available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can be used for early screening, intervention, and prevention to reduce referrals to special education and related services. In a 2002 report on minority and gifted students in special education, the National Research Council recommended that states adopt a universal screening and multitiered intervention strategy in addressing the needs of these school populations, in part to provide services before special education services are needed (see National Research Council, 2002). Finally, the U.S. Public Health Service (2000) recommended that early indicators of mental health problems be identified in existing preschool, child care, education, health, welfare, juvenile justice, and substance abuse treatment systems.
School-based screening also has its opponents. Among the objections raised are (1) teachers’ concern that their discretion will be reduced (Elliott, Huai, and Roach, 2007); (2) the extra work involved (Levitt, Saka, et al., 2007); (3) potential stigmatization of students who are identified (Levitt, Saka, et al., 2007); (4) questions about the validity of discrepant rates of disorders related to gender, race/ethnicity, and economic status (Barbarin, 2007); and (5) related parental concerns about labeling and consent.
Thus, universal screening procedures, especially those involving multiple stages, must be brief, technically adequate, valid across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and produce valued outcomes in order to be acceptable in educational environments. Moreover, they should be accompanied by appropriate safeguards to address and obviate concerns. For example, parents should be contacted in advance whenever such screening initiatives are being planned and provided with transparent and detailed information about their purpose and methods and how results will be used. The wishes of parents who object to their child’s inclusion in such efforts should be respected. The goals and design of these initiatives should be targeted to relatively narrow and specific purposes, for example, (1) improving school success for struggling students, (2) preventing bullying and student harassment, (3) improving teacher and peer relationships, (4) increasing school safety and security, or (5) learning to regulate and control behavior.
The ultimate justification for school-based screening is that it can contribute to preventing the development of psychological and behavioral problems, which interfere with school performance. There is evidence that screening can identify young people who are at risk for the development of these problems.
For example the Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (SSBD) program is a validated, universal screening system to identify school-related externalizing or internalizing behavior problems for students of elementary school age (Walker and Severson, 1990). It consists of three integrated screening stages: teacher nominations of students with internalizing and externalizing problems, teacher ratings of the three highest children on each