How to support students at every level with social-emotional and behavioral data

A core component of building and reinforcing students’ SEB skills is universal screening
By: | September 21, 2021

It’s not just students’ academic skills that lead to their overall success. Social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) skills–students’ positive behaviors, as well as their suppression of more problematic behaviors–are just as essential.

They’re also at the core of many districts’ multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) and Response to Intervention (RtI) frameworks.

A core component of building and reinforcing students’ SEB skills is universal screening. This includes gathering both academic and SEB data about learners in a class, grade, school or district to identify which students are on track, and if extra support is needed.

Given the strong correlation between SEB skills and student success, I believe that every district should be monitoring and using SEB data to plan interventions and provide support at the school-, class- and student-level.

Anatomy of SEB-competent students

We can say a student is exhibiting social-emotional behavior competence when:

  • The student demonstrates skills that enable them to effectively navigate the classroom and other academic environments, as well as get along with peers and adults.
  • The student does not display externalizing (e.g., non-compliant) or internalizing (e.g., depression) behaviors.

In order to measure these skills, districts must be equipped to screen and measure SEB functioning and use the data to make decisions.

How to screen students’ SEB skills

Every district is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for screening SEB competence. However, there are protocols that schools can follow to use screening data to align student supports.

It’s also helpful to have a platform in place that can facilitate universal screening. For example, Illuminate Education’s Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS) provides educators with specific attributes and behaviors they can look for in their students to determine skill level.

An important consideration: While screening can inform type and prevalence of risk, it should not be used to determine individual student services. Universal screening is meant to raise a flag and recognize that something might be going on with a student. It’s not meant to be diagnostic or tell us exactly what we should be doing for intervention.

Here are two more important steps to get SEB screening up and running.

First: Set realistic base rates

Examining base rates is crucial for identifying the percentage of students within a district, school or classroom who are at-risk for certain academic, social and/or emotional behaviors.

Tip: A base rate is the proportion of students within a population that possesses a specific characteristic.

Research shows that examining base rates can lead to a few key benefits, like increasing the accuracy of screening decisions, ensuring the correct student supports are provided and acknowledging the unique behavioral and emotional needs of individual students.

In examining base rates, it is also important to set a serviceable base rate (SBR). This is the proportion of students who a school could reasonably support at advanced tiers using existing resources such as intervention materials, curricula and school psychologists. SBRs can vary by district, but 20% is a common baseline. This percentage will be crucial for screening and evaluating overall progress.

Then: Screen and evaluate

After a district’s SBRs are set and universal screening is conducted, departments and staff can then collaborate to determine what level of support is needed.

For example, if screening results show that a school’s prevalence of risk is greater than their set SBR of 20%, then it might be time to evaluate how well universal supports are working across the school, and if they need to be adjusted.

If there are no issues with screening results at the school level, it’s important that we also examine classroom and individual student results to ensure no learners are being left behind.

Selecting and aligning supports (+ examples)

The results from a universal screening can then be used to align student interventions and other supports. Here are some intervention ideas to provide at the school, classroom and individual student levels.

School-wide SEB interventions:

Classroom-level SEB Interventions

  • For social behavior:
  • For academic behavior:
    • Teach academic enablers to students (e.g., how to manage a calendar, organize materials)
    • Promote instructional practices (e.g., opportunities to learn, pace of instruction)

Student-level Interventions

  • School-based resources (e.g., mental health support, school social worker/counselor)
  • Teaching strategies (e.g., instruction of key social-emotional skills)
  • Antecedent/consequence strategies (e.g., check in/check out to prompt and reinforce appropriate behaviors)
  • Community resources (e.g., referral procedures, information sharing)

Accurately capture the “whole child”

Universal screening for behavioral and emotional risk represents a new process for schools to consider in effectively providing services and supports to at-risk students.

This is more than an assessment, instructional strategy or ed-tech platform—it’s a proven way to monitor progress and ensure every student is on track to achieve future success.

SEB skills must be considered in any district’s integrated approach to student success and are necessary for accurately capturing and supporting the whole child.