A Validation of the Student Risk Screening Scale for Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors: Patterns in Rural and Urban Elementary Schools

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: We report findings of two studies, one conducted in a rural school district (N = 982) and a second conducted in an urban district (N = 1,079), offering additional evidence of the reliability and validity of a revised instrument, the Student Risk Screening Scale-Internalizing and Externalizing (SRSS-IE), to accurately detect internalizing and externalizing behaviors. The SRSS-IE was modified to include seven additional items characteristic of internalizing behaviors. Items were developed based on information gleaned from current measures and the existing knowledge base as well as teaching experience with students with emotional or behavioral disorders. The original 7 items developed by Drummond (1994) were retained, resulting in a total of 14 items (SRSS-IE14). Scoring procedures remained the same as with the SRSS, with elementary teachers evaluating each student on each item using a 4-point Likert-type scale. In both studies, we examined item-level data, internal consistency, and factor structure. Results supported retention of five of the seven additional items, yielding the SRSS-IE12. In the second study, we explored and established convergent validity of the SRSS-IE12 as well as the two subscales (SRSS-E7, seven original externalizing items, and SRSS-15, five retained internalizing items) with the Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (H. M. Walker & Severson, 1992). Limitations and future directions are offered, including how to use information in designing Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention supports.

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) often pose formidable challenges to school-site personnel as well as society in general. These students represent a varied group of individuals, encompassing both major behavioral disorders of childhood: externalizing and internalizing behaviors (Achenbach, 1991; H. M. Walker, 2003). Students with externalizing behaviors (referred to as undercontrolled behaviors) are most easily recognized by teachers, even without systematic screening efforts, as these youth present with outward directed behaviors such as verbal and physical aggression as well as coercive tactics (e.g., arguing). Clearly, these behaviors tend to disrupt instruction by quickly capturing teachers' attention (Bradshaw, Buckley, & lalongo, 2008; Crick, Crotpeter, & Bigbee, 2002; Eisenberg et al., 2009). In contrast, students with internalizing behaviors (referred to as overcontrolled behaviors) often go unnoticed by teachers as their behaviors tend to be directed inward. Such behaviors include anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and even self-inflicted pain (Kovacs & Devlin, 1998; Morris, Shah, & Morris, 2002).

Overall, prevalence estimates report between 2% and 20% of school-age youth evidencing some form of EBD, with conservative estimates suggesting 6% (Kauffman & Brigham, 2009). Recent figures suggest 20% of students have at least some mild manifestations of EBD (Forness, Freeman, Paparella, Kauffman, & Walker, 2012). Not surprisingly, these students with internalizing behaviors are less apt to receive supports and services relative to students with externalizing behaviors (Bradshaw et al., 2008). This reality is disturbing given prevalence estimates that suggest internalizing behaviors are more common than one might expect and are highly likely to persist into adulthood (Kessler, Berglund, Dernier, Jin, & Walkers, 2005). Approximately 5.8% to 17.5% of school-age youth have anxiety disorders (Breton et al., 1999). Childhood depression rates indicate that 2.8% of children younger than 1 3 years and 5.6% of youth 13 to 18 years of age experience this disorder (Costello, Erkanli, & Angold, 2006), with 15.9% of school-age students demonstrating comorbidity (Brady & Kendall, 1992). Furthermore, 28.4% of middle school youth manifest self-injurious behavior (Alfonso & Dedrick, 2010).

In the absence of effective interventions, these students struggle socially, behaviorally, and academically during the school years. …