Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Development and Validation of a Teacher Report Measure for Assessing Social-Emotional Strengths of Children and Adolescents

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Development and Validation of a Teacher Report Measure for Assessing Social-Emotional Strengths of Children and Adolescents

Article excerpt

The area of social and emotional assessment has a rich past and it has evidenced some notable advances in recent decades. In comparison to what was available only a generation ago, today's school psychologists and other school-based practitioners have at their disposal an impressive variety of psychometrically sound and user-friendly assessment tools. In addition to an expanded variety and increased quality of assessment tools, other notable developments in this area include refinement of school-based universal mental health screening procedures (e.g., Kamphaus, DiStefano, Dowdy, Eklund, & Dunn, 2010); development of brief behavior rating scales with strong psychometric properties that appear to be promising in monitoring intervention progress (e.g., Gresham et al., 2010; Volpe & Gadow, 2010); and the development of technology for conducting direct behavior ratings of student behavior, including social-emotional behavior (e.g., Briesch, Chafouleas, & Riley-Tillman, 2010).

Another important recent advance in social-emotional assessment is the nascent movement toward increased emphasis on assessing student's strengths, assets, and other positive characteristics. Epstein and Sharma (1998) defined this approach as strength-based assessment. Their definition of strength-based assessment has proven to be the most influential delineation of this burgeoning approach to psychological and educational measurement: "Strength-based assessment is defined as measurement of those emotional and behavioral competencies, skills, and characteristics that

create a sense of personal accomplishment; contribute to satisfying relationships with family members, peers, and adults; enhance one's ability to deal with adversity and stress; and promote ones' personal and academic development" (p. 3).

Despite the expanding influence of strength-based assessment and positive psychology on school psychology, traditional disorder-driven approaches continue to dominate social-emotional assessment practices (Merrell, 2008). As a result, the potential useful addition of a focus on children's assets, resilience, strengths, and other positive attributes is not yet standard practice (Jimerson, Sharkey, Nyborg, & Furlong, 2004; Simon, Murphy, & Smith, 2005). The disorder-driven emphasis in assessment is to some extent understandable, given that our most influential classification systems--including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition, text revision; American Psychiatric Association, 2000)--are primarily based on the taxonomy of pathology. We also recognize that a large number of children and adolescents do experience and exhibit deficits and disorders in social-emotional functioning, and that these students need to be properly assessed and served. That said, we also contend that an exclusive emphasis on pathology in our social-emotional assessment practices limits practitioners and researchers in their efforts to best serve children, adolescents, and their schools and families.

Although it is still unclear as to whether the combination of strength-based assessment and traditional deficit-focused assessment will lead to better eventual outcomes than the use of deficit-focused assessment alone, there is some promising empirical evidence to support a combined approach (e.g., Cox, 2006; Suldo & Shaffer, 2008). In our view, assessment tools designed to identify competencies or strengths may possess a naturally intuitive link to intervention planning with respect to identifying areas of strength on which to build. There are also some practical reasons why strength-based assessment is appealing, including the ease with which assessment items and results may be restated into positive intervention goals, the assessment's less stigmatizing nature, and its strong social validity with parents and teachers.

The recent advancement of the positive psychology movement, as well as the establishment of social-emotional learning as a critical educational endeavor (Merrell & Gueldner, 2010), have both helped to fuel support for strength-based social and emotional assessment of children and adolescents. …

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