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Publications Since 2015

Huang, F. & Cornell D. (2017). Student attitudes and behaviors as explanations for the Black-White suspension gap. Children and Youth Services Review, 73, 298-308.

Purpose: Although studies have documented that Black students receive out-of-school suspensions (OSS) at much higher rates than White students, few studies have investigated possible explanations for this disparity. The differential involvement hypothesis suggests that disproportionate sanctioning may be a function of racial differences in student misbehavior or characteristics that predispose them to misbehavior. Method: Suspension data, risk behaviors, and aggressive attitudes from self-report surveys were collected from a statewide sample of 38,398 students attending 236 racially-diverse high schools. A series of school fixed-effect logistic and linear regression models were used to test behavioral and attitudinal forms of the differential involvement hypothesis. Results: Racial differences in self-reported suspension could not be explained by different behavioral reasons for suspension (such as fighting, threatening others, and substance possession), by involvement in high risk behaviors of fighting, bullying, carrying a weapon, consuming alcohol, or using marijuana, or by aggressive attitudes that lead to hostile behavior. Conclusions: Overall, these findings do not support the differential involvement hypothesis and although they do not establish the presence of bias, they strengthen concern that racial disparities are likely the result of differential decisions by school authorities.

Leuschner, V.,  Fiedler, N., Schultze, M., Ahlig, N., Göbel, K. Sommer, F., Scholl, J. Cornell, D., & Scheithauer, H. (2017). Prevention of targeted school violence by responding to students’ psychosocial crises: The NETWASS Program. Child Development, 88, 68-82.

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).

Berg, J., & Cornell, D. (2016). Authoritative school climate, aggression toward teachers, and teacher distress in middle school. School Psychology Quarterly, 31, 122-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000132

Aggression toward teachers is linked to burnout and disengagement from teaching, but a positive school climate may reduce aggression and associated teacher distress. Using authoritative school climate theory, the study examined whether schools with high disciplinary structure and student support were associated with less aggression and less distress. The sample of 9,134 teachers in 389 middle schools came from the Virginia Secondary School Climate Survey, a statewide survey administered to all public schools with 7th and 8th grade enrollment. The majority of teachers (75%) were female. More than half (53%) reported that they had more than 10 years of teaching experience; 23% reported 6 to 10 years; 24% reported 1 to 5 years. Students reported on the degree to which their schools were structured and supportive. Teachers reported on their experiences of aggression by students, their level of distress, and their feelings of safety. Staff-related infractions computed from Department of Education records were also used. Multilevel modeling revealed that teachers in authoritative schools experienced less aggression and felt safer and less distressed. Lower aggression by students mediated the association between more authoritative schools and lower dis- tress such that more structured and supportive schools had greater teacher safety and, in turn, less distress. The findings support the idea that more structured and supportive schools relate to greater safety for teachers and, in turn, less distress. Research limitations and implications for practice are discussed. 

Cornell, D., & Huang, F. (2016). Authoritative school climate and high school student risk behavior. A cross-sectional multi-level analysis of student self-reports. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 2246-2259, doi: 10.1007/s10964-016-0424-3

Many adolescents engage in risk behaviors such as substance use and aggression that jeopardize their healthy development. This study tested the hypothesis that an authoritative school climate characterized by strict but fair discipline and supportive teacher-student relationships is conducive to lower risk behavior for high school students. Multilevel logistic regression models were used to analyze cross-sectional, student-report survey data from a statewide sample of 47,888 students (50.6% female) in 319 high schools. The students included ninth (26.6%), tenth (25.5%), eleventh (24.1%) and twelfth (23.8%) grade with a racial/ethnic breakdown of 52.2% White, 18.0% Black, 13.1% Hispanic, 5.9% Asian, and 10.8% reporting another or two or more race/ethnicities. Schools with an authoritative school climate had lower levels of student-reported alcohol and marijuana use; bullying, fighting, and weapon carrying at school; interest in gang membership; and suicidal thoughts and behavior. These results controlled for demographic variables of student gender, race, grade, and parent education level as well as school size, percentage of minority students, and percentage of low income students. Overall, these findings add new evidence that an authoritative school climate is associated with positive student outcomes.

