Publications

Baly, M., Cornell, D., & Lovegrove, P., (in press). A longitudinal comparison of peer- and self-reports of bullying victimization across middle school.  Psychology in the Schools.

Cross-sectional studies indicate how many students are victims of bullying at a single time, but do not tell us whether the same students continue to be bullied or whether there is a cumulative impact of bullying over time. This study examined the longitudinal stability and the cumulative impact of victimization in a sample of 382 students assessed in the fall and the spring of grades 6, 7, and 8.Victimization assessed by both self- and peer-reports indicated substantial variability in who was bullied, with nearly 51% of students reporting bullying victimization during at least one of the six assessments. The cumulative impact of victimization over three years was demonstrated on grade 8 outcome measures of absences, disciplinary infractions, suspensions, grade point averages (GPA), standardized test scores, reports of youth risk behavior, and perceptions of school climate. This study provides new information about the cumulative impact of peer- and self-reported bullying across middle school.

Konold, T., Cornell, D., Huang, F., Meyer, P., Lacey, A., Nekvasil, E., Heilbrun, A., and Shukla, K. (under review). Multi-level multi-informant structure of Authoritative School Climate Survey.

The Authoritative School Climate Survey was designed to provide schools with a brief assessment of two key characteristics of school climate—disciplinary structure and student support—that are hypothesized to influence two important school climate outcomes—student engagement and prevalence of teasing and bullying in school. The factor structure of these four constructs was examined with exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses in a statewide sample of 39,364 students (grades 7 and 8) attending 423 schools. Notably, the analyses used a multi-level structural approach to model the nesting of students in schools for purposes of evaluating factor structure, demonstrating convergent and concurrent validity, and gauging the structural invariance of concurrent validity coefficients across gender. These findings provide schools with a core group of school climate measures guided by authoritative discipline theory.

Lacey, A. & Cornell, D.G. (under review). School administrator assessment of bullying and state-mandated testing.

This study examined the hypothesis that school administrator assessments of the prevalence of teasing and bullying (PTB) in high school are negatively associated with schoolwide performance on state-mandated testing, and that the use of evidence-based bullying prevention efforts are positively associated with test performance. School administrators from 301 high schools in the United States were surveyed on the prevalence of bullying and teasing as well as the types of bullying prevention efforts currently used in their schools. School administrator assessments of both PTB and evidence-based efforts to prevent bullying were consistently associated with the proportion of students that passed state-mandated achievement testing across 11 subject areas. School administrator assessments of schoolwide teasing and bullying, as well as their efforts to reduce it, are consistently associated with student achievement.

Cornell, D., Gregory, A., Huang, F., & Fan, X. (2013). Perceived prevalence of teasing and bullying predicts high school dropout rates. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 138-149.

This study of 281 Virginia public high schools found that the prevalence of bullying and teasing perceived by ninth grade students was predictive of dropout rates for this cohort four years later. Negative binomial regression indicated that a one SD increase in a scale measuring perceptions of bullying and teasing was associated with a 21% increase in the number of dropouts, after controlling for the effects of other predictors, including school size, student body poverty and minority composition, and performance on standardized achievement testing. The predictive value of student perceptions of bullying and teasing was comparable in magnitude to the predictive value for other commonly recognized correlates of dropout rates. These results provide new evidence that the prevalence of bullying and teasing in high school is an important factor in high school academic performance.

Cornell, D., G., Lovegrove, P. J., & Baly, M. W. (2013, November 11). Invalid survey response patterns among middle school students. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0034808

Student surveys are widely used to assess student risk behavior, bullying, and school climate in middle schools; however, because such surveys are usually conducted on an anonymous basis, little is known about the validity of student reports using external, independent criteria. This longitudinal study examined the response patterns of 382 middle school students who completed confidential (not anonymous) self-report surveys each fall and spring for three years of middle school (grades 6-8). Approximately 10% of students in each wave indicated on validity screening questions that they were either not telling the truth or paying attention (termed “invalid responders”). A repeated measures latent class analysis found that students could be classified into a large group (64%) that were never flagged by the validity questions and a smaller group (36%) that occasionally reported not telling the truth or not paying attention. Hierarchical linear modeling analyses found that invalid responding to validity questions was associated with higher self-reported rates of risk behavior and more negative perceptions of school climate. Based on independent criteria from school records, invalid responding students were more likely to be referred for disciplinary infractions than other students. This study provides new information about student survey validity and appears to be the first to identify characteristics of students who generate invalid response patterns. 

