Primary prevention systems of behavior support in schools require a systematic process for screening and identifying students who may be at risk for developing behavioral disorders. One valid and efficient approach to screening and identification being practiced in PBIS-NH schools is the use of teacher nominations and tracking of office discipline referrals (ODRs). There is evidence that teacher nomination and the use of ODR are effective at identifying students with externalizing behaviors such as aggression, disruption and non-compliance. However, the evidence suggests that this approach is ineffective at detecting students with internalizing behaviors such as depression, withdrawal, social isolation and extreme shyness. Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (SSBD), used with elementary school-age children, is a more comprehensive approach that also identifies students with internalizing behaviors. The Early Screening Project is a similar instrument designed for children ages 3-5.
Results of recent research suggest that ODRs in combination with the SSBD is effective at identifying both types of students for supports before problems become more intense and chronic.
The SSBD is proactive and incorporates three gates, or stages. The screening takes into consideration both teacher judgments and direct observations in order to identify students at-risk for developing ongoing internalizing and externalizing behavior concerns. Stage 1 of the SSBD involves teacher nomination. Stage 2 requires that teachers complete a Critical Events Inventory and a short adaptive and maladaptive behavior checklist for each of the nominated students. Students whose scores on these checklists exceed the established cut off are then candidates for Stage 3. This final stage involves a 15-minute interval observation in both the classroom and on the playground to determine a student’s actual performance in social and classroom interactions.
Systematic screening is not designed to make a definitive diagnosis about whether a student qualifies for special education services under the category of emotional disturbance (ED) under IDEA. It also should not be seen as a tool for making a mental health diagnosis or to replace other sources of data or professional expertise from other disciplines that should be taken into account in any assessment process.
We propose that an SAU-wide team take the lead in coordinating the SSBD process in order to address any policy, ethical or professional considerations unique to that school system. The result of this coordination should be an action plan which includes the individuals to be trained and the schedule of professional development activities. Technical assistance and training will be provided by the NH Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports (NH CEBIS).
In the MAST-NH project, a minimum of 16 school or school-district members will be trained in Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (2 representing each school district). Once trained in SSBD, new ‘trainers’ will deliver a staff primer in SSBD. The staff primer will be followed by school-wide implementation of the SSBD within the context of primary prevention and in coordination with the PBIS universal team. An early identification of children at for development of behavior disorders emerging from the SSBD will connect to a plan for family engagement and /or referral to appropriate supports developed.
Early screening and identification of students at risk for internalizing and externalizing behavior disorders is a fundamental building block for a system of care and education. Research suggests that early identification followed by effective education and treatment improves the school, community and life outcomes for children and families.