Bullying Research

Lacey, A. & Cornell, D.G. (2016). School administrator assessment of bullying and state-mandated testing.  Journal of School Violence, 15(2), 189-212.  doi.org/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.

Huang, F., Cornell, D., & Konold, T. (2015). Aggressive attitudes in middle schools: A factor structure and criterion-related validity study. Assessment, 22(4), 497-512.  doi: 10.1177/1073191114551016

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, metric 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 in order to provide more reliable and accurate model estimates and standard errors. The resulting hierarchical structure of the Aggressive Attitudes scale demonstrated metric 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 Schools, 51, 217-214.  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., & Shukla, K. (2014). Multi-level multi-informant structure of the Authoritative School Climate Survey. School Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/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.

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, 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.

Klein, J., Cornell, D., Konold, T. (2012). Relationships between school climate and student risk behaviors. School Psychology Quarterly, 27(3), 154-169.

This study examined the relations between school climate and risk behaviors in a sample of 3,687 high school students who completed the School Climate Bullying Survey and questions from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses established reasonable fit for 20 items with three hypothesized school climate scales measuring (1) student willingness to seek help; (2) aggressive attitudes; and (3) prevalence of bullying and teasing. Structural equation modeling established the relationship of these measures with individual student risk behavior scales, including externalizing, internalizing, and bullying risk behavior. Multi-group confirmatory factor analyses identified differential effects across gender and race. These results support the contention that positive school climate can be an important protective influence on student risk behavior.

Huang, F., & Cornell, D. (2012). Pick your Poisson: A tutorial on analyzing counts of student victimization data. Journal of School Violence, 11(3), 187-206.

School violence research is often concerned with infrequently occurring events such as the number of bullying incidents a student may experience. Analyzing count data using ordinary least squares regression may produce improbable predicted values, and as a result of regression assumption violations, result in higher Type I errors. Count data are optimally analyzed using Poisson-based regression techniques such as Poisson or negative binomial regression. We apply these techniques to an example study of bullying in a statewide sample of 290 high schools. We explain how Poisson-based analyses, although less familiar to many researchers, can produce findings that are more accurate and reliable, and are easier to interpret in real-world contexts.

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 this method 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.

Cornell, D., Klein, J., Konold, T., & Huang, F. (2012). Effects of validity screening items on adolescent survey data. Psychological Assessment 24, 21-33. 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.

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.

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.

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., & Huang, F. (2010). Authoritative school discipline: High school practices associated with lower student bullying and victimization. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 483-496.

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. Further, 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. (2010). Concurrent validity of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire. Journal of School Violence, 9, 56-73.

This study examined the concurrent validity of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire (BVQ) in a convenience sample of 202 middle school students in central Virginia. This appears to be the first published study to compare BVQ reports of being bullied and of bullying others with independent criteria not subject to shared method variance. Self-reported bullying on the BVQ was significantly correlated with peer nominations for bullying (r = .12, p < .05) and academic grades (r = -.15, p < .05), but not disciplinary infractions. Self-reported victimization was significantly correlated with peer nominations for victimization (r = .42, p < .01) and academic grades (r = -.12, p < .01). These results provide only modest support for the concurrent validity of the BVQ and raise concern about reliance on student self-report to measure school bullying.

Branson, C., & Cornell, D. (2009). A comparison of self and peer reports in the assessment of middle school bullying. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 25, 5-27.

Researchers examining the effectiveness of schoolwide anti-bullying programs typically use student self-reports to measure reductions in bullying. In contrast, researchers who study peer aggression frequently employ peer nominations. This study compared self-reports of bullying with peer nominations in a sample of 355 middle school students. Self-report demonstrated low to moderate correspondence with peer nominations for bullying others (r = .18) and for victimization (.32). More than twice as many students were categorized as bullies using peer nomination (11%) as compared to self-report (5%). Despite their limited agreement, both self and peer-reported bullying/victimization were associated with school maladjustment. These results raise concern about the reliance on self or peer reports alone to assess the prevalence of middle school bullying.