Lacey, A., & Cornell, D. (2013). The impact of bullying climate on schoolwide academic performance. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 29 (3), 262-283.

This study found that the prevalence of bullying and teasing in a high school was predictive of schoolwide performance on state-mandated achievement testing used to meet No Child Left Behind requirements. Measures of the prevalence of bullying and teasing were obtained from a statewide survey of 7,304 ninth grade students and 2,918 teachers randomly selected from 284 Virginia high schools. Hierarchical regression analyses found that the perceived prevalence bullying and teasing was predictive of schoolwide passing rates on Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for Algebra I, Earth Science, World History, Biology, and Geometry. These findings could not be attributed to the proportion of minority students in the school, student poverty, school size, or personal victimization, which were statistically controlled. These results support the need for greater attention to the impact of bullying and teasing on high school student performance on high stakes testing.

Lovegrove, P., & Cornell, D. (2013, September). Patterns of bullying and victimization associated with other problem behaviors among high school students: A conditional latent class approach. Journal of Crime and Justice. Advance online publication DOI:10.1080/0735648X.2013.832475

Though rates of bullying are commonly found to peak in middle schools, a nonnegligible amount of bullying occurs among high schools too. More information regarding patterns of bullying involvement among high school students is needed, however, as well as greater insight into the relationship high school students’ bullying involvement has with other problem behaviors. This study used latent class analysis to construct typologies of bullying involvement among over 3500 high school students from Virginia. Covariates of latent class membership were also examined in an effort to better understand the association between bullying involvement and internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors. A latent class model containing four classes was constructed, composed of a non-involved class (65%), a bullies class (12%), a victims class (16%), and a bully-victims class (8%). Externalizing problem behaviors were significantly higher among students in the bullies and bully-victims classes, while internalizing problem behaviors were higher among victims and bully-victims. Implications for the literature and for practitioners are discussed, as well as limitations and future directions.

Mehta, S., Cornell, D., Fan, X., & Gregory, A. (2013). Bullying climate and school engagement in ninth grade students.  Journal of School Health, 83, 45-52.

Background: Many authorities agree that bullying has a widespread impact on school climate, affecting bystanders as well as victims. This study tested the contention that a climate of bullying can have a schoolwide impact on student engagement in school.

Methods: Hierarchical linear modeling assessed the relations between student perception of bullying climate and student engagement at the individual and school level in a statewide sample of 7,058 ninth-graders randomly selected from 289 schools participating in the Virginia High School Safety Study. Student engagement was assessed by self-report scales measuring commitment to school and involvement in school activities.

Results: Individual differences in perception of school climate characterized by bullying were associated with lower commitment to school, but not less involvement in school activities. School level differences in student perceptions of bullying climate were associated with both lower commitment to school and less involvement in school activities, after controlling for the effects of gender, race, school size, proportion of ethnic minority students in the school, and individual level perception of bullying climate.

Conclusion: Efforts to improve student engagement should consider the schoolwide impact of bullying on all students.

Cornell, D., Klein, J., Konold, T., & Huang, F. (2012). Effects of validity screening items on adolescent survey data. Psychological Assessment 24, 21-3. doi: 10.1037/a0024824

Two studies examined the use of validity screening items in adolescent survey data. In each study, adolescent respondents were asked whether they were telling the truth and paying attention in answering survey questions. In Study 1 (N = 7,801), the prevalence rates of student risk behaviors were significantly lower after inappropriate (“invalid”) responders were screened out of the sample. In addition, confirmatory and multi-group factor analyses demonstrated significant differences between the factor structures of school climate scales using valid versus invalid responders. In Study 2, student perceptions of school climate were correlated with teacher perceptions in 291 schools. A bootstrap resampling procedure compared the correlations obtained using valid versus invalid responding students in each school and found that valid responders had more positive views of school conditions and produced higher correlations with teacher perceptions. These findings support the value of validity screening items to improve the quality of adolescent survey data. 

