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Spotlight 2: Peer Victimization in Third Grade
(Last Updated: May 2017)

In the spring of 2014, when most fall 2010 first-time kindergartners were in third grade, about 15 percent of these students reported that they were frequently teased, made fun of, or called names by other students; 22 percent were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories; 14 percent were frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked; and 15 percent were frequently excluded from play on purpose. Students who reported that they were frequently victimized scored lower in reading, mathematics, and science than their peers who reported that they were never victimized or that they were sometimes or rarely victimized.

Students of any age may experience instances of peer victimization, including being teased, lied about, pushed or hit, or intentionally excluded from activities by their classmates. However, few peer victimization studies have been conducted with young children. Those that have been published suggest that peer victimization and bullying are experienced by many children and are related to negative academic and developmental outcomes.3 Glew et al.'s (2005) study of third- through fifth-graders found that 22 percent of children were classified as victims, bullies, or both. Victims, including children who were both victims of bullying and had bullied others, had lower achievement scores and were more likely to feel like they did not belong at school compared with bystanders who observed bullying but who were not direct victims of it.

Recently released data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) provide insight on the prevalence of peer victimization in third grade and its relationship with academic skills based on direct reports from students and teachers. More broadly, the ECLS-K:2011 survey provides comprehensive data about children's early learning and development, as well as the children's transition into kindergarten and progress through 2016, when most of the children were in fifth grade.

Using data collected in the spring of 2014, when most of the ECLS-K:2011 fall 2010 first-time kindergartners were in third grade,4 this spotlight explores three aspects of peer victimization. First, this spotlight describes the percentages of third-graders who reported that they were frequently victimized by their peers, overall and in relation to child, family, and school characteristics. Next, it explores whether students' victimization status was related to their reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills in the spring of third grade. Finally, this spotlight presents information on the percentages of frequent victims whose teachers identified them as frequently victimizing their peers.

Students are identified in this spotlight as being frequently victimized by their peers if they reported that they "Often" or "Very often" experienced at least one of four types of incidents: 1) being teased, made fun of, or called names; 2) being the subject of lies or untrue stories; 3) being pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked; and 4) being excluded from play on purpose. While these types of actions are typically associated with bullying behaviors, the data in this study were not evaluated with respect to the ongoing nature of the actions and whether they represented a power differential. As a result, the self-reported peer victimization discussed here cannot be considered to be synonymous with bullying.


Figure S2.1. Percentage distribution of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by type and frequency of self-reported peer victimization in third grade: Spring 2014

Figure S2.1. Percentage distribution of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by type and frequency of self-reported peer victimization in third grade: Spring 2014

1 Children who reported experiencing more than one type of victimization are counted only once in the total percentage of children who experienced any type of victimization.
NOTE: Students were identified as being frequently victimized by their peers in a specific way if they reported that they "Often" or "Very often" experienced that type of peer victimization. Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and survey item nonresponse.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


In the spring of 2014, about 37 percent of third-graders reported that they frequently experienced at least one of the four types of peer victimization measured in the ECLS-K:2011, 33 percent sometimes experienced at least one type of victimization, 18 percent rarely experienced at least one type of victimization, and 11 percent reported never experiencing any of the four types of peer victimization (figure S2.1 and table S2.1). About 15 percent of students reported that they were frequently teased, made fun of, or called names by other students; 22 percent reported that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories; 14 percent reported that they were frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked; and 15 percent reported that they were frequently excluded from play on purpose. The percentage of third-graders who reported that they frequently experienced peer victimization incidents differed by child, family, and school characteristics.


Figure S2.2. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners reporting that they were frequently victimized by their peers in third grade, by type of peer victimization and student race/ethnicity: Spring 2014

Figure S2.2. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners reporting that they were frequently victimized by their peers in third grade, by type of peer victimization and student race/ethnicity: Spring 2014

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
‡ Reporting standards not met. The coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
NOTE: Students were identified as being frequently victimized by their peers in a specific way if they reported that they "Often" or "Very often" experienced that type of peer victimization. Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


It was more common for Black and American Indian/Alaska Native third-graders than for White, Hispanic, and Asian third-graders to report that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories, or that they were pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked.5 For instance, 32 percent of Black students and 27 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students reported that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories, compared with 21 percent each of White and Hispanic students and 13 percent of Asian students (figure S2.2 and table S2.1). In addition, a higher percentage of Black students (20 percent) than of White (15 percent), Hispanic (14 percent), and Asian students (11 percent) reported that they were frequently teased, made fun of, or called names; and a higher percentage of Black students (18 percent) than of Hispanic (13 percent) and Asian students (12 percent) reported that they were frequently excluded from play on purpose.

Higher percentages of male than of female third-graders reported that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories (24 vs. 21 percent) and that they were frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked by other students (16 vs. 11 percent).


