Schools traditionally have relied on teachers to identify children with behavioral and emotional issues, but how reliable is this informal method?
Teachers miss many children who are flagged by screenings, according to a new study in Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. The study found that universal screenings identified a higher number of students than teacher nomination, and those identified by universal screening had lower reading grades.
Early identification of behavioral and emotional issues is critical in helping children become successful in school. Unfortunately, many students with problems may miss out on the opportunity for early intervention when schools rely solely on teacher identification.
In this study, 849 students in one elementary school and one middle school in Southern California were screened with The Behavior Assessment for Children—Second Edition (BASC-2) BESS Teacher form (Kamphau & Reynolds, 2007). The 27-item form on a 4-point Likert (never, sometimes, often and almost always) requires no training and be completed by a teacher in approximately 5 minutes per student, according to the study. A total of 42 teachers completed the screening form for each student.
Teachers also completed a “Teacher Nomination Survey” which simply asked this question: “Please list the names of any students in your advisory/homeroom that are at risk behaviorally or emotionally. Then, circle the names of the students that you consider to be at high risk. Teachers were not given any examples of behavioral or emotional problems.
BESS identified 15.3% of students as at risk and 8.8% as at high risk. Teachers identified 9.7% of students as being at risk and 8% as high risk.
Some concerns about teacher referrals are subjectivity about what constitutes a problem behavior, delays in identification of behavior issues compared with academic issues and lack of consistency in teacher referrals. Teachers are quicker to identify children with externalizing symptoms rather than internalizing symptoms because children with externalizing symptoms are more difficult to manage, according to the study.
“A Comparison of Teacher Nomination and Screening to Identify Behavioral and Emotional Risk Within a Sample of Underrepresented Students,” by Erin Dowdy et al, Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 2011, Volume 20, Number 10, pp. 1-11.