Gregory, A., Cornell, D., & Fan, X. (2012). Teacher safety and authoritative school climate in high schools. American Journal of Education, 118, 401-425.

Most research on school climate focuses on student well-being, with less attention to the safety of school faculty. The current study examined the relationship between an authoritative school climate (characterized by high levels of student support and disciplinary structure) and both teacher reports of victimization and school records of threats against staff. Regression analyses in a statewide sample of 280 high schools showed that, both structure (as measured by student- and teacher-reported clarity of school rules) and support (as measured by teacher-reported help seeking) were associated with less teacher victimization, after controlling for school and neighborhood demographics. Support, but not structure, was a consistent predictor of school records of threats against faculty. These findings offer implications for improving the workplace for teachers and staff.

Klein, J., Cornell, D., & Konold, T. (2012). Relationships between school climate and student risk behaviors. School Psychology Quarterly, 27, 154-169.

This study examined whether characteristics of a positive school climate were associated with lower student risk behavior in a sample of 3,687 high school students who completed the School Climate Bullying Survey and questions about risk behavior from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS). Confirmatory factor analyses established reasonable fit for 20 items with three hypothesized school climate scales measuring (1) prevalence of bullying and teasing; (2) aggressive attitudes; and (3) student willingness to seek help. Structural equation modeling established the relationship of these measures with student reports of risk behavior. Multi-group analyses identified differential effects across gender and race. A positive school climate could be an important protective factor in preventing student risk behavior.

Nekvasil, E., & Cornell, D. (2012). Student reports of peer threats of violence: Prevalence and outcomes. Journal of School Violence, 11, 357-375.

Authorities in education and law enforcement have recommended that schools use a threat assessment approach to prevent violence, but there is relatively little research on characteristics and outcomes of threats among students. The current study examined student reports of threat experiences in a sample of 3,756 high school students. Approximately 12% of students reported being threatened at school in the past 30 days, but only 23% of threatened students regarded the threat as serious and just 26% reported the threat to school authorities. Only 9% of students who received a threat reported that it was carried out. Five reasons why students did not report threats were identified. Logistic regression analyses identified student and threat characteristics associated with threat reporting and outcome. These findings provide new information about the prevalence and nature of student threats that can inform a threat assessment approach to school violence prevention. 

Phillips, V., & Cornell, D. (2012). Identifying victims of bullying: Use of counselor interviews to confirm peer nominations. Professional School Counseling, 15, 123-131.

Schools often rely on anonymous self-report methods to measure bullying victimization, but these methods prevents school personnel from identifying those students who may require support. In contrast, this study employed peer nominations to identify student victims of bullying and used school counselor interviews to confirm the students’ victim status. A sample of 1,178 middle school students completed a confidential peer nomination form as part of a standard bullying survey. Students with multiple nominations were interviewed by school counselors to confirm victim status. The proportion of students confirmed as victims increased from 43% for students with two or more nominations to 90% for students with nine or more nominations.

Baly, M., & Cornell, D. (2011). Effects of an Educational Video on the Measurement of Bullying by Self-Report, Journal of School Violence, 10, 221-238. doi: 10.1080/15388220.2011.578275

This study of 1,283 middle school students examined the effect of an educational video designed to distinguish bullying from ordinary peer conflict. Randomly assigned classrooms of students either watched or did not watch a video prior to completing a self-report bullying survey. Compared to the control group, students who watched the video reported 32% less social bullying victimization and boys who watched the video reported 54% less physical bullying victimization and 68% less physical bullying of others. These results indicate that student self-reports could yield inflated estimates of the prevalence of bullying if students are not adequately educated about the distinction between bullying and other forms of peer conflict.

