Behavioral Adjustment: Universal Assessment and Multiple Gating
There is a growing body of evidence that systematic teacher ratings of student behavior in the early grades is highly predictive of both short-term and long-term emotional adjustment (e.g., Kellam et al., 1998a). One instrument for such a systematic assessment is the Teacher Observation of Child Adjustment (TOCA). It is a relatively short and structured interview that can be conducted by a school psychologist or counselor, which systematically assesses a child’s adjustment in the classroom, particularly issues around aggressiveness/disruptiveness and shyness/ social isolation. Assessment of all children in a typical classroom can be conducted in under two hours, including time for a short discussion of teacher concerns about individual children. Teachers typically see the process as worthwhile, particularly if they are provided time within the school day to complete the process.
The TOCA yields quantitative scores and can be used to identify children with the most serious adjustment problems. Kellam et al. (1998a) found that 1st grade children in the top 15 percent in rated adjustment problems were at very high risk of serious discipline problems in middle school. One could use such a cutoff point to trigger a teacher consultation with the school psychologist and more intensive assessment to decide whether or not to institute an evidence-based, individualized program in the classroom (e.g., First Steps to Success; Walker et al., 1998).
This two-step assessment process—a universal assessment systematically triggering a more intensive assessment—is an example of “multiple gating.” If the teacher and students were really struggling and reported average scores in a classroom were much higher than in other classes in a given school, then an effective classroom-wide intervention (e.g., Webster-Stratton et al., 2001) might be considered to help the teacher more effectively deal with behavior and classroom management issues.
Direct observational tools that school psychologists, counselors, or teachers could use, given appropriate preservice or inservice training, can be tailored to assess behavioral dimensions, to further define and specify the targets and measure the effects of individualized interventions (see Walker et al., 1995; Horner, 1994). Both rating and direct observational procedures and associated interventions are available to conduct analogous assessments in key noninstructional settings that are less well structured and supervised than classrooms and in which student-to-student aggression