Cornell, D., & Bandyopadhyay, S. (2009). The assessment of bullying. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer, & D. L. Espelage (Eds.). The international handbook of school bullying. New York : Routledge.

Ashbaugh, L., & Cornell, D. (2008). Sexual harassment and bullying behaviors in sixth graders. Journal of School Violence,7, 21-38.

Sexual harassment is widely viewed as a form of bullying, but has received little attention in studies of middle school students. A survey of 109 6th grade students found that 29% of students reported at least one sexual harassment experience in the past 30 days, with 11% reporting harassment once per week or more. Although boys and girls reported similar rates of harassment, there were important gender differences—boys were more likely than girls to try to ignore sexual harassment, but girls were more likely to tell someone about their experience and to tell the perpetrator to stop. There was high concordance between sexual harassment and bullying for both boys and girls. These findings indicate the need to recognize the role of sexual harassment in bullying in middle school.

Carlson, W., & Cornell, D. (2008). Differences between persistent and desistent middle school bullies. School Psychology International, 29, 442-451.

This study investigated differences in aggressive attitudes, academic achievement, and discipline referrals between bullies and non-bullies in a sample of 261 6 th and 7 th grade students over a two year period. Through the use of a peer nomination survey, 16 students were identified as bullies both years (persistent) and 21 were identified only in the first year (desistent). Across all students, aggressive attitudes were associated with poorer grades and more discipline infractions, but persistent bullies had the most aggressive attitudes and were more likely to get into trouble in school than desistent bullies or control students. Desistent bullies were more similar to control students than persistent bullies. These findings support the need to differentiate among middle school bullies and to focus attention on the aggressive attitudes of persistent bullies.

Thunfors, P., & Cornell, D. (2008). The popularity of middle school bullies. Journal of School Violence, 7, 65-82.

This study investigated the peer popularity of middle school students involved in bullying . Bullying was assessed by peer report using the School Climate Bullying Survey (SCBS) and popularity was assessed through peer nominations from a student roster. In a sample of 379 middle school students, bullies were among the most popular students in the school, receiving more peer nominations on average (21) than students uninvolved in bullying (13) or victims (4). Comparisons of popular and non-popular bullies found few differences, except that a) popular bullies were less likely to be victimized and b) female bullies had a greater likelihood of being popular than their male counterparts.

Cole, J., Cornell, D., & Sheras, P. (2006). Identification of school bullies by survey methods. ProfessionalSchoolCounseling.

How can middle school counselors identify bullies? This study compared two methods of identifying bullies in a sample of 386 middle school students. A peer nomination survey identified many more bullies than did student self-report. Moreover, self-reported and peer-nominated bullies differed in their types of bullying behaviors, level of general self-concept, attitudes toward aggression, and disciplinary infractions. Overall, this study raises concern about reliance on student self-report and supports the use of peer nomination as a means of identifying school bullies. These findings have implications for school counselors in undertaking efforts to reduce school bullying.

Cornell, D, Sheras, P., & Cole, J. (2006). Assessment of bullying. In S.R. Jimerson & M.J. Furlong (Eds.), The handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice (pp. 191-210). Mahwah , New Jersey : Erlbaum.

Williams, F., & Cornell, D. (2006). Student willingness to seek help for threats of violence. Journal of School Violence, 5, 35-49.

This study examined factors that influence a student’s willingness to seek help for a threat of violence. The sample consisted of 542 middle school students who completed an anonymous survey that asked students how likely they would be to seek help in response to being bullied or threatened. The survey also included measures of type of bullying, attitudes toward aggressive behavior, and perceptions of teacher tolerance for bullying. Stepwise multiple regression analyses indicated that willingness to seek help is lower in higher grade levels and among males. Students who hold aggressive attitudes and perceive the school climate to be tolerant of bullying were less likely to report a willingness to seek help. Implications for improving student willingness to seek help are discussed.

