Behavior screen identifies the ‘quietly troubled’ middle and high school students

Everyone at your school keeps a watchful eye on the troubled student whose disruptive behavior leads to office referrals and suspensions. It’s the quiet ones you secretly worry about.

A new study in Behavioral Disorders reports that the Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS), a popular behavior screen in elementary schools, is valid and reliable for identifying students with internalizing behaviors in middle and secondary schools.

First designed to screen externalizing behaviors, a 2009 version of the SRSS, the Student Risk Screening Scale for Internalizing and Externalizing (SRSS-IE) allows teachers to quickly identify elementary school children with internalizing behaviors using 5 measures.

The 5 measures are:

  • emotionally flat
  • shy, withdrawn
  • sad, depressed
  • anxious
  • lonely


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To test the validity of the internalizing measures of the SRSS-IE scale for middle schoolers and high schoolers, researchers compared SSRS-IE results from 135 teacher ratings of 227 6th-12th-grade students (115 boys) with a sampling of results from the lengthier internalizing subscale of the Teacher Report Form (TRF). The TRF is a widely used behavior rating scale with extensive evidence to establish it as a reliable tool.

Although further validation is needed, the researchers report that the SRSS scores for internalizing problems in the middle school and high school population predicted the TRF results. Two cut points were developed for this age group. One classifies students as low risk and the second classifies students with borderline or clinical levels of internalizing behaviors as moderate- and high-risk.

The researchers were particularly cautious in determining the first cut point since students classified as low-risk likely would not be considered for services and interventions, while those who were classified as moderate to high risk would have access to opportunities for support.

It takes only 10-15 minutes of teacher time to complete the SRSS screen for a class of 30 students.  In comparison,  TRF, which includes 10 demographic items and 113 screening items,  takes teachers about 20 minutes for each student. For this validation study, teachers completed TRFs for 4 students each.

Peer rejection measure

“Our long-term goal is to develop a practical and effective universal screening tool for detecting secondary-age students at risk for externalizing and/or internalizing behavioral challenges who may require Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports for successful school experiences,“ the researchers write.

“It is imperative  for researchers and practitioners to partner to design, validate, and install systematic screening tools for use in middle and high school settings.”

In the SRSS screen for middle school and high school (SRSS16), peer rejection, one of 7 externalizing behavior measures in the elementary level screen, is counted as both an internalizing and externalizing measure.

“Whereas peer rejection was more reflective of externalizing behavior patterns during the elementary years, it becomes more reflective of internalizing behaviors in the middle and high school years,” the researchers write.

Participants in this study were 135 teachers and 227 6th-12th-grade students (115 boys) from 9 middle schools and 4 high schools across two states. Most students were white (69.60%), followed by 11.45% black, 10.13% Hispanic, 7.49% mixed races, and 1.32% Asian. Approximately 11% received special education services. The schools in the study already conducted behavior screenings as part of regular school practices either as part of a Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports or other tiered frameworks.

“Student Risk Screening Scale for Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors: Preliminary Cut Scores to Support Data-Informed Decision Making in Middle and High Schools,” Kathleen Lynne Lane et al., Behavioral Disorders, 2016, Volume 42, Number 1, pp. 271-284.



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