Cornell, D., Shukla, K., & Konold, T. (2016). Authoritative school climate and student academic engagement, grades, and aspirations in middle and high schools. AERA Open, 2, 1-18, doi: 10.1177/2332858416633184

This study tested the theory that an authoritative school climate characterized by disciplinary structure and student support is conducive to positive academic outcomes for middle and high school students. Multilevel multivariate modeling at student and school levels was conducted using school surveys completed by statewide samples of 39,364 students in Grades 7 and 8 in 423 middle schools and 48,027 students in Grades 9 through 12 in 323 high schools. Consistent with authoritative school climate theory, both higher disciplinary structure and student support were associated with higher student engagement in school, higher course grades, and higher educational aspirations at the student level in both samples. At the school level, higher disciplinary structure was associated with higher engagement, and higher student support was associated with higher engagement and grades in both samples. Overall, these findings add new evidence that an authoritative school climate is conducive to student academic success in middle and high schools. 

Datta, P., Cornell, D., & Huang, F. (2016). Aggressive attitudes and prevalence of bullying bystander behaviors in middle schools. Psychology in the Schools, 53, 804-816. doi: 10.1002/pits.21944

Separate lines of research find that proaggressive attitudes promote peer aggression and that bystanders play a pivotal role in deterring or facilitating bullying behavior. The current study hypothesized that proaggressive attitudes in middle school would deter students from standing up to bullying and encourage them to reinforce bullying behavior. Middle school students (n = 28,765) in 423 schools completed a statewide school climate survey that included an aggressive attitudes scale and their bystander response to a recent episode of bullying, which was categorized as upstanding, reinforcing, or passive. Multilevel logistic regressions indicated that higher aggressive attitudes were associated with less upstanding behavior at the school level and less upstanding behavior and more reinforcing behavior at the individual level, while controlling for other school and student demographic variables. These findings suggest that antibullying programs might address student attitudes toward aggression as a means of boosting positive bystander intervention. 

Huang, F., Eklund, K., & Cornell, D. (2016). Authoritative school climate, number of parents at home, and academic achievement. School Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000182

School climate is widely recognized as an important factor in promoting student academic achievement. The current study investigated the hypothesis that a demanding and supportive school climate, based on authoritative school climate theory, would serve as a protective factor for students living with one or no parents at home. Using a statewide sample of 56,508 middle school students from 415 public schools in one state, results indicated that student perceptions of disciplinary structure, academic demandingness, and student support all had positive associations with student self-reported grade point average (GPA). In addition, findings showed that academic expectations and student support were more highly associated with GPA for students not living with any parent. Implications for policy and practice are discussed. 

Jia Y., Konold R. T., Cornell D., & Huang F. (2016) The impact of validity screening on associations between self-reports of bullying victimization and student outcomes. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 0, 1-23, doi: 10.1177/0013164416671767

Self-report surveys are widely used to measure adolescent risk behavior and academic adjustment, with results having an impact on national policy, assessment of school quality, and evaluation of school interventions. However, data obtained from self-reports can be distorted when adolescents intentionally provide inaccurate or careless responses. The current study illustrates the problem of invalid respondents in a sample (N = 52,012) from 323 high schools that responded to a statewide assessment of school climate. Two approaches for identifying invalid respondents were applied, and contrasts between the valid and invalid responses revealed differences in means, prevalence rates of student adjustment, and associations among reports of bullying victimization and student adjustment outcomes. The results lend additional support for the need to screen for invalid responders in adolescent samples. 

Konold, T.R. (2016). A multilevel MTMM approach to estimating the influences of contextual factors on trait and informant based method effects in assessments of school climate. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment. doi: 0734282916683286

School level contextual factors have been found to influence reports of school climate. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the extent to which these associations are related to the school climate traits being measured or the methods (i.e., informants) used to obtain them. Data from a multilevel MTMM design in which structurally different and interchangeable students (N = 45,641) and teachers (N = 12,808), residing within 302 high schools, responded to items measuring four dimensions of school climate were evaluated through a multilevel CT - CM latent analysis that allowed for the estimation of both school level trait and informant based method factors. The resulting trait and method factors were regressed on several school level contextual variables. Results indicated that the percent of students receiving FRPM in schools was associated with both school climate traits and informant based method factors, school size and the percentage of minority students in schools were associated with some traits, and school size was associated with student method effects. Findings support the use of controlling for school level contextual factors in school climate research. 

