Issue: October 2011
October 01, 2011
2 min read

Children’s low test scores may be related to bullying

Issue: October 2011
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High schools with a significant bullying problem may see a negative effect on student test scores, according to a new study presented during the 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association held recently in Washington, D.C.

Results of a study by Dewey Cornell, PhD, and colleagues revealed that high schools in Virginia, where students reported a high rate of bullying, had significantly lower scores on standardized tests.

The study found that school-wide passing rates on standardized exams for algebra I, earth science and world history were 3% to 6% lower in schools where students reported a more severe bullying climate.

“This difference is substantial because it affects the school’s ability to meet federal requirements and the educational success of many students who don’t pass the exams,” Cornell, a clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia, said in a press release.

“Our study suggests that a bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance,” he said. “This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a school-wide problem rather than just an individual problem.”

According to the investigators, ninth grade was chosen because ninth grade is when most students enter high school, and research has shown that poor academic performance in ninth grade predicts a higher probability of high school drop-outs.

The survey defined bullying as “the use of one’s strength or popularity to injure, threaten or embarrass another person on purpose. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. It is not bullying when two students of about the same strength argue or fight,” according to the release.

The study findings could not explain the reasons for a bullying climate at some schools or the exact causes of lower test scores at those schools, but the researchers offered several theories. The academic performance of students in schools with persistent bullying may suffer because students are less engaged in learning because of fear associated with bullying or because of an increased level of disorder in the school associated with bullying. Teachers also may be less effective because they spend more time focused on discipline, the researchers said.

Cornell said effective anti-bullying programs should take a school-wide approach that involves students, teachers and parents. These programs should provide help for bullying victims, counseling and discipline for bullies, and education for bystanders that discourages them from supporting bullying.

The research is part of the ongoing Virginia High School Safety Study, which has compiled surveys about bullying in 2007 from more than 7,300 ninth-grade students and nearly 3,000 teachers at 284 high schools in Virginia. Approximately two-thirds of the students were white, 22% were black and 5% were Hispanic.

For more information:

  • Cornell D. Poster Session 4118. Presented at: 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association; Aug. 4-7, 2011; Washington, D.C.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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