School-Based Bullying Prevention: Conduct a Needs Assessment

What's Going On?

  • Overview

    StartBefore you decide how to tackle bullying in your school, it is important to understand the scope of the problem. A needs assessment tool is a formalized way to gather information about school-based bullying, such as the nature, intensity, locations, and types of bullying that occur within a school. With the information gathered through the assessment, schools will have a better understanding of what is going on, how to target prevention efforts, and how to measure program impact over time. To fully understand the needs of your school, information from all parties involved in bullying should be gathered, including the bullies, victims, bystanders, teachers, school staff, and school administrators.

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  • Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research

    Steps to Take:  Lessons Learned from the Research

    Compile a range of different information from various perspectives.

    • Use anonymous student surveys.
    • Use anonymous staff surveys.

    Choose the right needs assessment for your school.

    • Select a tool that focuses on the specific issues within your school and community.
    • Administer the survey.

    Use information from needs assessments in other ways.

    • Raise school staffs’ awareness about the nature, prevalence, and consequences of bullying in your school.
    • Assess a program using the needs assessments.

    Recognize the limitations of assessments.

    • Watch for student biases in reporting bullying.
    • Get Various Perspectives

      Assessments can provide information about:

      • The frequency, type, and location of bullying;
      • The current school response to bullying;
      • Staff and student perceptions of bullying;
      • Aspects of the school that may foster bullying; and
      • Aspects of the school that can be used to help prevent bullying.

      This information can be collected from surveys of students and teachers.

      • Use anonymous student surveys. Student surveys can provide vital information about a student’s experience. These surveys can give insight into the experience of bullies, victims, and bystanders. Typically, students are provided with a definition of bullying. Then, they can answer questions about how often they experience or witness this sort of behavior at school. Students also may be asked about their experience bullying others and the context of bullying situations. Students may be asked where the bullying occurred (e.g., in the hallway, on the playground), the explicit reason for bullying (e.g., too fat, too skinny), and how they responded. For example, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program used a questionnaire to measure bullying within target schools. Students were asked to respond to the frequency of various statements, such as "I was called mean names, was made fun of or teased in a hurtful way," and "I was hit, kicked, shoved around or locked indoors." Students could answer anywhere from "not at all" to "several times a week." Survey analysis focused on "two or three times a month" or more frequently to capture the repetitive nature of bullying and the type of bullying that students experienced, noting whether it was physical or verbal.

        Did You Know...
        A wide variety of self-report surveys can be given to students; these surveys can target one or more of the bully, the victim, or the bystanders. The CDC Compendium of Assessment Tools provides student assessment tools that measure all forms of student involvement in bullying (e.g., bully, victim, bystander).

      • Use anonymous staff surveys. Staff surveys can identify strengths and gaps in the school’s current response to bullying. Similar to student surveys, staff surveys draw on the different perspectives of adults in the school. These questionnaires or checklists may focus on school practices, bullying education, teacher observations of bullying, and teacher perceptions of school climate. For example, the Bullying Prevention Needs Assessment, found in PREVNet's Bullying Prevention and Intervention in the School Environment: Facts and Tools, is a helpful example of surveys that can be distributed to staff.

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    • Choose and Administer the Right Tool for Your School

      It is important to choose an assessment that meets the specific needs of your school. You can also adapt an existing assessment so that it fits your needs—inside and outside of the classroom.

      • Select a tool that focuses on the specific issues within your school and community. Most student assessment tools measure all forms of student involvement in bullying. However, certain assessments are designed to target specific groups, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, and transgender students or other minority groups. There are also assessments that target general school climate, which can impact bullying indirectly. These assessments can provide information on student engagement, school safety, and the learning environment.
      • Administer the survey. Before administering the survey to students, it is important to obtain parental consent, if required by your district. According to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, parents must be notified about the survey. Parents can choose to remove their child from participating in the survey or can request to view the survey before their child participates. Furthermore, it is important that students are assured that their responses will be kept confidential and that their answers cannot be traced back to them. It is also important to administer the survey early in the school year (so that it can be used to determine if there is a problem and track progress throughout the school year) and at a time when all students can take it at once to reduce students discussing the survey questions.

      See the National Center for Safe Supportive Learning Environments for a number of school climate needs assessments that can help you identify school needs and track progress.

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    • Use Information from Needs Assessments in Other Ways

      There are a variety of ways needs assessments can inform the implementation process and guide decision makers.

      • Raise school staff’s awareness about the nature, prevalence, and consequences of bullying. Sometimes, teachers underestimate the extent of the bullying at their school or misperceive its impact. Teachers and school staff need to understand the bullying problem to ensure that they support the implementation of an evidence-based program. The results of the assessment can be shared during training or other staff development activities (for more information about training, see Provide Program Training). For example, the Bully-Proofing Your School program includes a questionnaire to assess the extent of bullying in the school. The responses to this questionnaire were used to heighten teacher and other school staff’s awareness of the bullying problem.
      • Assess a program using the needs assessment. Assessments can illustrate the current bullying problem before the program begins. Then, over time, needs assessments can also measure how that problem changes. For example, in a study of the KiVa Antibullying Program, researchers administered a Web-based survey to children whose school was receiving the antibullying program, and children whose school was not receiving the program. The survey measured baseline bullying in the respective schools. After the program was implemented, children took the survey again so researchers could observe whether the program helped reduce bullying at the school receiving the program. (For more information on program evaluations, see Ensuring Long-Term Sustainability). provides a free "Bullying Prevention & Response Base Training Module" that can be used to train school staff about the definition of bullying, consequences of being bullied and being a bully, and preventive steps that can be taken to reduce bullying incidences in the school, among other topics.

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    • Limitations of Needs Assessments

      While there are many benefits of needs assessments, it is also important to recognize the limitations of these surveys.

      • Watch for student biases in reporting bullying. Student responses are largely dependent on their age, maturity, and how they define bullying. For instance, younger children may define bullying as a broader scope of behaviors than older children might. Additionally, students may minimize their bullying or victimization or perceive social pressures that influence their decision to report bullying incidents. It is important to keep these issues in mind when using a needs assessment to define the scope of the bullying problem in your school.

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