Konold, T., Cornell, D., Shukla, K., & Huang, F. (2016). Racial/ethnic differences in perceptions of school climate and its association with student engagement and peer aggression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10964-016-0576-1

Research indicates that a positive school climate is associated with higher levels of student engagement and lower rates of peer aggression. However, less attention has been given to whether such findings are consistent across racial/ethnic groups. The current study examined whether Black, Hispanic, and White high school students differed in their perceptions of school climate, student engagement, and peer aggression as measured by the Authoritative School Climate survey. In addition, the study tested whether the associations between school climate and both student engagement and peer aggression varied as a function of racial/ethnic group. The sample consisted of 48,027 students in grades 9–12 (51.4 % female; 17.9 % Black, 10.5 % Hispanic, 56.7 % White, and 14.9 % other) attending 323 high schools. Regression models that contrasted racial/ethnic groups controlled for the nesting of students within schools and used student covariates of parent education, student gender, and percentage of schoolmates sharing the same race/ethnicity, as well as school covariates of school size and school percentage of students eligible for free- or reduced-price meals. Perceptions of school climate differed between Black and White groups, but not between Hispanic and White groups. However, race/ethnicity did not moderate the associations between school climate and either engagement or peer aggression. Although correlational and cross-sectional in nature, these results are consistent with the conclusion that a positive school climate holds similar benefits of promoting student engagement and reducing victimization experiences across Black, Hispanic, and White groups.

Konold, T.R., & Shukla, K. (2016). Estimating school climate traits across multiple informants: An illustration of a multi-trait multi-method validation through latent variable modeling. Educational Assessment. Online advanced publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10627197.2016.1271705

The use of multiple informants is common in assessments that rely on the judgments of others. However, ratings obtained from different informants often vary as a function of their perspectives and roles in relation to the target of measurement, and causes unrelated to the trait being measured. We illustrate the usefulness of a latent variable multilevel MTMM measurement model for extracting trait factors from reports of school climate obtained by students (N = 45,641) and teachers (N = 12,808) residing within 302 high schools. We then extend this framework to include assessments of linkages between the resulting trait factors and potential outcomes that might be used for addressing questions of substantive interest or providing evidence of concurrent validity. The approach is illustrated with data obtained from student and teacher reports of two dimensions of school climate, student engagement, and the prevalence of teasing and bullying in their schools. 

Malone, M., Cornell, D., & Shukla, K. (2016). Association of grade configuration with school climate for 7th and 8th grade students. School Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000174 

Educational authorities have questioned whether middle schools provide the best school climate for 7th and 8th grade students, and proposed that other grade configurations such as K–8th grade schools may provide a better learning environment. The purpose of this study was to compare 7th and 8th grade students’ perceptions of 4 key features of school climate (disciplinary structure, student support, student engagement, and prevalence of teasing and bullying) in middle schools versus elementary or high schools. Multilevel multivariate modeling in a statewide sample of 39,036 7th and 8th grade students attending 418 schools revealed that students attending middle schools had a more negative perception of school climate than students in schools with other grade configurations. Seventh grade students placed in middle schools reported lower disciplinary structure and a higher prevalence of teasing and bullying in comparison to those in elementary schools. Eighth grade students in middle schools reported poorer disciplinary structure, lower student engagement, and a higher prevalence of teasing and bullying compared to those in high schools. These findings can guide school psychologists in identifying aspects of school climate that may be troublesome for 7th and 8th grade students in schools with different grade configurations.

