Telling A SSW Data Story: Making Prevention Matter in Elementary Schools
Universal screeners can be a powerful tool for school social workers and educators.
Being able to identify the needs of a school community requires data. Focusing on particular grade levels and their social-emotional needs can lead to a more targeted approach to assist us in understanding what students need to learn. Parents benefit from knowing that the school is fully aware of concerns and are proactively educating students in direct skill-based lessons. School social workers can be a conduit to all stakeholders, offering to consult on options for programming and classroom instruction. The following is an example of how data can be used from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to guide instruction and classroom intervention, and that led over time to a highly successful outcome and a significant decrease in problematic behavior at this school.
The Practice Setting
The school is an elementary school in the Chicago suburbs. While the school population is small, the student population is rich in diversity. While most of the children are fully fluent in English, there are over 20 different languages that students speak at home. The year that this data was collected there had been some ongoing challenges particular to second grade and fifth grades. One parent, in particular, was concerned that her daughter was the cause for the presenting challenges. She feared that her daughter was a “bully”. This led to thinking that the data could guide the school in determining what concerns there were with the children in these grade levels as a whole. School social workers’ training encourages them to look at all the groups in the environment (macro) as well as understanding individual needs (micro). What follows is more information about the screener the school used (the SDQ), how the data was used to implement new classroom-based interventions with the teachers, and what the data told them at the post-intervention phase (spoiler alert: it was a lot of good changes)>
Why not work on preventing a problem rather than responding to a crisis in the future?
The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire
- A 25 item social-emotional screener that takes 15-20 minutes (per student)
- Teachers can complete the questionnaire for each student ages (2-17)
- Is currently available in 80 languages
- It has strong psychometric properties (i.e. reliability, validity, sensitivity)
- Was administered in the Fall and Spring
- Additional SDQ Information
Profile of Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire Data
- Fall semester results of an elementary grade school
- Very high-risk concerns with regard to prosocial skills in 2nd grade (92%)
- Very high-risk concerns with regard to prosocial skills in 5th grade (52%)
Definition of Prosocial Skills by the SDQ
- Consideration of other people’s feelings
- Shares readily with other children
- Helpful if someone is hurt
- Kind to younger children
- Often volunteers to help others
- Use of video role modeling
- Use of perspective-taking lessons from The Social Detective-M. Garcia Winner
- Zones of Regulation: Understanding the Size of a Problem lesson
- Consult with teachers in the building on lessons to teach prosocial skills
- Direct instruction to 2nd-grade only; social worker taught (3) classes
- Spring results indicating high-risk concerns with regard to prosocial skills in 2nd grade (24%)-68% decrease in prosocial problems
- Spring results indicating high-risk concerns with regard to prosocial skills in 5th grade (5%)-47% decrease in prosocial problems
- 61% decrease in prosocial skills concerns-2nd grade
- 47% decrease in prosocial skills concerns – 5th grade
- 12.4 % increase in overall average MAP reading scores
- 13.3% increase in overall average MAP reading scores-2nd Grade
- A decrease in building-wide prosocial concerns to 9%
Demonstrating effectiveness is becoming more of a requirement in the field of school social work and in schools in general. Using school social workers’ time more efficiently is imperative with all that is required. Targeting needs assists school social workers in economizing their time. Rather than relying on subjective observations and hearsay, school social workers have the opportunity to use data as a referral source. Looking through a systems-based lens in this way can help school social workers determine what they can do more at Tier One. Understanding what is happening school-wide can be incredibly informative for working with all of a schools’ students and understanding the culture of a school.
Knowing that the school was able to prevent a student from being labeled and not becoming the scapegoat to all issues was absolutely priceless and a true message of the importance of data in this work.
Looking at the fall data, it revealed that as a group, students had a significant deficit in the area of prosocial skills. This was extraordinary to know that the issue could not have then be caused by one student. Rather, the group had to be taught very direct skill-based ways of interacting with their peers. Once the interventions were in place the behaviors decreased dramatically and the prosocial skills were evident. Knowing that the school was able to prevent a student from being labeled and not becoming the scapegoat to all issues was absolutely priceless and a true message of the importance of data in this work. Never has this student needed to enter the threshold of the social work office to date. Ben Franklin is quoted as saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Why not work on preventing a problem rather than responding to a crisis in the future?