Paul Caldarella

Paul Caldarella

The Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (SSBD) is a tool used to identify elementary school-aged children who are at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders. However, according to a recent study by Paul Caldarella, Ellie Young, Michael J. Richardson, Benjamin Young, and K. Richard Young of the McKay School of Education, this tool also shows promise for identifying middle school and junior high school-aged children with the same disorders.

The study applied the SSBD to adolescents in the middle and junior high schools. "This study supplied another measure that researchers and practitioners can consider using to identify adolescents who are at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders," said Paul Caldarella, director of the McKay School's Positive Behavior Support Initiative. "This is important because there really is not anything out there that has been successfully validated for this age group."

The SSBD is used to help identify students with internalizing and/or externalizing emotional or behavioral disorders. Internalizing disorders (such as depression and anxiety) can be difficult to identify in students. "Those children can be missed by teachers and by principals because they are not usually causing as many problems in the classroom," Caldarella explained. "But they can be struggling just like children who are more externalizing." Externalizing disorders are more easily identified because those who have them tend to act out, get into fights, talk back to teachers, and be sent to the principal's office for misbehavior. "The nice thing about the SSBD is that it helps identify both internalizing and externalizing students, or those who are demonstrating both," Caldarella noted.

The SSBD uses three stages to identify students with or at risk for these disorders: teacher nomination, rating scales, and direct observation. Because of limited time and resources, this study focused only on the first two stages. In the nomination stage, teachers were given a list of what internalizing and externalizing behaviors look like, and they then provided a list of names of students exhibiting those behaviors.

The rating scale (second stage) has two components. In the first, the teachers look at a Critical Events scale listing serious behaviors-like setting fires or stealing-and check off those in which the students engage. "These things are low incidence," Caldarella stated, "but if they occur they are red flags." In the second component, teachers rate the students on Adaptive and Maladaptive behavior scales. Examples of adaptive behaviors include "a child being able to get along with his peers well, or listening when asked to do something in the classroom." Maladaptive behavior would be "the child not complying with teacher requests, or not getting along well with peers."

The SSBD was validated by comparing it with other well established measures of student behavior. Scores on the SSBD were compared with scores from two other behavior rating scales-the Teacher Report Form and the Social Skills Rating System-which teachers also completed. Due to their length, these scales are not practical for universal screening, but are valuable for validation purposes. "We found that students who were identified as at risk on the SSBD were also identified as having higher levels of internalizing or externalizing behavior on the other rating scales," Caldarella remarked.

The study also found that the behaviors transfer to students' performance in the classroom. Caldarella noted that children identified using the SSBD were also found to have higher numbers of office disciplinary referrals. Identified students also tended to have lower grade point averages than students who were not identified as at risk, which suggests that they struggle academically.

"I would not say that it is a definitive study," Caldarella admitted. "I think there is still need for more research, and we are continuing to investigate the use of the tool with this age group." What the study did do was provide data that the SSBD could be beneficial for use with young adolescents. "We consider this good preliminary evidence to support the use of the tool to help identify middle and junior high school students at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders."

19 September 2008