Shukla, K., Konold, T., & Cornell, D. (2016). Profiles of student perceptions of school climate: Relations with risk behaviors and academic outcomes. American Journal of Community Psychology, 57, 291-307. doi: 10.1002/ajcp.12044

School climate has been linked to a variety of positive student outcomes, but there may be important within- school differences among students in their experiences of school climate. This study examined within-school heterogeneity among 47,631 high school student ratings of their school climate through multilevel latent class modeling. Student profiles across 323 schools were generated on the basis of multiple indicators of school climate: disciplinary structure, academic expectations, student willingness to seek help, respect for students, affective and cognitive engagement, prevalence of teasing and bullying, general victimization, bullying victimization, and bullying perpetration. Analyses identified four meaningfully different student profile types that were labeled positive climate, medium climate-low bullying, medium climate-high bullying, and negative climate. Contrasts among these profile types on external criteria revealed meaningful differences for race, grade-level, parent education level, educational aspirations, and frequency of risk behaviors.

Cornell, D. (2015). Our schools are safe: Challenging the misperception that schools are dangerous places. 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.

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.

Cornell, D., Shukla, K., & Konold, T. (2015). Peer victimization and authoritative school climate: A multilevel multivariate approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 1186-1201. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000038

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 2 key features of school climate—disciplinary structure and student support—that are associated with 3 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, bullying victimization, and general victimization. Higher student support was associated with lower prevalence of teasing and bullying and general victimization. Overall, these findings add new evidence to the theory that an authoritative school climate is conducive to lower peer victimization.

Heilbrun, A., Cornell, D., & Lovegrove, P. (2015). Principal attitudes and racial disparities in school suspensions. Psychology in the Schools, 52, 489-499.

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, 27, 1484-1493. 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. In the current study, we have presented findings from 2 randomized experiments designed to determine (a) the impact of using or not using a definition of bullying and (b) asking about general versus specific types of bullying victimization and how the order of these questions affects 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 29–76% 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. 

Huang, F., & Cornell, D. (2015). Multilevel factor structure, concurrent validity, and test-retest reliability of the high school teacher version of the Authoritative School Climate Survey. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 34, 536-549. doi: 10.1177/0734282915621439

Although school climate has long been recognized as an important factor in the school improvement process, there are few psychometrically supported measures based on teacher perspectives. The current study replicated and extended the factor structure, concurrent validity, and test–retest reliability of the teacher version of the Authoritative School Climate Survey (ASCS) using a statewide sample of high school teachers. Multilevel confirmatory factor analyses based on surveys completed by 12,808 high school teachers from 302 schools found that factors of disciplinary structure and student support were associated to varying degrees with the teacher reports of the prevalence of student teasing and bullying and student engagement. These findings provide some empirical support for the use of the teacher version of the ASCS in high schools.

Huang, F., & Cornell, D. (2015). Using multilevel factor analysis with clustered data: Investigating the factor structure of the Positive Values Scale. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 34, 3-14. doi: 10.1177/0734282915570278

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 1 and a one-factor model at Level 2 best fit the data. Implications and guidance for applied researchers are discussed. 

Huang, F., & Cornell, D. (2015). Question order affects the measurement of bullying victimization. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 76, 724-740, doi: 10.1177/0013164415622664

Bullying among youth is recognized as a serious student problem, especially in middle school. The most common approach to measuring bullying is through student self- report surveys that ask questions about different types of bullying victimization. Although prior studies have shown that question-order effects may influence participant responses, no study has examined these effects with middle school students. A randomized experiment (n = 5,951 middle school students) testing the question- order effect found that changing the sequence of questions can result in 45% higher prevalence rates. These findings raise questions about the accuracy of several widely used bullying surveys. 

Huang, F., Cornell, D., Konold, T., Meyer, P., Lacey, A., Nekvasil, E., Heilbrun, A., & Shukla, K. (2015). Multilevel factor structure and concurrent validity of the teacher version of the Authoritative School Climate Survey. Journal of School Health, 85, 843-851.

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.

Jia, Y., Konold, T., & Cornell, D. (2015). Authoritative school climate and high school dropout rates. School Psychology Quarterly, 31, 289-303. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000139

This study tested the association between school-wide measures of an authoritative school climate and high school dropout rates in a statewide sample of 315 high schools. Regression models at the school level of analysis used teacher and student measures of disciplinary structure, student support, and academic expectations to predict overall high school dropout rates. Analyses controlled for school demographics of school enrollment size, percentage of low-income students, percentage of minority students, and urbanicity. Consistent with authoritative school climate theory, moderation anal- yses found that when students perceive their teachers as supportive, high academic expectations are associated with lower dropout rates.

