Using an Emotional Behavioral Universal Screener

Several years ago, school districts across the country adopted Response to Intervention (RTI) protocols for academics. Now schools are working to develop RTI-B; a systematic tiered approach to student behavior problems. One component of this that many schools are incorporating is a universal screener (just like is used with academics!) for emotional/behavioral concerns.

universal screener headline image

I was at one of 15ish schools in my district that piloted the use of the Student Risk Screener Survey for Internalizing and Externalizing behaviors, better known as the SRSS-IE. It has been validated over numerous studies – you can find some of the articles mentioned on this site about tiered intervention models. A google search will give you loads of information about the SRSS-IE, including the actual measure itself. This post serves to give a brief rundown and to share my experience using it as a school counselor.

The SRSS-IE looks at the following specific behaviors:

  • Steal
  • Lie, cheat, sneak
  • Behavior problem
  • Peer rejection
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Emotionally flat
  • Shy, withdrawn
  • Sad, depressed
  • Anxious
  • Lonely

How does a universal screener work?

Teachers rate each student on how frequently they display these behaviors on a likert-type scale of never, occasionally, sometimes, or frequently. Each teachers has one spreadsheet for their homeroom that scores are entered into, which takes about 20-30 minutes per class.

Counselors (and other faculty in charge of RTI-B) gathered together in August to be trained in the screener. Just like our academic universal screener, we ‘administer’ it three times a year (early September, mid December or mid January, and mid May). The first time we did it, I met with each grade level team to explain it’s purpose and how to complete it. I was surprised to get some push back from a couple teachers that were really worried about scoring their students in this way, and concerned about kiddos being labeled. A couple remained hesitant even in our second administration, but still completed it (because I was a little insistent and I believe they trusted me to use the data appropriately).

The second school that I rolled this out with, I created some super quick slides to explain some things to teachers. Click the image below if they’d be helpful to you – free download from Dropbox! (Just make sure to download and open in PowerPoint – it’ll look a little wonky in Dropbox)

Per our training, I was not able to provide definitions or clarification about the constructs on the screener. That was really hard for all of us, but our trainers promised it was validated without providing operational definitions so I kept my lips zipped and asked my teachers to just score however their brains worked.

universal screener spreadsheet

When they finished, teachers emailed me their spreadsheets and I compiled the data into a mega spreadsheet for each grade level (and then later for the whole school). These spreadsheets also had some fancy data analysis bits worked in and provided me with an RTI triangle breaking down the percentage of students in each risk tier (for externalizing and internalizing separately) as well as a list of students from highest to lowest scores. (Don’t be fooled by the example below – it’s just an example, not my school! I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the y-axis, but I prefer a 0-100% view instead of zoomed in on the 85-100% range.)

Student Risk Screening Scale Graph

What did I do with the data?

I personally wanted the data primarily to help guide small group counseling referrals. It was easy for me to see a list of students that needed extra support with internalizing emotions and a list of students that needed extra support with their behavior. These names were a great start to developing group rosters. It also gave me data to make informed decisions about which students to prioritize for our Check In Check Out intervention. And seeing the risk level breakdown for each grade level helped me see which teaching teams needed more support with tier 1 supports (like PBIS, morning meetings, and counseling lessons).

While small group counseling and CICO are the primary tiered interventions put into place, I continue to learn more and more about reasons students misbehave and how we can help them. This behavior intervention guide is a great starting place if you’re discussing specific students or just want to learn more about consulting with teachers around behavior intervention.

The Highs

  • It’s free!
  • It’s fast! This is huge for me because my teachers are always stressed with mega tight schedules.
  • Working with the data is pretty simple and user-friendly.
  • Having a data-based starting point for developing social/emotional/behavioral interventions is AWESOME.
  • Some of my internalizing students that would have otherwise gone under the radar were flagged for support.

The Lows

  • It gives risk level, it does not provide information about lagging skills to be taught or what type(s) of intervention would be the best fit.
  • Some of the items on the measure seem to overly identify ELL students, such as “low academic achievement” (thankfully, most of my teachers answered this for them in comparison to ELL peers) and “shy, withdrawn.”
  • It can easily miss students who need social skills support. I often have kiddos that don’t break rules or appear anxious/depressed but still need help developing more positive peer relationships.

