Universal Screening for Behavior

Why should schools implement universal screening for behaviors?

Approximately 13%-20% of school-age children have a diagnosable emotional disorder that impedes normal functioning (Burns et al., 1995; Merikangas et al., 2010; Shaffer et al., 1996). Yet, students with emotional behavioral disorders supported in special education represent less than 1% of enrollment (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011) demonstrating a sizable gap between need and service delivery. Furthermore, untreated behavioral and mental health problems interfere with learning (Adelman & Taylor, 2002) and are likely to persist without early identification and effective intervention (Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004).

Finally, children's mental health needs (e.g., depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, self-esteem issues) are not restricted by geography, ethnicity or special education status (Repie, 2005). This trend supports the high need for universal screening to identify students who are depressed, or anxious who would not be identified via traditional screening measures for behavioral problems (e.g., office discipline referrals, ODRs).

Illinois PBIS Network Universal Screening Model

The Illinois PBIS Network (IL-PBIS) universal screening model is nested within the overarching positive behavior intervention and supports response to intervention (Rtl) framework. Adoption of an existing framework for addressing student behaviors in a proactive and multi-tiered approach such as with 3-tiers of positive behavior supports is critical to the success of universal screening. PBIS efficiently combines the use of data based decision making, systems to implement interventions and practices to foster positive student outcomes/behaviors.

Universal screening for behavior is a Tier 1 practice. The recommended Illinois PBIS universal screening process includes a two-gate process. The process incorporates the following elements: Gate one-teacher nomination; identification and Gate two-rank ordering of youth on two dimensions (internalizing/externalizing); and use of a screening tool/checklist. Some tools (i.e., Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders; SSBD) automatically incorporate the two-gate process. However, most screening instruments do not.

The Illinois PBIS Network believes that the two-gate process offers two primary benefits for schools and students. The two-gate process encourages staff consideration of all students by having teachers consider students for additional supports based on exhibiting any behaviors listed on a standardized checklist. The use of a standardized checklist of behaviors for the the intial phase, or gate one of the screening process helps reduce teacher bias. Also, the multi-gate process especially benefits students who never receive office discipline referrals. However, these same students may exhibit overly shy, or withdrawn behaviors that are risk factors for more serious problems (i.e., school refusal, anxiety and depression). Based on our review of the research and experience, we recommend using a norm-referenced tool/checklist. Please see the universal screening overview powerpoint for a detailed description of the model.

Getting Started

If you are new to the process, we recommend that you begin by reading the universal screening readiness checklist and screening instrument comparison chart. The research publications also document the evidence-base supporting universal screening for behavior. It is important to first secure administrative support at the district and building level before implementation. The implementation tools, universal screening overview and selected screening instruments, scoring tool and research publications provide guidance for first-time and veteran implementers alike.