Using Strength-Based Assessment in Transition Plunning
Epstein, Michael H., Rudolph, Susan, Epstein, Alice A., Teaching Exceptional Children
Deficits, problems, and pathologies! Deficits, problems, and pathologies! When children and youth are referred for specialized services, professionals typically label and describe them in terms of the deficits, problems, and pathologies they present. In special education, mental health, and other social service disciplines, deficit-oriented terms, such as "conduct disordered" are often used to describe children. Numerous instruments exist to assess the emotional and behavioral disorders of children. The most widely used instruments include the Children Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991), Behavior Rating Profile (Brown & Hammill, 1990), and Behavior Problem Checklist (Quay & Peterson, 1987). Many of these instruments, however, do not inform us about a child's strengths, competencies, preferences, resources, and supports.
Education and social service plans that are based on the deficits, problems, or pathologies of children direct the attention of professionals to only one view of the child. Specifically, they tell us what a child does poorly. As Kral (1989) stated,
If we ask people to look for deficits, they will usually find them, and their view of the situation will be colored by this. If we ask people to look for successes, they will usually find it, and their view of the situation will be colored by this. (p. 32)
Strength-based assessment directs the professional to identify and build on the existing strengths and skills that the child and family present.
The Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 mandated the use of strength-based assessment in describing individualized education programs (IEPs). It was stated that in developing each child's IEP, the IEP team shall consider "The strengths of the child and the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child" (34 CFR 300.346). Thus, an IEP process built on strengths would change the team's attitude from seeing a child as deficient to viewing the student as possessing strengths and resources. Such a planning process would list an inventory of the child's strengths, determine the critical needs of the child across all life domains, identify the child's and parent's goals, and select the supports and services that build upon the child's entering strengths.
Recently, strength-based assessment has garnered considerable support in special education, mental health, family services, and other social services (e.g., Dunst, Trivette, & Deal, 1994; Nelson & Pearson, 1991). It has been defined as "the measurement of those emotional and behavioral skills, competencies, 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 one's personal, social, and academic development" (Epstein & Sharma, 1998, p. 3). Strength-based assessment is based on a set of core beliefs: 1. All children have strengths.
2. A child's motivation is enhanced when the adults around him or her point out their strengths.
3. A child's failure to acquire a skill does not mean a deficit; instead, it indicates that a child has not been afforded the experiences and instruction to master the skill.
4. The goals, objectives, and services included in IEPs and family service plans need to be based on the strengths and resources of the child and family.
Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale
Given the increasing acceptability of a strength-based approach, the mandates of IDEA, and the need to develop standardized procedures to assessing strengths, the Behavioral and Emotional
Rating Scale (BERS; Epstein & Sharma, 1998) was designed to measure the emotional and behavioral strengths of children and adolescents. The 52 items in the BERS assess five areas of a student's strength: Interpersonal Strength, Family Involvement, Intrapersonal Strength, School Functioning, and Affective Strength. …