The problem

The mission of public schools is to educate all students. However, children with serious emotional disturbances have the highest rates of school failure. Fifty percent of these students drop out of high school, compared to 30% of all students with disabilities…While schools are primarily concerned with education, mental health is essential to learning as well as to social and emotional development. (New Freedom Commission, 2003)

Studies have explicitly documented the link between behavior and academic achievement [1], including demonstrations that the effects of evidence-based academic programs may be nullified in classrooms with high levels of problem behavior [2]. Without early identification and treatment, behavior problems may persist and become more resistant to intervention efforts over time [3]. This leads not only to a downward spiral of school failure but, ultimately, to negative outcomes in adulthood (e.g., poor employment, poverty) [4]. In fact, one study suggests that less than one-third of students with EBD are employed post-school, and those employed tend to work less than full time in jobs that do not require a high school diploma [5].

What we need to learn

Despite tremendous work to identify methods and procedures to effectively screen for mental, emotional, and behavioral problems, there appears to be a disconnect between that work and usability in school contexts. As noted by Kazdin (2005) in his commentary on directions for evidence-based assessment, research calls to conduct additional development and evaluation of new assessments are wasteful in the absence of understanding what the intended assessment purpose is and why it is needed – only then can we delineate the requirements of further assessment research.

Thus, before behavioral screeners continue to be developed and evaluated, it is critical that teachers, parents, school administrators and mental health personnel, community stakeholders, researchers, and policy-makers understand if and how these screeners are being used, and what factors influence their usage. With an IES-funded Goal 1 Exploration grant, the National Exploration of Emotional/Behavioral Detection in School Screening (NEEDs2) project aims to fill this gap.


The goals and objectives of this three-year grant project are to respond to the following four research questions:

  1. Nationally, what do state and district-level priorities look like with regard to school-based behavior policy?
  2. Nationally, do school districts incorporate behavior screening practices? If so, what do those practices look like at elementary and secondary levels?
  3. Does implementation of behavior screening practices predict student behavioral outcomes? If so, do practices serve as a partial mediator and moderator for district characteristics, perceived usability, and behavior curricula practices?
  4. What do key stakeholders perceive as the intended purpose, value, and usability of school-based behavior screening? For those implementing practices, what is the perceived effectiveness?



1 Blackman, Ostrander, & Herman, 2005; Kern, Choutka, & Sokol, 2002; Malecki & Elliott, 2002; Sanson, Prior, & Smart, 1996; Witt, VanDerHeyden, & Gilbertson, 2004

2 Kellam, Mayer, Rebok, & Hawkins, 1998

3 Bradley, Doolittle, & Bartolotta, 2008

4 New Freedom Commission, 2003

5 Wagner et al., 2005