Cornell, D., & Allen, K. (2011). Development, evaluation, and future directions of the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines. Journal of School Violence, 10, 88-106. doi: 10.1080/15388220.2010.519432

The Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines were developed in response to studies of school shootings conducted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, and U. S. Department of Education that recommended schools should adopt a threat assessment approach to prevent targeted violence. This article reviews the development and field-testing of the guidelines in a series of studies, then describes the challenges of conducting a randomized controlled trial of threat assessment. The design, measurement, and logistical challenges of conducting rigorous research on student threat assessment are discussed.

Cornell, D., & Mehta, S. (2011). Counselor confirmation of middle school student self-reports of bullying victimization. Professional School Counseling, 14, 261-270.

School counselors frequently use self-report surveys to assess bullying despite little research on their accuracy. This study raises concern that schools not rely on single self-report items to determine prevalence rates for bully victimization. In this study, counselor follow-up interviews found that only 24 (56%) of 43 middle school students who self-identified as victims of bullying could be confirmed as actual victims. Some students described peer conflicts that did not constitute bullying, mismarked the survey, or reported previous bullying that was outside the 30-day timeframe for the survey. Counselor judgments were supported by peer-nomination data and other survey responses indicative of victimization. These findings underscore the need to educate students about the definition of bullying and to use multiple sources of information in measuring the prevalence of bullying. 

Gregory, A., Cornell, D., & Fan, X. (2011). The relationship of school structure and support to suspension rates for Black and White high school students. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 904-934. DOI: 10.3102/0002831211398531

This study examined the relationship between structure and support in the high school climate and suspension rates in a statewide sample of 199 schools. School climate surveys completed by 5,035 ninth grade students measured characteristics of authoritative schools, defined as highly supportive, yet highly structured with academic and behavioral expectations. Multivariate analyses showed that schools low on characteristics of an authoritative school had the highest schoolwide suspension rates for Black and White students after statistically controlling for school demographics. Furthermore, schools low on both structure and support had the largest racial discipline gaps. These findings highlight the characteristics of risky settings that may not meet the developmental needs of adolescents and may contribute to disproportionate disciplinary outcomes for Black students.

Lee, T., Cornell, D., Gregory, A., & Fan, X. (2011). High suspension schools and dropout rates for black and white students. Education and Treatment of Children, 34, 167-192.

This study examined the association between school suspension rates and dropout rates in a statewide sample of 289 Virginia public high schools. The contribution of suspension rates on dropout rates was examined for both Black and White students, after controlling for school demographics (school racial composition, percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Price Meals, urbanicity), and school resources (per pupil expenditure). Because student attitudes also might influence suspension rates, the prevalence of aggressive attitudes and rejection of school rules among students were used as additional predictors. Hierarchical regression analyses using schools as the unit of analysis found that, after entering both school demographics and student attitude measures, schools with high suspension rates tended to have high dropout rates. There were comparable findings for both White and Black students, although school suspension rates were more strongly associated with White dropout rates than Black dropout rates. These findings contribute new evidence that suspension policies may have an adverse effect on student completion of high school.

Cornell, D., & Mehta, S. (2011). Counselor confirmation of middle school student self-reports of bullying victimization. Professional School Counseling, 14, 261-270

School counselors frequently use self-report surveys to assess bullying despite little research on their accuracy. In this study, counselor follow-up interviews found that only 24 (56%) of 43 middle school students who self-identified as victims of bullying could be confirmed as actual victims. Other students described peer conflicts that did not constitute bullying, mismarked the survey, or reported previous bullying. Counselor judgments were supported by peer-nomination data and other survey responses indicative of victimization.

Eliot, M., Cornell, D., Gregory, A., & Fan, X. (2010). Supportive school climate and student willingness to seek help for bullying and threats of violence. Journal of School Psychology, 48, 533-553.

This study investigated the relations between student perceptions of support and student willingness to seek help for bullying and threats of violence in a sample of 7,318 ninth-grade students from 291 high schools who participated in the Virginia High School Safety Study. Hierarchical linear modeling indicated that students who perceived their teachers and other school staff to be supportive were more likely to endorse positive attitudes toward seeking help for bullying and threats of violence. In schools with more perceived support, there was less of a discrepancy in help-seeking attitudes between girls and boys. Findings suggest that efforts by school staff to provide a supportive climate are a potentially valuable strategy for engaging students in the prevention of bullying and threats of violence.

