Publications

Lacey, A., Cornell, D., & Konold, T. (in press). The relations between teasing and bullying and middle school standardized exam performance. The Journal of Early Adolescence.

This study examined the relations between the schoolwide prevalence of teasing and bullying and schoolwide academic performance in a sample of 271 Virginia middle schools. In addition, the study examined the mediating effects of student engagement. A three-step sequence of path models investigated associations between schoolwide prevalence of teasing and bullying and state-mandated Standards of Learning test pass rates, with effects examined both directly and indirectly through student engagement while controlling for important school-level characteristics. Separate models were examined for two 7th grade and four 8th grade tests. Results indicated that higher levels of both teacher and student perceptions of schoolwide teasing and bullying were significantly associated with lower achievement pass rates and student engagement. The relationship between perceptions of schoolwide teasing and bullying and achievement was partially mediated by student engagement. These findings bring new support for the need for schoolwide interventions to reduce teasing and bullying among middle schools students.

Leuschner, V.,  Fiedler, N., Schultze, M., Ahlig, N., Göbel, K. Sommer, F., Scholl, J. Cornell, D., & Scheithauer, H. (in press). Prevention of targeted school violence by responding to students’ psychosocial crises: The NETWASS Program. Child Development. 

The standardized, indicated school-based prevention program “Networks Against School Shootings (NETWASS) combines a threat assessment approach with a general model of prevention of emergency situations in schools through early intervention in student psychosocial crises and training teachers to recognize warning signs of targeted school violence. An evaluation study in 98 German schools with 3,473 school staff participants used a quasi-experimental comparison group design with three measurement points (pre, post, 7-months-follow-up) with school randomly allocated to implementation conditions. The study found increases in teachers’ expertise and evaluation skills, enhanced abilities to identify students experiencing a psychosocial crisis, and positive secondary effects (e.g. teacher-student interaction, feelings of safety).

Cornell, D., Shukla, K., & Konold, T. (in press). Peer victimization and authoritative school climate: A multilevel multivariate approach. Journal of Educational Psychology.

School climate is widely recognized as an important influence on peer victimization in schools. The purpose of this study is to examine how Authoritative School Climate theory provides a framework for conceptualizing two key features of school climate, disciplinary structure and student support, that are associated with three measures of peer victimization. Multilevel multivariate modeling in a statewide sample of 39,364 7th and 8th grade students attending 423 schools revealed meaningful associations at both the student and school levels of analysis. Higher disciplinary structure was associated with lower levels of prevalence of teasing and bullying (PTB), bullying victimization, and general victimization. Higher student support was associated with lower PTB and general victimization. Overall, these findings add new evidence to the theory that an authoritative school climate is conducive to lower peer victimization.

Huang, F., Cornell, D., Konold, T., Meyer, P., Lacey, A., Nekvasil, E., Heilbrun, A., & Shukla, K. (in press). Multilevel factor structure and concurrent validity of the teacher version of the Authoritative School Climate Survey. Journal of School Health.

Background: School climate is well-recognized as an important influence on student behavior and adjustment to school, but there is a need for theory-guided measures that make use of teacher perspectives. Authoritative school climate theory hypothesizes that a positive school climate is characterized by high levels of disciplinary structure and student support. Methods: A teacher version of the Authoritative School Climate Survey was administered to a statewide sample of 9,099 7th and 8th grade teachers from 366 schools. The study used exploratory and multilevel confirmatory factor analyses (MCFA) that accounted for the nested data structure and allowed for the modeling of the factor structures at two levels. Results: MCFA conducted on both an exploratory (n = 4,422) and a confirmatory sample (n = 4,677) showed good support for all of the factor structures investigated. An overall model that considered all factor correlations at two levels simultaneously found that schools with greater levels of disciplinary structure and student support had higher student engagement, less teasing and bullying, and lower student aggression toward teachers. Conclusions: The teacher version of the Authoritative School Climate Survey can be used to assess two key domains of school climate and associated measures of student engagement and aggression toward peers and teachers.

