The Utility of Universal Screening to Guide School-Based Prevention Initiatives: Comparison of Office Discipline Referrals to Standardized Emotional and Behavioral Risk Screening

  • Shereen Naser
  • Jeffery Brown
  • Jorge Verlenden


A critical component of any school-based prevention program is early identification of student risk as reported by Lane et al. (Remedial and Special Education 32:39–54, 2011). While screening for academic risk has grown in the last decade, screening for behavioral risk has remained stagnant. Few schools systematically screen for behavioral and emotional risk, and those that do rely on subjective referral systems that have been linked to disproportionality in special education and exclusionary discipline practices. An alternative to these subjective referral systems is universal screening for behavioral and emotional risk. Despite evidence that this standardized screening measure is both valid and reliable, few schools have adopted universal screening tools for behavioral and emotional risk. One potential reason for the lagging use of screening for behavioral and emotional risk is lack of information regarding the utility of these measures. This study compares the predicative validity of a universal screening tool for behavioral and emotional risk, and the predictive validity of the more traditionally used office discipline referrals. Results indicate that the universal screening measure, the Behavioral and Emotional Screening System Teacher Form (BESS TF), is a more reliable predictor of student GPA (t(132) = 5.062, p < .001) and absences (t(132) = 2.370, p < .02) than office discipline referrals (ODRs), while both ODRs and the BESS TF reliably predict student suspension rates. The ability of the BESS TF to identify students experiencing behavioral and emotional risk that impacts both their academic and behavioral functioning at school makes it a more useful measure than ODRs alone.


Universal screening Office discipline referral School-based prevention Progress monitoring Assessment Early identification 3-tiered model At-risk 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© California Association of School Psychologists 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cleveland State UniversityClevelandUSA
  2. 2.Minnesota State UniversityMankatoUSA
  3. 3.Satcher Health Leadership InstituteMorehouse School of MedicineDecaturUSA

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