What are The Tools for Evaluating Emotional and Behavioral Concerns?
There are several types of instruments available to assist in evaluating the degree to which children may be suffering from attention problems, emotional difficulties, or behavioral difficulties. In addition to observing children either in the classroom or on the playground (which we will explain in a minute), the psychologist may also want to interview teachers and parents to determine whether concerns are consistent across situations. Interviews can be either informal or very structured.
Behavior Rating Scales
Often, psychologists will ask teachers and parents to complete behavior rating scales. Individuals completing the scale are asked to rate the degree to which each item is true for the child. The rating scale will provide statements about a number of different potential problem areas, such as those shown in the example rating scale in Table 9.1. Based on the responses, profiles are generated that indicate how the child was rated relative to similar-aged peers who do not experience the same problems.
Jason's parent and teacher both completed a standard rating scale that evaluates problems in a number of areas. The resulting profiles are available in Figure 9.1. As we can see, Jason's teacher rated his anxious and attention behaviors higher than Jason's mother did, although both placed these two areas within the at-risk to clinically significant range.
T-Scores and Behavior Rating Scales
We spent a lot of time discussing the use of standard scores in the comparison of scores for IQ, achievement, and information processing. Now we are going to introduce a different type of scale. When we are using rating scales, the scores are represented by T-scores, which have an average score of 50 and a standard deviation of 10. You can see how the T-scores compare with the standard scores in Figure 9.2. Scores on this scale that are one standard deviation below or above the mean would range from 40 to 60. Once we start to go above this level, behaviors are becoming more atypical and have more serious consequences. A T-scores of 60 places the functioning at the 90th percentile (only 10 percent of the population score at this level); a T-score of 65 represents functioning at the 95th percentile, which is in the top 5 percent of the population; and a T-score of 70 is at the 98th percentile (top 2 percent of the population).
Some of the more common broad behavior rating scales are listed below:
- Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)
- Teacher's Report Form (TRF)
- Youth Self-Report Form (YSR)
- Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2) (parent and teacher forms)
- Conners Third Edition (Conners 3) (parent, teacher, and student forms)
- Devereux Behavior Rating Scale–School Form (parent and teacher forms)
Parents may be surprised at the number and range of questions sampled by these rating scales. The CBCL, TRF, and the BASC-2, for example, include more than one hundred questions. The reason there are so many questions is that the scales evaluate behaviors across several different domains (depression, anxiety, attention, acting out, and so on), and several questions are required to provide an adequate picture of whether the child is experiencing significant problems in any given area. However, completing the questionnaire can be quick, because respondents are required only to indicate the degree to which a behavior occurs (never, sometimes, often, and so forth).
A Very Important Distinction
Whereas higher scores on tests of achievement and IQ represent higher functioning, higher T-scores represent higher ratings for problems, such as problems with emotion, behavior, or attention, and therefore represent higher scores for dysfunction.
Do Parents and Teachers Agree or Disagree in Their Ratings?
As might be expected, differences between raters are common. Not only do parents and teachers often differ in their ratings of a child, differences also exist between different teachers (different classes) and between different parents (mother and father). However, it is important to collect as much information as possible to obtain a better understanding of where the behaviors are taking place in order to develop the most appropriate plan for assisting the child. A child may have few problems in a math class because he excels in this area, but he may exhibit more inappropriate behaviors in an intensive reading class because he is a poor reader and is lost in the program. Or a child may have few problems in the morning classes, but get progressively worse as the day wears on and the child's frustration mounts. A child may not experience any problems at home because the focus is less structured and the child can relax. The child may also experience many problems at home because he is able to vent his frustration in this setting and not at school.