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Study ties bullying to lower high school test scores

bullying high school

At the American Psychological Association's 119th Annual Convention earlier this month, University of Virginia researchers reported that Virginia high schools with high rates of bullying had significantly lower scores on standardized tests.

"Our study suggests that a bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance," research co-author Dewey G. Cornell, PhD, clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia, said in a statement. "This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a schoolwide problem rather than just an individual problem."

The research [PDF file], part of the ongoing Virginia High School Safety Study, found that schoolwide passing rates on standardized exams for Algebra I, Earth Science and World History were between 3 percent and 6 percent 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 said. The No Child Left Behind Act requires at least 70 percent of a school's students to pass the tests for the school to keep its state accreditation in Virginia.

While bullying has always been an issue, Cornell said, media attention has recently helped highlight the problem. "We have always had bullying in our schools," he said. "What has changed is we have become more aware of bullying due to a series of high-profile tragic cases involving school shootings and suicides. Our society does not permit harassment and abuse of adults in the workplace, and the same protections should be afforded to children in school."

The research, which was co-authored by Anna Lacey, a University of Virginia graduate student in clinical and school psychology, was based on surveys about bullying compiled in 2007 from more than 7,300 ninth grade students and almost 3,000 teachers at 284 high schools across Virginia.

The surveys 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."

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