Academic journal article Education

A Comparison of Teacher Perceptions and Research-Based Categories of Student Behavior Difficulties

Academic journal article Education

A Comparison of Teacher Perceptions and Research-Based Categories of Student Behavior Difficulties

Article excerpt

Educators support and teach students with a variety of emotional and behavioral needs, including those who have challenging behaviors such as aggression, defiance, and delinquency (e.g., Kaufman et al., 2010). Estimates of the prevalence of emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) have ranged from 3.5% to 32.3% (e.g., King, Iacono, & McGue, 2004; Levitt et al., 2007; Merikangas, 2010; Merrell & Walters, 1998; Walker, Cheney, Stage, Blum, & Homer, 2005; Walker & Severson, 1992). In 2005, just 2.0% of students ages 6-11 and 4.6% of those ages 12-17 were classified and served under the category of emotional disturbance (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). These data suggest that a large number of students could benefit from additional support but are currently unidentified. It also makes an observer question whether students classified with emotional disturbance are being identified in a timely manner in order to increase their chances of academic success.

Despite efforts of educators, students identified with EBD are less likely to find success in academic settings than their non-identified peers (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). For example, the graduation rate (with a regular diploma) of students classified under emotional disturbance, although increasing, was lower than that of students in any other disability category for nine of ten years measured (rates ranged from 25.1% to 40.1%). And the dropout rate, although decreasing, still ranged from 48.2 to 69.9% of students aged 14 and older (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Other researchers have reported that high school students served under the emotional disturbance category scored two standard deviations below the mean in academic competence, as well as one standard deviation below the mean in school adjustment and social skills (Lane, Carter, Pierson, & Glaeser, 2006). These lower rates of academic completion and competence may seriously affect the ability of these students to function in society once they leave school.

These findings suggest that educators must invest in supporting students' academic and behavioral success early on. Indeed, preventive initiatives are essential in remediating EBD problems that interfere with students' school functioning (Kauffman, 1999). Prevention efforts are more likely when a student is identified as at risk for EBD.

Considering that teachers typically spend more time with their students than any other adult at the school, they are in an ideal position to identify students who are at risk for EBD in order to facilitate prevention efforts. Severson and Walker (2002) assert that teachers are an "underutilized resource with the potential to assist appropriately in the evaluation and referral of at-risk students for specialized services" (p. 36). Indeed, many screening instruments and assessments use teachers' perceptions (e.g., the Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders, Walker & Severson, 1992; Behavior Assessment System for Children 2, Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). Even with the availability of screening and assessments, prevention efforts depend on how assessment results are linked with the reality perceived by the classroom teacher. Researchers or school-based mental health specialists (e.g., school psychologists) often consult with teachers in creating the assessment-to-intervention link.

Researchers, mental health specialists, and teachers can become effective partners in identifying students who need intervention, thus enabling positive changes in the classroom. These changes must focus on the reality of the classroom, not just on scores from an assessment. Consistent with this perspective, teachers have been found to prefer screening instruments that are generic and cost efficient, solve high-priority problems, do not take too much effort, and apply to the mission of schooling (Severson et al., 2007). The need to solve significant, school-oriented problems in an efficient way opens the door to a number of unanswered questions: Do teachers see screening and assessments of EBD as helping to solve real problems in the classroom? …

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