Through the continued implementation of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework, the F.E.S. Leadership Team decided this past fall to begin doing some universal school-wide screening for social/emotional/behavioral difficulties. PBIS-Vermont recommends doing this type of screening a couple of times a year in order to ensure that all students in the school have been screened for possible social/emotional/behavioral challenges. The main reasons for doing this kind of screening are similar to those for doing other types of screening such as those for vision, hearing, math or literacy problems. Universal screeners are helpful for identifying concerns early and for revealing issues that might otherwise stay off of our radar. This second reason is particularly pertinent for students whose behavior difficulties are not disruptive, and therefore not obvious within the classroom.


The universal screening that we used is called the Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (SSBD). I first learned about this screener at a workshop led by PBIS-Vermont several years ago. Because it is very simple to use and is free, it was a great first choice for us as we test out doing this type of screening. Additionally, it helps us screen for behaviors that are on both the “externalizing” and “internalizing” dimensions. Externalizing behaviors are the problem behaviors that are most easily noticed in a classroom setting (aggression, hyperactivity, defiance, etc.). However, internalizing behaviors can much more easily be overlooked (withdrawal, unresponsiveness, fearfulness, etc.). By recognizing these internalizing behaviors early, we would more likely be able to provide interventions that could prevent more serious behaviors, such as those related to the diagnoses of depression and anxiety.

The SSBD is a very simple process of rank ordering students in each class by how closely their behaviors match a description/list of internalizing behaviors and a description/list of externalizing behaviors. In November, all teachers in the school were given a class list of either their current class or a class that they know well (for non-classroom teachers). They were first asked to study the descriptors listed on the SSBD. Then, they confidentially chose the ten students in each class who most closely matched the descriptors for each. Lastly, they rank ordered those students beginning with the closest matches. They did this for both internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Teachers were then able to compare their rankings with those of other teachers who reviewed the same class.

Later, each of these rankings was reviewed during grade level team meetings. We looked at the top three or four students for each class and each type of behavior in order to examine why they were ranked in those positions. We looked for any students that were not already receiving any type of social/emotional/behavioral supports or interventions. Through these discussions, we were able to note students that might need further review or increased assistance in these areas. Although most of the students at the top of the externalizing lists were not surprising, our screening did reveal some students that might need support for internalizing behaviors as well, or students that might need to begin receiving interventions for internalizing behaviors. As teams, we then planned out the next steps for each of these students.

As we move forward with universal screening, the Fletcher Leadership Team will be reviewing how well this process worked. We can then determine if there are any changes, additional steps or other screeners that we would like to use. Additionally, PBIS Vermont provides a webinar on universal screening that I would like to attend the next time that it is available in order to learn about other options and their latest recommendations for this process. In the meantime, it is great to know that we have reviewed ALL of our students, becoming even more proactive in meeting the social and emotional needs of each one.

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Indicator of Success – Flexible learning environments are the context for  collaboration and extend beyond the classroom.

Action Step – Increase access to resources for all students.




Sandi Simmons is a School Counselor at Fletcher Elementary. 

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