Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Using Universal Screening for Early Identification of Students at Risk: A Case Example from the Field

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Using Universal Screening for Early Identification of Students at Risk: A Case Example from the Field

Article excerpt

Between 1980 and 2012, there were 137 shootings in K-12 schools in America, resulting in 297 deaths (Klein, 2012). In the wake of a school shooting, the entire school community is left asking questions. What could we have done to prevent this? How will we regain normalcy? How can we assure students and parents that our school is a safe place to learn? The dialogue about school violence prevention was made even more urgent by the events of December 14, 2012, when 20 first-grade children and six educators were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (Office of the Child Advocate [OCA], 2014). In an effort to learn from this tragedy and provide professional recommendations, the Connecticut OCA developed a detailed report of the shooter's history from birth through age 20, his age at the time of the shooting (OCA, 2014). While authors of this report held him solely responsible for this tragedy, they acknowledged "the role that weaknesses and lapses in the educational and healthcare systems' response and untreated mental illness played in [the shooter's] deterioration" (OCA, 2014, p. 8). Furthermore, this report suggested flawed support from and coordination between the shooter's family and his education and healthcare providers.

As a result of their investigation, the OCA provided several recommendations to inform educational practices, the first of which was universal screening (US) of youths' behavior and development (OCA, 2014). Universal screening is the preventative, systematic, and standardized process of assessing every student for predetermined criteria (e.g., social-emotional or behavioral functioning), with the aim of providing early identification and intervention to identified students (Albers & Kettler, 2014). Schools can be an integral aspect of the US process, connecting school, home, and mental health professionals to identify students with elevated needs and provide integrated supports (OCA, 2014). Schools universally assess students' academic performance, including grade-level benchmarks; in a similar vein, schools can screen for student behaviors and social-emotional functioning (Lane, Menzies, Oakes, & Kalberg, 2012).

US can be used within multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), such as School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Response to Intervention (RTI), to identify students needing additional social-emotional and mental health support (Albers & Kettler, 2014; Burke et al., 2012; Cowan, Vaillancourt, Rossen, & Pollitt, 2013; Hawken, Vincent, & Schumann, 2008; Lane et al., 2012; Walker, Cheney, Stage, & Blum, 2005). Further, providing MTSS is consistent with a comprehensive school counseling program such as the ASCA National Model (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2014; Goodman-Scott, Betters-Bubon, & Donohue, 2016).

Although ample material on US has been published in education and school psychology literature (Albers, Glover, & Kratochwill, 2007), there remains limited pertinent information in the school counseling literature. In this article, the authors provide an action research-framed case example of one school district as its staff identified and implemented US over multiple years. The authors then discuss implications for practicing school counselors.


Students' unmet mental health needs are a substantial concern. Each year, 14-20% of youth are diagnosed with mental, emotional, or behavioral mental health disorders (National Academy of Sciences, 2009), which often manifest as internalizing or externalizing behaviors (Forns, Abad, & Kirchner, 2014; Lane et al., 2012; Walker et al., 2005). Despite the prevalence of mental health disorders in youth, only 45% of youth with a mental health diagnosis receive treatment, and only 24% of those individuals receive care in the school system (Costello, He, Sampson, Kessler, & Merikangas, 2014). …

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