Konold, T., & Cornell, D. (2015). Measurement and structural relations of an Authoritative School Climate model: A multi-level latent variable investigation. Journal of School Psychology, 53, 447-461. http:/dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2015.09.001

This study tested a conceptual model of school climate in which two key elements of an authoritative school, structure and support variables, 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 higher 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.

Konold, T., & Cornell, D. (2015). Multilevel, multitrait - multimethod latent analysis of structurally different and interchangeable raters of school climate. Psychological Assessment, 27, 1097-1109. doi: 10.1037/pas0000098

Informant-based systems of assessment are common platforms for measuring a variety of educational and psychological constructs where the use of multiple informants is considered best practice. In many instances, structurally different informant types (e.g., students and teachers) are solicited on the basis of their unique roles with the target of measurement. The use of multiple informants provides an opportunity to evaluate the degree to which the obtained ratings are influenced by the trait of focus and extraneous sources that can be attributed to the rater. Data from a multilevel multitrait–multimethod design in which students (N 35,565) and teachers (N 9,112), from 340 middle schools, responded to items measuring 3 dimensions of school climate were evaluated through a multilevel correlated trait– correlated method latent variable model. Results indicated that ratings of school climate obtained by students and teachers demonstrated high levels of convergent validity, and that school-level ratings obtained by students and teachers were equitable in the assessment of teasing and bullying. Student ratings of support and structure yielded somewhat stronger evidence of convergent validity than ratings obtained by teachers as revealed by their respective trait factor loadings. This was explained in part by the higher levels of common method effects that were observed for teachers.

Lacey, A., Cornell, D., & Konold, T. (2015). The relations between teasing and bullying and middle school standardized exam performance. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 37,192-221. doi: 0272431615596428.

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.

Millspaugh, S. B., Cornell, D. G., Huang, F. L., & Datta, P. (2015). Prevalence of aggressive attitudes and willingness to report threats in middle school. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 2, 11-22. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tam0000031

Violence prevention strategies such as threat assessment rely on information from students; however, students are often unwilling to report threats of violence to school authorities. The current study investigated the hypothesis that middle school students are less likely to report threats of violence when they perceive aggressive behavior as a source of status and popularity among their peers. Our statewide sample consisted of 39,364 7th and 8th graders who completed school climate surveys in 423 schools. Students completed a measure of aggressive attitudes and were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with 2 statements concerning threats of violence: (a) “If another student brought a gun to school, I would tell one of the teachers or staff at school,” and (b) “If another student talked about killing someone, I would tell one of the teachers or staff at school.” Multilevel logistic regression analyses, which controlled for student and school demographics, found that higher levels of aggressive attitudes at both the school and student level were associated with a lower likelihood of reporting threat behavior. 

Nekvasil, E., & Cornell, D. (2015). Student threat assessment associated with positive school climate in middle schools. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management 2, 98-113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tam0000038

Authorities in law enforcement and education have recommended the use of threat assessment to prevent violence, but few studies have examined its usefulness in middle schools. This retrospective, quasi-experimental study compared middle schools that use the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (Cornell & Sheras, 2006; N = 166) to schools that either do not use threat assessment (N = 119) or use an alternative model of threat assessment (school- or district-developed; N = 47). Based on school records, schools using the Virginia Guidelines reported lower short-term suspension rates than both groups of schools. According to a statewide school climate survey, schools using the guidelines also had fairer discipline and lower levels of student aggressive behaviors, as reported by students. Finally, teachers reported feeling safer in schools using the Virginia Guidelines, as opposed to both groups of schools. Additional analyses of school records found that the number of years a school used the Virginia Guidelines was associated with lower long-term suspension rates, student reports of fairer discipline, and lower levels of student aggressive behaviors. All analyses controlled for school size, minority composition, and socioeconomic status of the student body. These findings suggest that use of a threat assessment approach to violence prevention is associated with lower levels of student aggression and a more positive school climate.

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.

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