The School Counselor and Universal Screening
ASCA PositionUniversal screening provides invaluable data to multidisciplinary teams, including school counselors, as they identify student needs and match them to interventions within a multitiered, multidisciplinary system of supports (MTSS). Universal screening must be carried out in an ethical manner that complies with federal and state laws and school district policies.
The RationaleUniversal screening in schools is defined as a preventive, systematic method for gathering data about the academic, social/emotional, and behavioral well-being and the mental health indicators of a given population (Donohue et al., 2018). As part of a multidisciplinary team, school counselors use data from universal screeners as a tool to proactively identify and address students’ academic, career, and social/emotional needs within an MTSS framework (ASCA, 2021; Goodman-Scott, et al., 2023).
The School Counselor's RoleSchool counselors collaborate with other school leaders to develop and implement an MTSS framework that helps identify and meet students’ academic, career, social/emotional and mental health needs. An integral element of MTSS is examining system wide results of universal screeners to improve the school counseling program, tiered interventions and supports for all students. In addition, school counselors leverage their shared leadership, knowledge, skills, and awareness to respond to students’ individual needs identified through universal screeners (Donohue et al., 2018).
School counselors follow ethical standards, federal and state laws, and district policies regarding the use of universal screeners. The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) requires schools to obtain active consent from parents/guardians when requiring student surveys about eight protected areas, including mental or psychological problems of students or their families, sex behaviors or attitudes, and income (ASCA, 2022; USED, 2022). Questions about these types of information are often included in universal screeners.
Surveys administered by the school or district that are voluntary only require passive consent. “Passive consent” requires parents/guardians to be notified via U.S. mail or email about the survey and given the option of opting their student out of participation in the survey. Needs assessments and universal screeners that gather information by reviewing existing data or input from teachers and other educators do not require consent. According to the U.S. Department of Education, if a student is required to complete a survey and/or the survey is funded by the U.S. Department of Education or other federal agency, active consent is required. “Active consent” means that a parent/guardian must provide written, signed, and dated consent for the student to participate in the screening or survey process (USDE, 2020).
States may extend additional privacy protection beyond federal laws but cannot take away protection given to students and parents under federal law (Stone, 2022). School counselors must make themselves aware of their state statutes to ensure compliance.
School counselors ensure that a universal screener is valid, reliable, culturally sensitive, developmentally appropriate, and has been normed on a similar population (ASCA, 2022). School counselors ensure that any identified concerns are responded to in a timely manner with appropriate support services and community agencies. When necessary, school counselors collaborate with school staff and families to assist students in crisis. During and after the screening process, school counselors work with their multidisciplinary teams to:
- Communicate any identified concerns, results and appropriate resources to parents/guardians in a timely, culturally sensitivity manner.
- Use and allocate appropriate resources to support identified students and improve tiered instruction and supports
- Analyze results to implement classroom lessons about student mental, social/emotional and physical well-being and advocate for changes within the school to promote equitable access to needed resources and the mindsets and behaviors students need to be successful
- Use multiple data points, both quantitative and qualitative whenever possible, to provide students and families with complete and accurate information to promote students’ well-being
- Store results in a confidential, secure manner and purge results appropriately (White and Kelly, 2010; ASCA, 2022)
SummarySchool counselors recognize the benefits and legal/ethical considerations of universal screeners. Through implementation of universal screeners, school counselors gather data in a systematic, proactive manner that can be used to identify students who may benefit from academic and/or social/emotional supports and advocate for systemic practices that help all students succeed.
ReferencesAmerican School Counselor Association. (2021). The school counselor and multitiered systems of support. ASCA position statements. https://www.schoolcounselor.org/Standards-Positions/Position-Statements/ASCA-Position-Statements/The-School-Counselor-and-Multitiered-System-of-Sup
American School Counselor Association. (2022). ASCA ethical standards for school counselors. https://schoolcounselor.org/getmedia/44f30280-ffe8-4b41-9ad8-f15909c3d164/EthicalStandards.pdf
Donohue, P., Goodman-Scott, E., & Betters-Bubon, J. (2018). Using universal screening for early identification of students at risk: A case example from the field. Professional School Counseling, 19(1), 133–143. https://doi.org/10.5330/1096-2409-19.1.133
Goodman-Scott, E., Donohue, P., & Betters-Bubon, J. (2023). A phenomenological investigation of universal mental health screening: Making meaning for school counseling. Professional School Counseling, 27(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2156759X221150008
Stone, C. (2022). School counseling principles: Ethics and law (5th ed.). American School Counselor Association.
U.S. Department of Education. (2020, April). Annual notice to superintendents. https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/sites/default/files/resource_document/file/SuperintendentsAnnualNoticeApril2020_0.pdf
U.S. Department of Education. (2022). What is the protection of pupil rights amendment (PPRA)? https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/faq/what-protection-pupil-rights-amendment-ppra
White, S., & Kelly, F. (2010). The school counselor’s role in school dropout prevention. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(2), 227–235. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00014.x