Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse in New Jersey Schools - 1999-2000
Note: Non-Comparability of 1999-2000 Data
The 1999-2000 Commissioners Report to the Legislature on Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse in New Jersey Schools does not contain comparisons of its findings with those of earlier reports. The primarily reason for focusing on 1999-2000 as a new or baseline year lies in the method of data collection. The Electronic Violence and Vandalism System (EVVRS) was first deployed in March of 2000; it is Internet-based, and, therefore it represents a radical departure from the paper-summary method of prior years. Comparability is compromised by the method of calculating totals and the presence of enforceable rules for data entry built into the EVVRS that were not present in the paper system. The dropping/adding of a violence category plus slight modifications in incident definitions also make comparisons problematical.
Reporting category totals. The totals in the current report for the major categories (i.e., violence, vandalism, weapons and substance abuse) represent an unduplicated count of incidents. Totals in prior years represented the sum of all sub-categories within a reporting category. For example, an incident of vandalism that involved both trespassing and damage to property would be counted as two incidents of vandalism. The EVVRS counts this as one incident of vandalism. Thus, the totals for the four reporting categories are not comparable across methodologies.
One incident per offender. In prior years, although instructions prompted districts to report incidents (not offenders), there was no clear way of checking if instructions were being followed. A district might count a fight two times, for example, if two offenders were involved. The EVVRS is capable of alerting districts when it appears that an incident has been entered (in error) more than once.
Duplicate substance abuse incidents. Instructions for reporting incidents of substance abuse direct districts not to count an incident both as sale or distribution and as possession. In prior years, the duplicate reporting (and counting) of these two types of substance abuse incidents could not be checked. The EVVRS now alerts the district to select only one category when this error occurs.
Addition of "Threat" and dropping of "Other". Threat was not included as a separate type of violence in the prior paper system; a threat of violence was included in the definition of simple assault. Threat is a reported separately in the EVVRS. Other was included in the prior paper system as a separate reporting category; it was dropped from the EVVRS. Department staff learned from districts that many of the incidents classified as Other were threats or were incidents that could have been classified in one of the seven Violence reporting categories.
Modification of definitions. Some of the definitions of incident types were modified slightly. The definition of fight in the paper system, for example, instructed districts to exclude "a shoving match or minor scuffle." The current definition instructs districts to exclude "verbal confrontations or minor confrontations such as a shoving match." In the EVVRS omission of any reference to value as a criterion for reporting altered slightly the definition of theft. Also, "One needs to consider age and developmentally appropriate behavior before using this category," was added to the definitions of simple assault, fight, and threat in the EVVRS Manual. This caution may have reduced the number of incidents in which younger students were reported as offenders.
District reviews of standards for reporting. Since the adoption of Internet-based reporting, the department has encouraged districts to review their standards for reporting. In effect, districts were asked to determine when a fight was a fight (reported to the state) or when it was simply a shoving match (not reported). In the EVVRS User Manual, the department implicitly encouraged this type of review by acknowledging the difference between state and local standards for reporting:
Districts, as the law stipulates, must report all acts of violence and vandalism to the state. They are not required to report minor incidents, such as a shoving match between students, or minor acts of vandalism, such as minor property damage. At the local level, however, each district has its own procedures for reporting student behavior that results in disciplinary action. [The] state system of reporting is designed to capture the more serious types of incidents ... the local reporting system covers the entire range of student misconduct (EVVRS User Manual, p. iii).
As the state transitioned to Internet-based reporting, district review of the incident definitions may well have resulted in modified interpretations of the definitions, therefore changing the standards used for reporting incidents.