Universal Screening 101: Catching emotional and behavioral disorders

African American boy writing in a notebook while sitting in a classroom

Discovering students who are at-risk behaviorally is imperative to their overall success. In the words of Kamphaus and Reynolds, “behavioral and emotional screening is an effective way to promote success by catching behavioral concerns early and providing the needed interventions and strategies.” Gut feelings, hunches, and intuition are helpful in identifying potential issues; however, data from screening can validate concerns, and catch students who may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Universal screening can have a life long impact on teachers, parents, and students, yet I understand they will have lots of questions about the process and its impact on their lives. To provide some answers I examine the Why, What, Who, When, and How questions of the universal screening process and its effects.

WHY screen? It is an effective way to gather relevant and useful data to support those feelings/hunches. The opportunity to clarify what behavior is happening and identify strategies and interventions that can be utilized to support the student. This proactive approach has led to lowering of referrals made for students to be assessed for special education for behavioral disorders. It has also shown to promote resiliency. Using this early identification allows staff to provide specific, need-driven services before the behavior becomes too substantial to adequately replace. Once the WHY is understood, the question of WHAT  begins to percolate.

Four children using digital tablets thumbWHAT is screening? Screening is a preliminary process to help identify behavioral needs that takes a relatively small amount of time (a person’s time is highly valuable), but provides invaluable information. The process can also provide support to previous data that has been collected or thoughts have resonated with the student’s educators and family. The screening process can gleen out several different types of behaviors: externalizing, internalizing, adaptive, pro-social, and motivators in the learning process. These behaviors range from defiance to anxiety to school attendance to cooperation and effort. It can pull out those behaviors that are not as noticeable and allow staff to better serve these students. The WHAT is crucial as it identifies what is happening so stakeholders can provide the best strategies possible. Understanding the WHY and WHAT leads to the question of one’s time; WHEN will this happen?

WHEN to screen?  It is recommended screening occur 2 to 3 times per year and the schedule that is chosen varies from school to school. A fall, winter, spring schedule is recommended as it provides a formative approach that will show a longitudinal look at the results. It is also important to note that it is recommended the screener know the student for a minimum of 4 weeks and have regular contact with the student. This can alleviate some of the misunderstandings of the student during that “honeymoon” period of when they first enter a classroom. As stated before, a teacher’s time is very valuable, and so screeners are designed to take 3-5 minutes per student and that will decrease as educators become more familiar with the process. So now, WHO will perform the screener?

WHO performs the screener? Screeners can have teacher, parent, and student forms. In many cases, teachers perform the screener. However, the screening process can be delivered in various combinations of the forms. It has been shown that students doing screening or self-reporting is a better predictor of what is happening and for future success. But ultimately it is up to the RtI Committees and school personnel to decide who will be involved in the process. Once the first 4 W’s are answered we must answer the HOWs.

HOW is the screening completed? The way that screeners can be completed can vary. Using a system like Review360 you have the option of doing it electronically, hardcopy, or both.  It is a site based decision that will provide the most effective approach to data collection. The electronic submission alleviates dual data entry and therefore can expedite the process, but it can be done in different ways. HOW is the data shared? Data many times can reside in “darkness”. This means that those that collect the data never get to see the results specifically, mostly just the decisions that have been made in accordance with the results. When using a robust, dynamic data collection system, like Review360, the data is easily accessible and delivered in a user-friendly way. Reports and in-depth analysis provide the user the ability to look at data in a multitude of ways by utilizing variables that they view important to the decision-making process. This transparency of data allows for all stakeholders to be informed and be quality contributors to the process and results. A win-win for all involved in the data collection, analysis and dissemination cycle.

By answering these questions and using a dynamic data collection tool it shows the true benefit of screening. This is not a “gotcha” type of process, but as Kamphaus and Reynolds say, “…an effective way to promote success…”. All schools across the country want students to be successful, which directly impacts teachers, schools, districts, and community success. We all want students to be successful, and universal screening can be a first step in finding a successful path for students to start their positive educational journey.


Dr. Adam Bauserman talks more in depth about Universal Screening in this recorded webinar. Listen for free.

Hunches, gut feelings, and intuition are sometimes the first ways of identifying children with behavioral and emotional disorders. But knowledge about what behaviors should cause concern and when to take action are more helpful for the teacher. Attend our upcoming professional development webinar, Behaviors of Concern, Wednesday, July 20, 12 PM, ET.

Hunches, gut feelings, and intuition are sometimes the first ways of identifying children with behavioral and emotional disorders. But knowledge about what behaviors should cause concern and when to take action are more helpful for the teacher. Attend our upcoming professional development webinar, Best Practices for Addressing Behaviors of Concern, Wednesday, July 20, 12 PM, ET.

More info about other webinars and town halls is located on our Behavior Matters website.


About the Author

Adam Bauserman has nearly 20 years of experience in education as both a general education and special education teacher as well as a behavior specialist and instructional specialist. His experience has been in Colorado, Indiana, and Texas. He has also served as an instructor at Ball State University and a state project coordinator for the state of Indiana. Adam joined Review360 in 2014 as an implementation specialist. His role is to train and support all stakeholders utilizing Review360 by providing ongoing educational professional development. Connect with Adam on Twitter @DoctorBehave