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Many concepts and portions of the text below have been taken from Ci3T developed by Kathleen Lane and Wendy Oakes; and 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


Within multi-tiered systems of supports (MTSS), educators regularly engage in data-informed decision-making processes to provide students with positive, productive, and safe learning environments. A key feature of tiered supports is accurate identification of students who may need more intensive interventions. Screening data used in conjunction with other school data may help educators meet the needs of students at the right time and with the right amount of support. At the supervisory union or district level, screening data can also be used to make systems-wide decisions about resources needed to address needs across the schools. The challenge is to assure that the right forms of data are linked to appropriate uses and purposes for assessment. A summary of different types of tools and their purposes is provided in the 2019 VTmtss Field Guide

What is Social, Emotional, Behavioral (SEB) Screening?

“SEB screening involves assessment of early signs of psychological problems, as well as the presence of resilience factors and indicators of well-being. Assessing both psychological problems and well-being permits identification of students most in need of intervention because these students are experiencing SEB problems and have limited skills, assets, and supports to effectively manage and cope. Further, assessing for complete mental health affords the opportunity for school teams to not only evaluate student SEB risk, but also SEB skills and assets aligned with universal, Tier 1 programming.” (Retrieved from

Why Screen?

We know that a reciprocal relationship exists between achievement and behavior. Academic performance has consistently been shown to be inversely related to problem behavior that begins early in a child’s development (Brier, 1995; McEvoy & Welker, 2000). Approximately 20% of students struggle with mental health issues. Most students do not access mental health services outside of school. This has left schools to function as a de facto setting for identifying students who may benefit from early intervention. If identification of SEB problems can occur early, schools are well suited to provide early intervention and prevention opportunities before poor outcomes begin to transpire. Supervisory Unions, Districts, and Schools who choose to conduct screening to detect problems early are able to plan positive instructional experiences to help mitigate concerns.

Systematic Screeners for Social, Emotional, Behavioral Risks and Strengths

Systematic screeners, or psychometrically validated instruments, assess: (a) social risk or resilience factors, (b) emotional problems or well-being, and (c) behavioral problems. Systematic screeners can detect and monitor signals that indicate whether a child may be delayed in aspects of social-emotional development, such as communication, autonomy, affect, and interaction with people. They can also detect students with initial signs of internalizing (e.g., extremely shy, anxious, and/or socially withdrawn) and externalizing (e.g., noncompliant, aggressive, and/or defiant) behavior patterns.

Universal screening involves education staff at a minimum, answering questions about specific social, emotional behaviors for all students. This is usually in the form of a checklist or questionnaire that can take educators from 15 minutes to 45 minutes to complete, depending on the screening tool. Through this process, several students may be identified as having a higher than average risk level, and may need a further level of screening to better understand needs.

Which Universal Screener Should We Select? 

In selecting a systematic screening tool, it is beneficial to first consider your school or district specific priorities relative to systematic screening, and what resources are available for investment. This practice brief offers five questions for you to consider as you decide which systematic screening tool to adopt, install, and sustain. These questions are intended to support you to identify your available resources and your screening needs.

How Do We Install a Universal Screener?

After district and school leaders have made an informed decision as to which screening tool to select, the next step is to install the screening tool according to the guidelines specified in the selected screener training or technical manual. Consider these guiding questions for installing a universal behavior screening tool in your school or district centered around five topics: setting up structures, providing professional learning, before your screening window opens, during your screening window, and after your screening window closes.

When to Screen?

All students should be screened by educators three times a year – Fall, Winter and Spring. At least 4-6 weeks into the school year, educators should know students well enough to conduct the first screening. Research shows that screening conducted early in the fall can predict both academic and social outcomes by the end of the school year. Continuing to screen two more times per year will help educators to see whether their students are on track. Screening data, along with other SEL data and academic data, should be reviewed immediately following each screening in the fall, winter, and spring.

How Do We Interpret Screening Data?

Following successful installation of the selected screening tool and completion of screening processes, school-site leaders and educators can review screening data along with other data collected as part of regular school practice to inform instruction. Consider these guiding questions to interpret screening data in a three-step process: examine student performance for the school as a whole, consider teacher-delivered, low-intensity supports, and make decisions for students who might require Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports.

How Do We Communicate with Families/Caregivers about Screening?

Families/caregivers often have questions about screening. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about screening.

Screening Tools

Selected Systematic Screening Tools:

Other Screeners and Surveys

Many educators use less formal tools to assess social/emotional learning, well-being, and mental and behavioral health needs. These types of assessments can help educators adjust how they interact with students and to quickly connect students with supports and interventions, if needed. There are many research-based social emotional learning assessments for students that help students share their feelings and needs and enable educators to respond.

