Equity & Diversity

Study Measures Bullying’s Academic Toll

By Nirvi Shah — August 23, 2011 3 min read
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While bullying is known to leave physical and emotional scars, a new study finds that victims may suffer long-lasting academic effects, and high-achieving black and Latino students are especially vulnerable.

Building off previous research that found high-achieving black and Latino students are more likely to be bullied, Ohio State University doctoral student Lisa M. Williams and Anthony A. Peguero, an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, found that bullying, in turn, could lead to lower achievement for victims of bullies.

Their study was presented last week at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas.

The sociologists found that the grade point average of all students who were bullied in 10th grade dropped slightly by 12th grade. By their senior year, black students who had a 3.5 grade point average, on a scale of 0 to 4, as freshmen, lost almost one-third of a point if they had been bullied. The result was more pronounced for Latino victims of bullying: They lost half a point. That compares with a loss of less than one-tenth of a point for white students who had undergone such harassment, the researchers found.

One reason minority students seemed to suffer larger academic aftereffects, Ms. Williams said, could stem from some of the stereotypes about minority students, including that they are tough or street smart, compared to their peers from other racial and ethnic groups.

“Schools may think that because students are black and Latino, they’re better able to handle bullying,” she said, “and their schools won’t have the same type of [bullying prevention] programs.”

Being Proactive

On the other hand, Ms. Williams said, there are often prevention strategies in place at many predominantly white schools. Instead, schools must employ bullying-prevention programs regardless of the racial and ethnic backgrounds of their students, she said.

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education will begin a study that looks at how local bullying policies are put into action in several individual school districts and states. At about the same time, the Education Department will share the results of an analysis of current state anti-bullying laws and model policies. The study will aim to identify promising strategies that school districts are implementing to combat bullying in schools. This information will be used by the department to better support bullying-prevention activities.

Ms. Williams’ and Mr. Peguero’s results were based on the academic performance of 9,590 students in 580 schools. While many factors contribute to students’ academic performance, the researchers controlled for some other variables often associated with students’ academic achievement. They eliminated family background, previous grades, and school characteristics when calculating the effect of bullying on students’ grades.

In a previous study published earlier this year, Ms. Williams and Mr. Peguero found that black and Latino students who have high test scores, countering stereotypes of low academic achievement among such students, are more likely to be harassed or teased at school. They also found that low-achieving Asian-American students—going against stereotype—were also particularly vulnerable to bullying. Another study by Mr. Peguero has found that black and Latino students bullied at school are more likely to drop out than their peers.

Study’s Methodology

For the study released at last week’s conference in Las Vegas, Ms. Williams and Mr. Peguero came to their conclusions by comparing students’ baseline academic performance as 9th graders, before they had been bullied, with their academic achievement four years later as high school seniors. They found that about 40 percent of all students in their study answered yes to questions about being bullied, including whether they had been hit, bullied, or threatened with violence in the previous year.

Earlier this year, another study involving school bullies and stereotypes suggested that the most likely campus aggressors aren’t the most popular or most socially outcast students—those most typically thought of as potential bullies. Instead, mapping of students’ social networks found that children somewhere in the middle of the social hierarchies in their schools were the most likely bullies on campus.

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2011 edition of Education Week as Study Finds Bullying Takes an Academic Toll on Students

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