Objective environmental assessments of neighborhood violence were obtained using data from the NIfETy Method. Data on perceived school and community safety were obtained from the Baltimore City Public School System’s (BCPSS) annual School Climate Survey (SCS), which is given annually to students, parents, and staff. Academic performance is assessed using the Maryland School Assessment (MSA), a test of reading and math competency. The BCPSS is predominantly African-American (87.8%) and approximately 84% of all students receive free or reduced price lunch.
Neighborhood Violence Exposure: The NIfETy Method
The Neighborhood Inventory of Environmental Typology (NIfETy) instrument provides neighborhood-level assessments of violence, alcohol, and other drugs (VAOD). The NIfETy instrument includes 172 items operationalized within seven domains: physical layout, structures on the block, dwelling type, youth and adult activity, physical order and disorder, social order and disorder, and the presence of VAOD indicators (e.g. presence of alcohol bottles, obvious signs of drug selling, people fighting, etc.)
The NIfETy assessments were conducted in the Summer, 2005 by trained two-person team field raters who entered the environmental observations into handheld electronic devices independently. Environmental data were collected on a random selection of residential block faces within each of the 242 residential neighborhoods in Baltimore City, resulting in a total of 447 sampled residential block faces. For a more detailed description of the NIfETy Instrument see Furr-Holden et al. (2008)
A neighborhood violence risk score measuring violence was created using seven variables from the NIfETy instrument: blood in the street, the presence of shell casings, police tape, memorials, people yelling, people swearing, and people fighting. Each variable was binary and contributed equally to the total risk score.
Perceived School and Neighborhood Safety: The School Climate Survey
The Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) began conducting the School Climate Survey annually in the 2004-2005 school years. The survey assesses perceptions of safety in school, in the area surrounding the school, as well as perceived substance use among school peers. The survey also assesses the learning environment, educational values, school physical environment, school resources, and family involvement. Surveys are administered annually to parents, staff, and students at every public school. For this study, student responses to 6 perceived safety items, rated on a 5-point Likert scale, were used as primary predictors. The mean responses to each item were computed by grade for each elementary school using data from the 2005-2006 school years. 116 Baltimore City Public Elementary Schools were included in this study. One school only included data on 5th graders; two schools did not have any data on fifth graders, and one school did not have any data on 3rd graders. The sample size for each grade is included in . The included SCS items and their means are listed in Table One.
Descriptive Statistics of Safety Perceptions, Community Violence, and Academic Achievement
Academic Achievement: The Maryland School Assessment (MSA)
The Maryland School Assessment is a standardized test administered annually to 3rd-8th grade students in Maryland. The MSA includes two tests, one to assess achievement in mathematics and one to assess achievement in reading. The assessment fulfills the testing requirements of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. The percentage of students at each school who scored proficient or advanced on the math and reading MSA in the 2005-2006 school years is used as the measure of academic achievement in this study.
All spatial analyses were conducted using ArcGIS 9 (ArcMap 9.2). The 447 randomly selected block faces assessed using the NIfETy instrument were mapped with their corresponding risk score. Similarly, the elementary schools were added as a separate map layer. Using a spatial join (a tool used to append data from one map layer to another map layer using geographic location), the NIfETy block faces and schools were joined with a neighborhood map layer. An aggregated neighborhood violence risk score was created by taking the mean risk score of the NIfETy block faces in the respective neighborhood. The elementary schools were assigned a risk score based on the neighborhood in which they were located. A total of 116 schools were mapped in 95 neighborhoods. Figure One displays a map of the elementary schools and neighborhoods based on their mean risk score.
SPSS 17.0 was used for multivariate statistical analyses. Linear regression models were used to estimate the relationship between perceived school and neighborhood safety, and academic achievement. Each school was treated as a case. Linear regression models were also used to estimate the relationship between neighborhood violence and school achievement, controlling for students’ self-report of safety going to and from school and the percent of students receiving free and reduced price lunch (as a proxy for poverty). Analyses were run separately for each grade due to the considerable variation in academic achievement in the same school by grade. For example, in one school, 17% of 5th graders scored average/proficient on the math MSA compared to 45% of 3rd graders. In addition to the variation in academic achievement, there are developmental differences by grade which would be loss by aggregating data to the school level.