Surveys can be used to elevate the voices and perspectives of students, families, educators, and other adults to provide their perceptions of the extent to which schools are offering SEB supports across the tiers as well as their perceptions of their students’ overall well-being and social, emotional, behavioral risks and strengths. They can also be used to find out the hopes and concerns of stakeholders while communicating the school’s desire to incorporate their perspectives into decision-making. 

Beyond conducting surveys, additional input can be provided by holding focus groups with staff, students, families, and community partners. When reaching out to families and students, use home languages and inclusive strategies for those who have limited access to technology. Also consider alternative ways to reach all families, such as through churches, social service agencies, neighborhood groups, social media, and other community connections.

Types of Surveys and Screeners

School climate surveys typically yield data that are aggregated across groups to indicate a given school’s safety and SEB health as perceived by a variety of stakeholders (student, staff, parents) and can provide another source of important data especially in regard to environmental and contextual factors. A suite of school climate surveys developed for PBIS can be found here.

Feedback and Input Surveys (FIS) are available for students, staff, and families/caregivers to help school teams learn about how these groups are experiencing the school’s behavior support systems and to obtain detailed feedback for increasing the effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and sustainability of those systems. To learn more about these surveys, go here. For access to the online surveys through PBIS APPS, contact Anne Dubie.

Online well-being surveys can provide a vehicle to help students share their feelings and needs to enable educators to respond. One example is Closegap. Through a fun, daily check-in, and a library of self-guided activities, Closegap offers students an opportunity to practice emotional awareness, understanding, and regulation.

Screening for Connections between Adults and Students: Relationship Mapping is a process for adults to complete to make sure that every student is known well by at least one adult. Using this strategy, school staff identify youth who do not currently have positive connections with school adults during a private meeting. Those students are then paired with a supportive adult mentor within the school.

Educator Self-Assessments can provide school leaders and staff with greater awareness of personal and professional challenges that can lead to self-care strategies. This assessment, while developed in response to COVID, may be a useful tool.

Selected Informal Surveys and Screeners: 

Systems Considerations

Several systems processes and procedures need to be in place in order to effectively allocate the resources, supports, and interventions necessary for conducting screening and providing appropriate responses. The most important consideration is that, if you screen, you must have a plan to intervene at all tiers. Other key considerations are included in this Screening Considerations Assessment.



Selecting a Universal Behavior Screening Tool: Questions to Consider. Center on PBIS, University of Oregon. Oakes, W. P., Buckman, M. M., Lane, K., L., & Sherod, R. L. (March, 2021).

Installing a Universal Behavior Screening Tool: Questions to Consider. Center on PBIS, University of Oregon. Oakes, W. P., Lane, K. L., Ma, Z., Sherod, R., & Perez-Clark, P. (December 2021).

Interpreting Universal Behavior Screening Data: Questions to Consider. Center on PBIS, University of Oregon., Z., Sherod, R., Lane, K. L., Buckman, M. M., & Oakes, W. P. (November, 2021).

The Whys and Hows of Screening: Frequently Asked Questions for Families. Center on PBIS, University of Oregon – Schonour, S, D., Lane, K. L., Oakes, W. P., Sherod, R. L. & Buckman, M. M. (November 2021).

Best Practices in Universal Screening for Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes: Implementation Guide (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 

Universal Screening – Systematic Screening to Shape Instruction: Lessons Learned & Practicalities – Kathleen Lynne Lane, Mark Matthew Buckman & Rebecca Sherod, University of Kansas; Lisa Powers, University of Missouri; Wendy Peia Oakes, Arizona State University; Katie Scarlett Lane, Vanderbilt University 

Tips for Communicating with your Community about Systematic Screening: What does your District and School Leadership Team Need to Know?  Rebecca Sherod, University of Kansas, Wendy Peia Oakes, Arizona State University, Katie Scarlett Lane, Vanderbilt University, and Kathleen Lynne Lane, University of Kansas – 

Vermont Agency of Education 2019 VTmtss Field Guide (page 43)

Systematic Screening Tools at

Systematic Screenings of Behavior to Support Instruction: From Preschool to High School – Kathleen Lynne Lane, Systematic Screening for Behavior in Current K-12 Instructional Settings – Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports –


VTPBIS Training Resources

Understanding Universal Screening for Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Risks and Strengths and Key Considerations for Returning to School Webinar: August 10, 2021

Universal Screening Webinar – Dec. 2020

Understanding Universal Screening for Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Risks and Strengths and Key Considerations for COVID-19 – August 2020

Universal Screening Webinar – Nov. 2019

Universal Screening Webinar – Dec. 2018