There are other social/emotional/behavioral screeners, such as SAEBRS, the SDQ, the BASC, and DESSA. From what I’ve seen, they provide significantly more information about students that would help in intervention planning. That said, they are not all free and they all take significantly more time (the DESSA-mini being the next shortest). My district only supports us using the SRSS-IE so I’m sticking with that, but I hope I’ll have the opportunity to try out another one in the future. If you’re using an emotional/behavioral universal screener, I would love to hear about your experiences!

13 Responses

  1. Hello, Sara,

    Thank you for this information. I have been attempting to research this further, but I am not sure I am accessing the free tool. Would you be able to share the link you use for the SRSS-IE? Thank you.

  2. This was great information! Thank you! This was my first year as a SSW. My district uses DESSA and they brought me on to get it going and really help target the students identified and their needs. I think it’s great! The lessons aren’t the best but I really like the 8 competencies it targets and I felt like it identified students in need. Appropriately (for the most part per the teachers feedback). I am sure if I move districts I will switch to this! So thank you for sharing!

  3. Hi Sara:
    Nice overview of the screening process. I happen to be the co-author of the BIMAS-2 (Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System-2) which can be used for universal screening and progress monitoring across all MTSS/SEL tiers of instruction and assessment.
    Once you complete the screening the BIMAS-2 offers you a dual view of student(s)’ behaviors, the standard approach is organized in the Behavior Concenrs areas (Conduct, Negative Affect, Attention/cognition) and adaptive skill areas (Social skills, academics). Then with a click of a button you can get the BIMAS-2 SEL scales which represent the 5 CASEL SEL scales.

    I will be glad to offer you (or any of our colleagues) a free trial of the BIMAS-2 for the remaining of the school year (till June 2021). Visit our website to review the technical manual of our first edition so you can see the rigor we put in in creating this instrument. http://www.webacademy.us/
    you can email me directly at help@edumetrisis.com OR achilles.bardos@unco.edu you can request the free trial through the CONTACT US page at http://www.edumetrisis.com AND please make sure you mention this posting for the offer.
    Have a nice, safe Thanksgiving

  4. Great article. Question- Did you send home a screening alert letter to any student who scored in the high range? If so, would you mind sharing that template?

    1. Hi! No, we did not. However, we did begin sending home letters with any student that was going to receive a tier 2 or 3 intervention. We actually used the same letter the district created for academic intervention and just tweaked it some.


      1. Hi Sara,
        Would you mind sharing the tweaked tier 2/3 intervention letter? I would love to see the wording your district uses. Thank you

        1. Hello! I am sorry, I don’t. It was something on my work computer that I don’t have anymore. I remember it was very short and was almost identical to the one we used for academic intervention. There were I believe two blank lines – one for filling in which tier and one for (very very briefly) writing in the intervention.


          1. Hi Sarah. Do you have a post on what interventions were implemented for each of the items in the screener? Thanks!

          2. Hi Stephanie,

            The screener does not provide any information as to what interventions should be conducted other than if they are at-risk for internalizing vs. externalizing. As I mentioned in the post, Check In/Check Out is a common intervention we use (https://theresponsivecounselor.com/2018/12/check-in-check-out-school-counseling-behavior-intervention.html) and small group counseling is also a main intervention.

            I usually collect more information from teachers (formally with a survey or informally through just a chat) after students have been identified as at-risk in order to determine what the best intervention would be.

            The SRSS-IE is different than some other screeners because ALL it tells you is risk level. It doesn’t say “these are the issues” or “these are the skills they need help with.”


    1. Hi! I’m sorry, I don’t. It was created by someone within my district so I don’t have the right to share it, and it was on a school computer I don’t have anymore. I do think that there are some out there for free online, though.


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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
I get to serve in a different way now
– by helping fellow counselors and

I value quality over quantity,
effective practices and resources,
and meeting the unique needs of all
our diverse learners.


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