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Mental Health Screeners in Elementary Schools: Measurement Invariance Across Racial and Ethnic Groups
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Mental health screeners need to demonstrate measurement equivalence across the populations of their intended use in order to improve the fairness in the identification of students in need of social, emotional, and behavioral supports. This study examined measurement invariance on three mental screeners across five racial and ethnic groups. The Elementary Social Behavior Assessment measures academic enablers associated with the latent construct of teachability (ESBA). The Student Risk Screening Scale assesses externalizing problems (SRSS) and the Student Internalizing Behavior Screener measures internalizing problems (SIBS). Multigroup confirmatory factor analyses tested for measurement invariance from the sample of African American (18%), Asian American/Pacific Islander (13%), Latino Hispanic (25%), European American (31%), and multiracial (11%) groups of students in elementary schools. Only the ESBA required respecification to establish an adequate baseline model. The ESBA, SRSS, and SIBS demonstrated metric invariance with ordinal ratings of never, occasionally, sometimes, and frequently in addition to scalar invariance with the thresholds between the ordinal ratings. Thus, the total scores from the ESBA, SRSS, and SIBS generalize across racial and ethnic groups and the student’s race or ethnicity is less likely to mask their true level of need for social, emotional, and behavioral supports. The results indicate that the ESBA, SRSS, and SIBS may help teachers to identify racially and ethnically students who need intervention, to customize the interventions, and to evaluate students’ response to intervention. Schools using these mental health screeners may reduce disproportionality in discipline and special education.