Cornell, D., & Brockenbrough, K. (2004). Identification of bullies and victims: A comparison of methods. Journal of School Violence, 63-87 .

Bullying studies frequently rely on student self-report to identify bullies and victims of bullying, but research in the broader field of peer aggression makes greater use of other informants, especially peers, to identify aggressors and victims. This study compared self, peer, and teacher identification of bullies and bully victims in a sample of 416 middle school students. Overall, there was poor correspondence between self-reports and reports made by peers or teachers, but consistently better agreement between peers and teachers, in identifying both bullies and victims of bullying. Peer and teacher identification of bullies were more consistently associated with subsequent school disciplinary infractions than were self-reports. These results raise concern about reliance on student self-reports of bullying and bully victimization.

Unnever, J. & Cornell, D. (2004). Middle school victims of bullying: Who reports being bullied? Aggressive Behavior, 30, 373-388.

This study examined factors that influence a student's decision to report being bullied at school. An anonymous survey of 2,437 students in six middle schools identified 898 students who had been bullied, including 25% who had not told anyone that they were bullied and 40% who had not told an adult about their victimization. We investigated chronicity and type of bullying, school climate, familial, demographic, and attitudinal factors that influenced victim reporting to anyone versus no one, to adults versus no one, and to adults versus peers. Logistic regression analyses indicated that reporting increased with the chronicity of victimization. Reporting was generally more frequent among girls than boys, and among lower grade levels. Students who perceived the school climate to be tolerant of bullying, and students who described their parents as using coercive discipline were less likely to report being bullied. Implications for improving victim reporting of bullying are discussed.

Unnever, J., & Cornell, D. G. (2003). Bullying, self control, and ADHD. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 129-147.

We investigated the influence of low self-control and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on bullying and bully victimization in a sample of 1,315 middle school students using a school survey. Students who reported taking medication for ADHD were at increased risk for bullying as well as victimization by bullies. The correlation between ADHD status and bullying could be explained by low self-control, a construct theorized by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) to be the most important determinant of criminality. In contrast, the correlation between ADHD status and bullying victimization was independent of self-control. Subsequent analyses found that self-control influenced bullying victimization through interactions with student gender and measures of physical size and strength. These findings identify low self-control and ADHD as potential risk factors for bullying and victimization, and have implications for research on self-control in young adolescents.

Unnever, J. & Cornell, D. (2003). The culture of bullying in middle school. Journal of School Violence, 2, 5-27.

The purpose of this study was to assess the nature and extent of student attitudes toward bullying. We investigated the consistency and prevalence of student attitudes across gender, race, socioeconomic status, and grade level. We also assessed whether students with positive attitudes toward peer aggression and students with higher trait anger were especially prone to support a normative structure that encourages bullying. Based on a data set including 6 middle schools and over 2,400 students, our results indicate that a culture of bullying is a pervasive phenomenon among middle school students and should be an important consideration in bullying prevention efforts.

Brockenbrough, K., Cornell, D., & Loper, A. (2002). Aggressive victims of violence at school. Education and Treatment of Children, 273-287.

Some victims of violence at school hold aggressive attitudes which may place them at risk for involvement in high-risk behaviors. Based on a survey of 10,909 7th-, 9th-, and 11th-grade students, this study compared four groups of students: victims with aggressive attitudes (n = 152), victims with nonaggressive attitudes (n = 359), nonvictims with aggressive attitudes (n = 478), and nonvictims with nonaggressive attitudes (n = 2556). Victims with aggressive attitudes were more likely than students in the other three groups to report they had carried weapons, used alcohol, and engaged in physical fights at school. Both victims and nonvictims with aggressive attitudes reported lower academic grades and fewer supportive adults at school than the nonaggressive attitude groups. This study highlights the fact that victims with aggressive attitudes are a vulnerable group of students. Interventions for victims of school violence should be enhanced to address the needs of victims with aggressive attitudes.