Abstract: Screening for Social Communication and Mental Health Needs in Schools: Initial Validation of the School-Based Social Communication Skillset Screener (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Screening for Social Communication and Mental Health Needs in Schools: Initial Validation of the School-Based Social Communication Skillset Screener

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
James P. Canfield, PhD, Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, LA
Leslie Kokotek, MA, Speech Language Pathologist; Doctoral Student, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
Dana Harley, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati, OH
Background: This study examined the factor structure and reliability of the novel School-based Social Communication Skillset Screener (SSCSS) with a sample of impoverished urban high school students. Poor social communication skills for adolescents are related to outcomes such as incarceration, lack of employment, and other problem behaviors. While social communication measures exist, few are validated for student perceptions within a school context. Such a measure would allow students to be active participants in identifying pertinent communication skills. The SSCSS was developed from an interdisciplinary team from social work and speech-language pathology to examine how impoverished, urban adolescents perceive their own social communication skills within school settings.

Methods: A purposive sample of 297 high school students were sampled during a school-wide needs assessment. Participants were on average 16.1 (SD=1.373) years old and evenly split across gender, with females making up the majority (52.9%). The sample was also evenly distributed across grade levels: ninth (26.3%), tenth (21.2%), eleventh (31.3%), and twelfth (20.9%).

Because the measure was developed without an a priori factor structure, we used exploratory factor analysis to examine how items coalesced. We used maximum likelihood as our extraction method as our data were normally distributed (Costello & Osborne, 2005). We selected an oblique factor rotation method, promax with Kaiser normalization, because we felt some factors could be correlated. An examination of the scree plot, eigenvalues, communalities, and factor loadings were used to determine the number of factors and items retained. Cronbach’s alpha was calculated for reliability.


We began with an item pool of 34 and identified a 22-item scale across three factors, after eliminating items with communalities below .4 and loadings below .32. Each factor was above the “bend” on the scree plot and had Eigenvalues above 1. We named Factor 1, “Interpersonal Negotiation.” Factor 2 is named “Coping and Social Problem-Solving Skills for Schools.” The final factor is named “Perspective Taking: Understanding Expected School Behaviors.”

The measure had acceptable levels of internal consistency: Interpersonal Negotiation (α=.937), Coping and Social Problem Solving Skills for Schools (α=.892), and Perspective Taking: Understanding Expected School Behaviors (α=.841).

Implications: These findings indicate that impoverished urban youth may perceive social communication within a school context in three areas. This indicates that student perceptions of social communication in educational settings may be nuanced as compared to professional or parental viewpoints. School social workers, and other related-services personnel, may implement more timely and targeted social communication interventions leading to theoretically improved postsecondary outcomes through understanding student perceptions. Further validation studies are needed to ensure the SSCSS maintains acceptable and appropriate levels of reliability and factorial validity. Future studies should also compare scores form this measure to other social communication scales already in use. In addition, future research should focus on scale scoring and interpretation and how this can be used in interdisciplinary practice. Future studies establishing clinical interpretations of scores are needed.