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Social, Emotional, Behavioral Screening

Definition and Purpose

Universal screening is a process of systematically assessing all students on academic, social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health indicators and responding to the data. Multiple sources of information are included within a screening process, with multiple decision points along the way. Socially-acceptable and psychometrically-sound tools fit within a universal screening process. Yet, a systematic universal screening process is not synonymous with a single assessment tool (Romer et al., 2020).

Educators have a responsibility to check on the well-being of students and respond in ways that are supportive. Universal screening is part of a comprehensive assessment system, embedded within an MTSS framework.

The purpose of screening is to prompt changes in adult behaviors and mindsets that will support positive outcomes for all learners. A screening process that aims to primarily sort, stratify, and diagnose students will not achieve the desired outcome of improved academic, social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health for all learners.

Screening Process Resources

These two resources, combined, provide an overview of social, emotional, behavioral screening, and important considerations for centering equity within a screening process.

Romer, N., von der Embse, N., Eklund, K., Kilgus, S., Perales, K., Splett, J. W., Sudlo, S., Wheeler, D., (2020). Best Practices in Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Screening: An Implementation Guide. Version 2.0. Retrieved from

  • This guide provides foundational concepts, research, and considerations for universal screening. The conclusion on page 20 outlines areas for future inquiry and guidance, including a recognized need to better promote equity and methods for actively engaging families and students as partners in the screening process.

MiMTSS Technical Assistance Center (2021). Reframing a Screening Process to Promote Safe and Inclusive Learning Environments that Support Each and Every Learner. Retrieved December 10, 2021 from

  • This guidance redirects the focus of improvements first toward equity and learning conditions, rather than “fixing” deficits within students. A universal screening process continues to be an important part of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework to support the whole child. Of equal importance to a screening process is ensuring the MTSS framework results in a positive, safe, equitable, and inclusive environment. A more equity-oriented screening process is crucial to help families and schools address the reported increase in students coping with anxiety and depression. This document lays a foundation for future guidance that will include more details on how to implement these recommendations per stage of implementation, along with examples and tools that are informed by testing the process with districts.

Screening Tools

The websites below offer information about screening tools. As districts explore a possible screening tool to use, they might consider tools with the following features:

  • The tool’s items prompt reflection on a combination of student strengths and assets, as well as areas for growth.
  • The tool includes multiple forms for different raters (student, teacher, parent/family member/caregiver).
  • Research has demonstrated the tool’s technical adequacy (validity, reliability, and possible bias in ratings) and social validity (users find the tool to be helpful and practical).

Systematic Screening Tools: Universal Behavior Screeners. (2019). The Center on PBIS. Retrieved December 10th, 2021, from

  • This document provides a compilation of various screener tools used to assess behavior, social, and/or academic risk. Information includes tool name, publisher, overview/summary, rater, and pricing estimate.

National Center on Intensive Intervention. (n.d.) Behavior Screening Tools Chart.

  • Children with severe needs related to behavior and/or social or emotional skills may benefit from intensive intervention. Universal screening may be used to identify children who require behavior intervention, including intensive intervention. The behavior screening tools chart provides ratings of a screener's ability to identify students who may need more intensive support. The chart only includes tools for which evidence has been submitted and reviewed. It does not reflect all tools in the fields or all "high-quality" or "validated" tools—inclusion on the chart does not indicate approval or endorsement.

Additional Considerations

Making the decision about whether to use a universal social, emotional, behavioral screening process must be done with intention. Districts will need to weigh these considerations with stakeholders/partners representing multiple and diverse perspectives. This may require deep professional learning focused on systemic and individual contributions toward centering equity a systematic screening process:

  • Ensure a robust process is established that goes beyond merely collecting data. Support all stakeholders to act on accurately collected data in ways to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of social, emotional, behavioral supports.
  • Ensure screening results in positive changes to students’ educational experience. Avoid instances where screening results in limiting any student’s opportunities to access and meaningfully participate in instruction and extra-curricular activities.

TA Center Updates from the August 2021 MTSS Conference:

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