Figure S2.3. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners reporting that they were frequently victimized by their peers in third grade, by type of peer victimization and household poverty status: Spring 2014

Figure S2.3. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners reporting that they were frequently victimized by their peers in third grade, by type of peer victimization and household poverty status: Spring 2014

NOTE: Students were identified as being frequently victimized by their peers in a specific way if they reported that they "Often" or "Very often" experienced that type of peer victimization. Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Poverty status is based on U.S. Census weighted average income thresholds for 2013, which identify incomes determined to meet household needs, given family size and composition. For example, a family of three with one child was below the poverty threshold if its income was less than $18,552 in 2013.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


For all four types of incidents, it was more common for third-graders living below the poverty threshold or living between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty threshold to report that they were frequently victimized than it was for third-graders who were living at 200 percent or more of the poverty threshold. For instance, 18 percent of students living below the poverty threshold and 19 percent living between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty threshold reported that they were frequently teased, made fun of, or called names, compared with 13 percent of students who were living at 200 percent or more of the poverty threshold (figure S2.3 and table S2.1).

The percentages of third-graders who reported that they frequently experienced any type of peer victimization tended to be higher for students whose parents had lower levels of educational attainment. For instance, 15 to 16 percent each of students whose parents' highest level of education was less than high school, high school completion, or some college/ vocational education were frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked by other students, compared with 12 percent of those whose parents' highest level of education was a bachelor's degree and 10 percent of those whose parents' highest level of education was any graduate education.


Figure S2.4. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners reporting that they were frequently victimized by their peers in third grade, by type of peer victimization and school locale: Spring 2014

Figure S2.4. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners reporting that they were frequently victimized by their peers in third grade, by type of peer victimization and school locale: Spring 2014

NOTE: Students were identified as being frequently victimized by their peers in a specific way if they reported that they "Often" or "Very often" experienced that type of peer victimization. Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


The percentages of third-graders who reported that they were frequently victimized varied by school locale. For instance, lower percentages of students from suburban schools than from city schools reported that they were frequently teased, made fun of, or called names (14 vs. 17 percent); frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories (19 vs. 23 percent); and frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked (12 vs. 14 percent; figure S2.4 and table S2.1). The percentage of students from suburban schools who reported that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories (19 percent) was also lower than the percentages for students from rural (25 percent) and town schools (24 percent). Also, lower percentages of students from suburban schools than from rural schools reported that they were frequently pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked (12 vs. 15 percent) and excluded from play on purpose (13 vs. 18 percent).

With respect to school control, higher percentages of third-graders from public schools than from private schools reported that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories (23 vs. 18 percent) and that they were frequently excluded from play on purpose (15 vs. 12 percent).

In addition to collecting information from students on the frequency with which they experienced different types of peer victimization incidents, students were directly assessed in reading, mathematics, and science in the spring of 2014. The reading assessment reflects performance on questions measuring basic skills (e.g., word recognition); vocabulary knowledge; and reading comprehension, including identifying information specifically stated in text (e.g., definitions, facts, and supporting details), making complex inferences within texts, and considering the text objectively and judging its appropriateness and quality. Possible scores for the reading assessment range from 0 to 141. The mathematics assessment reflects performance on questions on number sense, properties, and operations; measurement; geometry and spatial sense; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and patterns, algebra, and functions. Possible scores for the mathematics assessment range from 0 to 135. The science assessment reflects performance on questions on physical sciences, life sciences, environmental sciences, and scientific inquiry. Possible scores for the science assessment range from 0 to 87. These assessment data allow for an examination of the relationship between peer victimization and student's academic achievement.


Figure S2.5. Fall 2010 first-time kindergartners' mean reading scale scores in third grade, by type of peer victimization and frequency that students reported being victimized: Spring 2014

Figure S2.5. Fall 2010 first-time kindergartners' mean reading scale scores in third grade, by type of peer victimization and frequency that students reported being victimized: Spring 2014

NOTE: Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Reading scores reflect performance on questions measuring basic skills (print familiarity, letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, rhyming words, and word recognition); vocabulary knowledge; and reading comprehension, including identifying information specifically stated in text (e.g., definitions, facts, and supporting details), making complex inferences from texts, and considering the text objectively and judging its appropriateness and quality. Possible scores for the reading assessment range from 0 to 141.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


Figure S2.6. Fall 2010 first-time kindergartners' mean mathematics scale scores in third grade, by type of peer victimization and frequency that students reported being victimized: Spring 2014

Figure S2.6. Fall 2010 first-time kindergartners' mean mathematics scale scores in third grade, by type of peer victimization and frequency that students reported being victimized: Spring 2014

NOTE: Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Math scores reflect performance on questions on number sense, properties, and operations; measurement; geometry and spatial sense; data analysis, statistics, and probability (measured with a set of simple questions assessing children's ability to read a graph); and prealgebra skills such as identification of patterns. Possible scores for the mathematics assessment range from 0 to 135.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


