Effectiveness of a strengths-based social-emotional screener for application in a low income elementary charter school
Research consistently demonstrates the negative relationship between social, emotional, and behavioral (SEB) problems in children and their later academic achievement (Juechter, Dever, & Kamphaus, 2012). If left unaddressed, children who demonstrate SEB difficulties early on are more likely to see their experiences increase in severity, bringing along associated school difficulties. Evidence demonstrates that early identification framed within a multi-tiered service delivery model can ameliorate risks for SEB difficulties and enhance the likelihood of school success (Albers, Glover & Kratochwill, 2007). Although universal SEB screening has been identified as an efficacious practice for data-based decision making, schools have been reticent to implement such screening (Hess, Short, & Hazel, 2012). One identified reason for this reticence concerns the ecological validity of instruments, which has been viewed as a barrier to the implementation of universal screening in schools. The purpose of this study, which utilizes convergent mixed methods, was to investigate the effectiveness of a brief strengths-oriented universal screening instrument in the context of its use in a school serving predominately low-income minority students. This instrument, the Devereux Student Strength Assessment (DESSA)-mini (Naglieri, LeBuffe, & Shapiro, 2011), was investigated in light of its predictive and ecological validity within the context of its application in a tiered universal screening process. Study participants included 525 students in grades K to 4 attending an elementary charter school serving a predominantly low-income African American student body, along with representative data from teachers, administrators, and parents of the school community. Results suggest that the DESSA-mini screener can be effectively used, despite certain limitations, as an indicator of student SEB functioning and can serve to inform a school’s decision-making regarding prevention, promotion, and intervention initiatives for students.