Exploring the Status and Impact of School-Based Behavior Screening Practices in a National Sample: Implications for Systems, Policy, and Research
Co-Principal Investigators: Betsy McCoach and Jennifer Dineen (University of Connecticut); Amy Briesch (Northeastern University)
Purpose: Research has shown a positive relationship between student mental, emotional, and behavioral health and education outcomes. Schools represent the most common entry point for youth to receive mental health services, with over half of families accessing services through school. A significant obstacle to access to mental health services is the lack of a coordinated system for early identification of students in need of additional services. Given that the majority of school-age students attend school, calls have been made to use the school setting to provide programs to prevent mental, emotional, and behavior problems in students and to identify critical symptoms so that those students can be referred for appropriate care. However, little is known regarding how, which, and why school-based behavior screening practices are implemented, and whether such practices actually impact key student behavioral outcomes.
The purpose of this research project is to identify current policies and national practice related to school-based behavioral assessment, evaluate alignment between current practice and recommended best practice, and create recommendations to inform future policy and behavioral screening practices in schools. Specifically, this study will address the following 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?
Project Activities: To answer these research questions, the research team will use a mixed- method research design. First, they will examine state and district websites to identify whether education policies address student behavioral outcomes, including specific reference to assessment and curricular practices. Researchers will also conduct large scale surveys of nationally representative samples of key stakeholders (district administrators, building administrators, school-based mental health professional, teachers, and parents) to answer research questions 2-4. Short-term outcomes are to provide information to direct future policy development and research direction in the area of school-based behavioral assessment, and long- term objectives are to use information gained to develop and test a defensible and usable school-based screening model as well as influencing policy that facilitates wide-spread implementation.
Products: The products will be preliminary evidence of potentially promising school-based behavioral assessment practices. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.
Setting: The researchers will collect information from 2,000 public school districts nationwide.
Sample: Sampling for survey participants will employ a multistage cluster sample and proportional sampling that closely resembles the general U.S. population.
Research Design and Methods: Researchers will employ a mixed-methods design. First, they will review state and district school websites to identify whether mission statements, policies, and initiatives address student behavioral outcomes and/or references to assessment and curricular practices. Researchers will conduct interviews with randomly selected district administrators and mental health professionals within the sample. Then, researchers will randomly select 1,600 individual schools within the participating districts and conduct interviews with building administrators and mental health professionals. Researchers will conduct surveys of teachers and parents within the previously selected schools. In all cases, researchers will employ methods such as follow-up contacts and incentives to maximize participation.
Control Condition: Due to the nature of this research design, there is no control condition.
Key Measures: Researchers will code information related to student behavioral outcomes found in the website search. Researchers will use the Common Core of Data Public Elementary/ Secondary School Universe Survey to collect context information about all participating districts. Academic performance measures will be collected, including special education identification rates for emotional disabilities, expulsion incidents, suspensions, violent incidents, and the percentage of students meeting Annual Yearly Progress. To assess perceptions of school climate, researchers will use a shortened version of the California School Climate Survey. The project-specific survey questions will be formally developed during Year One of this project.
Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will compute bivariate correlations among behavioral assessment practices, district curriculum, perceived usability, district characteristics, and district behavioral outcomes. The research team will use structural equation modeling to model the relationships between constructs of interest taken from the district-level interviews. Researchers will also analyze the effects of mediators and moderators, specifically behavior assessment practices, by creating the product of the two latent variables (behavior assessment practices and district characteristics) and testing for interaction.