For each type of peer victimization explored in this spotlight, third-graders who reported that they were frequently victimized had lower scores in reading, mathematics, and science than their peers who reported that they were never victimized or that they were sometimes or rarely victimized. For instance, in reading, the mean score for students who reported that they were frequently the subject of lies or untrue stories was 107 points, compared with scores of 112 points each for those who reported that they were never or were sometimes or rarely victimized in that manner (figure S2.5 and table S2.2). In mathematics, the mean score for students who reported that they were frequently excluded from play on purpose (94 points) was lower than the mean scores for those who reported that they were never or who were sometimes or rarely victimized in that manner (99 to 100 points; figure S2.6 and table S2.2). Note, however, that comparisons of assessment scores for students who experienced different frequencies of victimization do not account for other, potentially related factors and also cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Along with students' self-report on the frequency with which they were victimized by their peers in different ways, teachers of ECLS-K:2011 students completed paper-and-pencil questionnaires in the spring of 2014 on a variety of topics, including the frequency that students victimized their peers. Students are identified in this spotlight as perpetrators if their teacher reported that they "Often" or "Very often" victimized their peers through any one of the four types of incidents: 1) teasing, making fun of, or calling other students names; 2) telling lies or untrue stories about other students; 3) pushing, shoving, slapping, hitting, or kicking other students; and 4) excluding other students from play on purpose. Students are not identified as perpetrators if their teacher reported that they "Sometimes," "Rarely," or "Never" victimized their peers through any of the types of incidents.


Figure S2.7. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners who reported that they were frequently victimized by their peers in any way in the third grade, by type of victimization and frequency that students' teachers reported the students victimized their peers in different ways: Spring 2014

Figure S2.7. Percentage of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners who reported that they were frequently victimized by their peers in any way in the third grade, by type of victimization and frequency that students' teachers reported the students victimized their peers in different ways: Spring 2014

NOTE: Estimates weighted by W7C27P_7T70. Estimates pertain to a sample of children who were enrolled in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year. In 2013–14, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Students were identified as being frequently victimized by their peers in any way if they reported that they "Often" or "Very often" experienced at least one of four types of incidents: 1) being teased, made fun of, or called names; 2) being the subject of lies or untrue stories; 3) being pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked; and 4) being excluded from play on purpose.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File.


The percentages of third-graders who indicated they were frequent victims of any type of peer victimization were higher for students who were identified by teachers as perpetrators of specific types of incidents than for students who were not identified as perpetrators. For example, 66 percent of students whose teachers reported that they were perpetrators of telling lies or untrue stories about other children self-reported that they themselves were frequent victims of any type of peer victimization, compared with 36 percent of those whose teachers indicated that the students were not perpetrators of telling lies or untrue stories (figure S2.7 and table S2.1). Similarly, 65 percent of students whose teachers reported that they were perpetrators of pushing, shoving, slapping, hitting, or kicking other students self-reported that they themselves were frequent victims of any type of peer victimization, compared with 37 percent of those whose teachers indicated that the students were not perpetrators of this type of incident.

The ECLS-K:2011 is the only nationally representative survey with self-reported victimization data in the early grades. Data collected in this study offer a new contribution to the existing literature on peer victimization in elementary school. Results from this spotlight find that male students, Black students, students living in poverty, and students with parents with lower levels of educational attainment reported that they were more frequently victimized by their peers than did other students, and that students who reported being frequently victimized tended to score lower in reading, mathematics, and science in the spring of third grade. This study also found that students who reported being frequently victimized by their peers were identified more often by their teachers as frequently victimizing other students than students who reported less frequent victimization. Although the characteristics examined in this spotlight may be related to one another, the complex interactions and relationships among them were not explored in this spotlight. For instance, other research using ECLS-K:2011 third-grade data found that Black and Hispanic students scored lower in reading, mathematics, and science than White and Asian students, and that scores in these subjects were lowest for students living in poverty when they were in kindergarten and highest for those not living in poverty (Mulligan et al. 2016). Future research using more complex methods, such as multivariate analyses, can further explore relationships between peer victimization and academic outcomes after taking into account other characteristics of students, families, and schools that are also related to academic performance.


This spotlight indicator features data on a selected issue of current policy interest. For more information: Tables S2.1 and S2.2, and http://nces.ed.gov/ecls/kindergarten2011.asp.


3 Bullying is defined by the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm (Gladden, Vivolo- Kantor, Hamburger, and Lumpkin 2014).
4  In the spring of 2014, most of the children were in third grade, but 6 percent were in second grade or other grades (e.g., fourth grade, ungraded classrooms). Off-grade status could relate to many of the variables explored in this report, which is a consideration readers should keep in mind. In this spotlight, all students are referred to as "third-graders," even if they were enrolled in a different grade in the spring of 2014.
5 For some peer victimization estimates, comparisons cannot be made across subgroups, or large percentage differences are not significantly different, due to small sample sizes.