The Multilevel Structure of Four Adolescent Problems

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This paper examines variability in adolescent self-reported behavior at the individual, cohort, and school levels for 8th and 11th graders. We examine four adolescent behaviors: substance use, antisocial behavior, depression, and academic performance. Research staff collected the data as part of the Oregon Healthy Teens survey of a population-based sample of 60,837 adolescents over three years in 92 communities. The results indicate that schools vary over time, but not necessarily systematically, and grade-level cohorts account for important variance within schools. The school and cohort combined, however, accounted for at most 4% of the overall variance. The results have implications for research and practice in schools and communities. For example, selection of communities for interventions based on high levels of adolescent problems may be unproductive if individuals account for at least 96% of the variance. Furthermore, in non-experimental designs, cohort variability, not an intervention, may account for apparent improvement across years.

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