Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Evidence for Population-Based Perspectives on Children's Behavioral Adjustment and Needs for Service Delivery in Schools

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Evidence for Population-Based Perspectives on Children's Behavioral Adjustment and Needs for Service Delivery in Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract. American schoolchildren show tremendous academic as well as intra- and interpersonal behavioral differences in the classroom. Current service delivery models within schools may be insufficient to meet the demand and diversity of students' needs, especially in schools serving students placed at risk by adverse life circumstances, such as poverty. This article presents empirical findings about the range of normal behavioral variability within schools serving students at risk. Our findings suggest that a population-based perspective on behavioral adjustment captured this variability and was useful in predicting children's educational risk status. Our data are best explained by a model associating behavioral risk and educational status that aligns with prevention-oriented service delivery approaches specifying the needs for universal, selected, and indicated interventions in schools. We discuss our findings relative to the needs for schools to afford timely and efficient use of academic supports and mental health resources in schools serving children placed at risk.


Diversity within American schools is a rich legacy of our commitment to universal public education. Diversity is increasing, owing to both the changing demographic makeup of American schools and to educational policies that have highlighted educators' accountability for the education of all children within regular education settings. A manifestation of this diversity in the everyday world of schools is increased variability in children's academic as well as inter- and intrapersonal behavior in classrooms.

Increased behavioral variation in the classroom creates challenges for schools as they attempt to meet the needs of all students. For example, about 54% of teachers reported teaching diverse or "at-risk" students, but relatively few of the teachers, about 20%, felt they had the skills and competencies needed to work effectively with such students (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Many of these children are served in regular education classrooms for significant portions of their school day. Approaches that help schools identify the broad range of variability in classrooms and that array services in appropriate and timely ways will assist teachers to address adequately heterogeneous student needs.

To date, a model that represents the full range of behavioral variability faced by American school teachers is lacking (Kamphaus, Huberty, DiStefano, & Petoskey 1997; Speece & Cooper, 1990). Currently, special education classification systems are used to describe the behavior of a small proportion of children exhibiting behavior problems in the classroom. These classification systems conceptualize behavior problems as indicators of discrete variables (e.g., hyperactivity) that can be evaluated against criteria to determine disabilities (for example, emotional/behavioral disturbance) or mental health disorders (for example, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]; Bergman & Magnusson, 1997). Thus, children are classified and eligible for services using a dichotomous classification scheme--that is, the child either does or does not have a disorder or disability.

There are several difficulties with this categorical approach to understanding child behavior. First, many children with special needs do not have "enough" of the problem to qualify for services under the existing special education mandates. Many children have subclinical symptoms that require services (Doll & Lyon, 1998; Cantwell, 1996), but may not meet the eligibility requirements needed to access special education. Second, some types of problems are not defined as disabling conditions and therefore are not served under the existing special education guidelines. Third, an educational diagnosis does not necessarily lead to intervention prescriptions. A categorical label such as "emotional disturbance" does not help educators understand the functional behavioral status of the individual child, or point to the types of interventions that may be needed to support that child in school. …

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