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Student holding up a sign that has different emotions from the effects of bullying

Decreasing Bullying Trends, Yet Lingering Student Insecurity

Despite recent high-profile news stories, a new report indicates that the percentage of students who say they were bullied in school has declined over the past decade.

That’s the good news.

The bad news: While the number of reported bullying incidents is down, the decline in reported incidents has slowed in recent years.

Translation: There’s still a lot of work to do to make all students feel safe in school.

The 2016 Indicators of School Crime and Safety report, a joint effort between the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is an annual accounting of students’, parents’, and teachers’ perceptions of their school’s safety.

Using survey responses and other data, the report analyzes the overall state of America’s schools according to different indicators, such as school crime, violence, substance abuse, and environment.

This year’s results on bullying—both in brick and mortar school buildings and online—indicate that the numbers of reported cases might well be headed in the right direction. But a closer look reveals areas where schools and districts can work harder to improve the climate and physical safety of their schools.

It’s also important to note that the report focuses on reported bullying incidents only—those schools can verify and report—and not on all bullying incidents, which are much harder to quantify.

Here are four important takeaways from this year’s report:

1. The bullying rate dropped between 2005 and 2015

In 2005, 28 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds reported being bullied in school. In 2015, that number dropped to 21 percent. It is important to note that this 21 percent figure is unchanged from 2013, meaning that though the rate of student-reported bullying incidents dropped over the last decade, the decline has plateaued in recent years. Bullying rates also dropped among male students and in both suburban and rural schools in the last decade, according to the report.

2. Minority groups report higher percentages of bullying

A higher percentage of African-American students—some 25 percent—reported being bullied compared with white (22 percent) or Hispanic (17 percent) students. A higher percentage of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students reported bullying incidents than did their heterosexual counterparts—34 percent to 19 percent. Female students were also more likely to have been bullied than their male peers.

3. Younger students more prone to bullying

While 31 percent of sixth graders reported being bullied in 2015, only 15 percent of high school seniors reported being bullied in the same time frame.

4. Most in-school bullying happens in hallways

Hallways and stairwells are where the highest percentage of students (42 percent) reported being bullied in their schools. Given that these areas are often the most difficult places to monitor, district leaders might rethink security in these areas. Classrooms were also a common site of bullying, according to the study.

School leaders have many responsibilities, but keeping students safe and engaged in learning is No. 1.

This new study highlights some potential bright spots in the battle against bullying. But, despite a decline in reported cases of school-based bullying over several years, it makes clear that many students still do not feel safe in school.

We know that a positive school climate is a vital part of any anti-bullying effort. We also know that there are clear steps schools can take to ensure a positive environment and to make sure students understand bullying and its potentially devastating consequences.

What do you think? Is bullying a problem in your schools? What steps are you taking to keep students safe while in school? Tell us in the comments.