One in 20 students was a victim of violence or theft at school in 2003, the government said in a report that shows school crime rates were about half what they were 10 years earlier.
Yet the school crime rate essentially has leveled off, showing no change since 2000, according to a report yesterday from the departments of Education and Justice.
There were about 28 reported crimes of rape, sexual assault, robbery and physical assault for every 1,000 students in 2003, compared with 59 per 1,000 a decade earlier. The study looked at crimes against the 26.4 million students who were 12 to 18 years old in 2003.
In 2002, the rate of violent crime per 1,000 students was 24. But government researchers said there was no statistically significant change between 2002 and 2003 because the numbers are estimates from relatively small surveys.
"The level of precision isn't good enough to say whether there has been a change," said Thomas Snyder, a report author at the Education Department.
He said, however, that there has been no change in the crime rate in several years. The report does not attempt to explain increases and decreases.
The drop from the early 1990s is long-standing and large enough to overcome any doubts about comparing one year to the next, according to the report. Indeed, it mirrors the general trend in the United States, in which crime is at a 30-year low.
In 2003, there were about 738,700 violent crimes involving students at school and about 846,400 away from school property. For the most serious nonfatal violent crimes -- rape, assault and robbery -- the crime rates were at least 50 percent lower at school than away from school every year from 1992 to 2003.
Students were twice as likely to be victims of serious violent crimes away from school than at school, but more likely to have things stolen at school than elsewhere.
Some school safety experts have attributed the decrease in the crime rate in the past decade to installing metal detectors, hiring more security personnel and implementing programs aimed at curbing bullying.
A separate measure showed 17 homicides and five suicides in the 2001-2002 school year, compared with 12 and five, respectively, a year earlier. By contrast, in the late 1990s there were two to three dozen killings a year, the result of a string of fatal shootings. The most notable was the killing of 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado by two students in 1999.
The report also found that from 1999 through 2003, teachers were victims of an annual average of 183,000 crimes at school, 65,000 of them violent.
High school teachers were more than twice as likely as elementary school teachers to be victims of violent crime.
Some school violence experts said the annual report routinely understates crime in schools because it is based on limited surveys and self-reporting.