Huang, F., & Cornell, D. (in press). Using multilevel factor analysis with clustered data: Investigating the factor structure of the Positive Values Scale. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment.

Advances in multilevel modeling techniques now make it possible to investigate the psychometric properties of instruments using clustered data. Factor models that overlook the clustering effect can lead to underestimated standard errors, incorrect parameter estimates, and model fit indices. In addition, factor structures may differ depending on the level of analysis. The current study illustrates the application of multilevel factor analytic techniques using a large statewide sample of middle school students (n = 39,364) from 423 schools. Both multilevel exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were used to investigate the factor structure of the Positive Values Scale (PVS) as part of a school climate survey. Results showed that for the PVS, a two-correlated factor model at level one and a one-factor model at level two best fit the data. Implications and guidance for applied researchers are discussed.

Heilbrun, A., Cornell, D., & Lovegrove, P. (in press). Principal attitudes and racial disparities in school suspensions. Psychology in the Schools.

Zero tolerance school discipline practices have been associated with a national increase in suspensions, a practice that has had a disproportionate negative impact on Black students. The present study investigated an association between principal attitudes toward zero tolerance and suspension rates for White and Black students in 306 Virginia high schools. Black suspension rates were more than double White suspension rates.  Regression analyses controlling for student poverty and school enrollment showed that principal endorsement of zero tolerance was moderately associated with suspension rates for both White and Black students, but was not associated with the size of the racial disparity.  Paired samples-t tests showed statistically significant differences in the types of offenses that resulted in suspensions, with Black students significantly more likely to be suspended for disruptive offenses and White students more likely to be suspended for alcohol- and drug-related offenses.

Huang, F. & Cornell, D. (2015). The impact of definition and question order on the prevalence of bullying victimization using student self-reports. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0000149

Accurate measurement is essential to determining the prevalence of bullying and evaluating the effectiveness of intervention efforts. The most common measurement approach is through anonymous self-report surveys, but previous studies have suggested that students do not adhere to standard definitions of bullying and may be influenced by the order of questions about types of victimization. The current study presents findings from two randomized experiments designed to determine 1) the impact of using or not using a definition of bullying and 2) asking about general versus specific types of bullying victimization and how the order of these questions affect victimization prevalence rates. The study was conducted using a sample of 17,301 students attending 119 high schools. Findings indicate that the use of a definition had no impact on prevalence rates but asking specific bullying victimization questions (e.g., “I have been verbally bullied at school”) prior to general bullying victimization questions (e.g., “I have been bullied at school”), resulted in a 29-75% increase in victimization prevalence rates. Results suggest that surveys that ask general-to-specific bullying victimization questions, such as those found in national and international surveys, may be underreporting bullying victimization.

Cornell, D. (2015). Our schools are safe: Challenging the misperception that schools are dangerous places. Invited commentary for American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85, 217-220. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000064

Massive public attention to school shootings has created the misperception that schools are dangerous places, even though crime statistics show that schools are one of the safest places in the United States. The fear of school shootings has caused many school systems to divert their budgets to excessive building security measures and adopt dubious crisis response plans. School disciplinary practices have shifted toward the criminalization of student misbehavior and a zero tolerance philosophy that fails to improve school safety and results in high rates of student suspensions and dropouts. The use of a threat assessment approach to evaluate individual student behavior in context and resolve conflicts and problems before they escalate into violence is one promising alternative that has been adopted statewide in Virginia public schools. School safety should focus on the everyday problems of bullying and fighting, and apply public health principles of primary and secondary prevention using well-established psychological interventions.

