CHICAGO, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Children experiencing high rates of peer victimization or engaging in problem behaviors such as fighting or absenteeism during seventh grade are at greater risk of not graduating high school on time, a study of the University of Illinois (UI) has found.
The study examined patterns of high school graduation and students' experiences with victimization, physical fighting, school suspensions and absenteeism or tardiness during the fall term of seventh grade. Victimization risks were determined by the number of times students reported they had been threatened or had property stolen at school.
UI researchers found that while boys fell into three risk groups of low, moderate and high risk, girls were split into just two groups, low risk and high risk. Most of the boys in the study were classified as low risk as were most of the girls.
Data analyses found that half of the boys and 46 percent of the girls in the high-risk groups did not graduate high school within six years. By contrast, 81 percent of the boys and 84 percent of the girls in the low-risk groups graduated on time.
While boys in the moderate risk group reported at least one victimization experience, had some attendance problems and engaged in some physical fights, 74 percent of these boys persisted in school until they graduated, compared with 50 percent of males in the high-risk group.
"Even though students may be fighting and receiving disciplinary actions such as suspensions, our findings suggest that they also are being victimized by peers, and it is the combination of victimization and problem behaviors that is associated with the lowest graduation rates," said UI social work professor Kevin Tan.
"Recognizing these patterns can help us identify students who are at increased risk of dropping out before graduation and who may need additional supports to help them stay in school until they earn their high school diplomas," he said.
UI researchers also found that boys who experienced victimization but did not engage in externalizing behaviors had better school attendance and were more likely to complete their schoolwork than girls. About 25 percent of girls in the study who experienced bullying were more likely to be late or absent from school.
"The existence of this pattern suggests the need for school personnel to screen for threats or physical fights and relational aggression among girls who miss a moderate amount of school but may not exhibit other forms of externalizing behaviors," Tan said.
The study is believed to be the first to compare high school graduation rates across groups of students who experience different patterns of victimization and problem behaviors while in middle school.