.

Featured Speaker for 2022 SPA Convention

Dewey Cornell | University of Virginia 

Goals & Objectives 
  1. Distinguish school threat assessment from other forms of violence risk assessment in its conceptual foundations and purpose. 
  2. Apply principles of school threat assessment to distinguish transient from substantive threats and take appropriate preventative and supportive actions. 
Non-Member Price: $109
Member Price: $49