Klein, J., & Cornell, D. (2010). Is the link between large high schools and student victimization an illusion? Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 933-946. doi: 10.1037/a0019896

To determine whether larger high schools have more student victimization than smaller schools, this study examined a statewide sample of approximately 7,431 9th grade students and 2,353 teachers in 290 Virginia high schools participating in the Virginia High School Safety Study. School size was distinguished from the proportion of students receiving free or reduced price meals, percentage of minority students, ethnic diversity (heterogeneity), and urbanicity. In larger schools, teachers and students reported that they perceived more bullying and teasing taking place, but student self-reports of being a victim of bullying were not associated with school size. Additionally, school discipline records showed that, although the total number of incidents was higher, the rate of bullying offenses was lower in larger schools. Similar results were found for measures of student threats and physical assaults. These findings raise the possibility that the link between larger schools and higher student victimization is an illusion based on perceived frequency rather than rates of victimization.

Gregory, A., Cornell, D., Fan, X., Sheras, P., & Shih, T. (2010). Authoritative school discipline: High school practices associated with lower student bullying and victimization. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 483-496.

This study examined Authoritative Discipline Theory, which posits that two complementary aspects of school climate – structure and support – are important for adolescents’ safety in school. Using a statewide sample of over 7,300 ninth grade students and 2,900 teachers randomly selected from 290 high schools, hierarchical linear modeling showed that consistent enforcement of school discipline (structure) and availability of caring adults (support) were associated with school safety. Structure and support were associated with less bullying and victimization after controlling for size of school enrollment and the proportion of ethnic minority and low income students. These findings suggest that discipline practices should not be polarized into a “get tough” versus “give support” debate because both structure and support contribute to school safety for adolescents.

Cornell, D., & Mayer, M. (2010). Why do school order and safety matter? Educational Researcher, 39, 7-15.

School safety and order is an essential condition for learning, but represents a relatively new field of study, stimulated in large part by repeated episodes of school violence that have generated considerable public concern and triggered substantial changes in school discipline and security practices over the past two decades. This article sets the stage for the special issue in which the study of school violence is recast into a broader and conceptually more fertile framework of school safety and order. Each article addresses key practical questions that map a school safety perspective to multiple bodies of educational research as well as broader trans-disciplinary interests.

Borum, R., Cornell, D. Modzeleski, W., & Jimerson, S.R. (2010). What can be done about school shootings?: A review of the evidence. Educational Researcher, 39, 27-37.

School safety and order is an essential condition for learning, but represents a relatively new field of study, stimulated in large part by repeated episodes of school violence that have generated considerable public concern and triggered substantial changes in school discipline and security practices over the past two decades. This article sets the stage for the special issue in which the study of school violence is recast into a broader and conceptually more fertile framework of school safety and order. Each article addresses key practical questions that map a school safety perspective to multiple bodies of educational research as well as broader trans-disciplinary interests.

Cornell, D., Sheras, P., Gregory, A., & Fan, X. (2009). A retrospective study of school safety conditions in high schools using the Virginia Threat Assessment Guidelines versus alternative approaches. School Psychology Quarterly, 24, 119-129.

Threat assessment has been widely recommended as a violence prevention approach for schools, but there are few empirical studies of its use. This non-experimental study of 280 Virginia public high schools compared 95 high schools using the Virginia threat assessment guidelines (Cornell & Sheras, 2006), 131 following other (i.e., locally developed) threat assessment procedures, and 54 not using a threat assessment approach. A survey of ninth grade students in each school obtained measures of student victimization, willingness to seek help for bullying and threats of violence, and perceptions of the school climate as caring and supportive. Students in schools using the Virginia threat assessment guidelines reported less bullying, greater willingness to seek help, and more positive perceptions of the school climate than students in either of the other two groups of schools. In addition, schools using the Virginia guidelines had fewer long-term suspensions than schools using other threat assessment approaches. These group differences could not be attributed to school size, minority composition or socio-economic status of the student body, neighborhood violent crime, or the extent of security measures in the schools. Implications for threat assessment practice and research are discussed.

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