Konold, T., & Cornell, D. (2015). Multilevel, multitrait - multimethod latent analysis of structurally different and interchangeable raters of school climate. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0000098

This study tests a conceptual model of school climate in which two key elements of an authoritative school, structure and support, are associated with student engagement in school and lower levels of peer aggression. Multilevel multivariate structural modeling was conducted in a statewide sample of 48,027 students in 323 public high schools who completed the Authoritative School Climate Survey. As hypothesized, two measures of structure (Disciplinary Structure and Academic Expectations) and two measures of support (Respect for Students and Willingness to Seek Help) were associated with high student engagement (Affective Engagement and Cognitive Engagement) and lower peer aggression (Prevalence of Teasing and Bullying) on both student and school levels of analysis, controlling for the effects of school demographics (school size, percentage of minority students, and percentage of low income students). These results support the extension of authoritative school climate model to high school and guide further research on the conditions for a positive school climate.

Cornell, D., & Limber, S. (2015). Law and policy on the concept of bullying at school. American Psychologist, 70, 333-343.

The nationwide effort to reduce bullying in U.S. schools can be regarded as part of larger civil and human rights movements that have provided children with many of the rights afforded to adult citizens, including protection from harm in the workplace. Many bullied children find that their schools are hostile environments, but civil rights protections against harassment apply only to children who fall into protected classes, such as racial and ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, and victims of gender harassment or religious discrimination. This article identifies the conceptual challenges that bullying poses for legal and policy efforts, reviews judicial and legislative efforts to reduce bullying, and makes some recommendations for school policy. Recognition that all children have a right to public education would be one avenue for broadening protection against bullying to all children.

Nekvasil, E., Cornell, D., & Huang, F. (2015). Prevalence and offense characteristics of multiple casualty homicides: Are schools at higher risk than other locations? Psychology of Violence, 5, 236-245.

Objective: In light of public concern about school shootings, this study examined the prevalence and offense characteristics of multiple casualty homicides across locations. Method: We used the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to examine 18,873 homicide incidents involving 25,180 victims who were either killed or injured from 2005 through 2010. Results: Multiple casualty homicides were surprisingly common events, with approximately 22% of homicide incidents involving two or more victims. Multiple casualty homicides were much more common in residences (47%) versus schools (0.8%), but homicides in residences tended to have one victim (78%) rather than multiple victims (22%), whereas homicides in schools were about equally likely to have one victim (57%) or multiple victims (43%). Multiple homicides were more likely to involve firearms than weapons such as knives or blunt objects. Finally, there were statistical differences in offense characteristics for homicides with one, two, and three victims. Conclusion: These findings suggest that the public perception that schools are a high-risk location for homicides is inaccurate. Although concern about school shootings is understandable, the larger problem of multiple casualty shootings is more common in other locations which do not receive comparable media attention. 

Huang, F., Cornell, D., & Konold, T. (2014). Aggressive attitudes in middle schools: A factor structure and criterion-related validity study. Assessment. Advance online publication: doi: 1073191114551016

Student attitudes toward aggression have been linked to individual aggressive behavior, but the relationship between school-wide normative beliefs about aggression and aggressive behavior poses some important measurement challenges that have not been adequately examined. The current study investigated the factor structure, measurement invariance, and criterion-related validity of a six-item Aggressive Attitudes scale using a large sample of seventh- and eighth-grade students (n = 39,364) from 423 schools. Analytic procedures accounted for the frequently ignored modeling problems of clustered and ordinal data to provide more reliable and accurate model estimates and standard errors. The resulting second-order factor structure of the Aggressive Attitudes scale demonstrated measurement invariance across gender, grade, and race/ethnicity groups. Criterion-related validity was supported with eight student- and school-level indices of aggressive behavior.

Baly, M., Cornell, D., & Lovegrove, P., (2014). A longitudinal comparison of peer- and self-reports of bullying victimization across middle school. Psychology in the Schools51, 217-247. doi: 10.1002/pits.21747

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. (2014). Multi-level multi-informant structure of Authoritative School Climate Survey. School Psychology Quarterly29, 238-255. doi: 10.1037/spq0000062

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. (2014). School administrator assessment of bullying and state-mandated testing. Journal of School Violence. Advance online publication: doi: 10.1080/15388220.2014.971362

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. (2014). Invalid survey response patterns among middle school students. Psychological Assessment, 26, 277-287. 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, 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 non-negligible 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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