Screening low-income preschoolers for risk for developing emotional disturbance

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Special Education

First Committee Member

Marjorie Montague, Committee Chair


The purpose of this project was to screen 3 to 5 year-old children from low income families enrolled in subsidized child care services in Miami-Dade County, Florida, in order to examine the validity for a preschool screening instrument titled Penn Interactive Peer Play Scale (PIPPS) (Fantuzzo, Sutton-Smith, Coyle Coolahan, Holliday Manz, Canning & Debnam, 1995). This instrument was translated into Spanish and thus was administered in both English and Spanish depending on the dominant language of the informant. Supplementary goals were to identify the prevalence of children exhibiting "at-risk" behavior patterns to determine possible ethnic differences in parents' and teachers' ratings and, finally, to determine the level of association between parental and teacher ratings. The PIPPS, the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS) (Gresham & Elliot, 1990), and Achenbach's Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL/2-3, CBCL/4-18) (Achenbach, 1991) and Teacher Report Form (TRF/2-5) (Achenbach, 1997), were used to screen children $(n = 320)$ in 8 different preschool centers in Miami-Dade County, Florida.Using correlational procedures, the study established convergent and divergent validity ($p < .01$) for the PIPPS as an culturally appropriate instrument used for screening and identification of externalizing and internalizing behavioral patterns with a minority population. Validity was studied by comparing the PIPPS with the SSRS. In addition, 17.81% $(n = 57)$ of the total sample was identified as being "at-risk" for developing emotional disturbance. This subset was subsequently divided into five subgroups: externalizing 28.07% $(n = 16),$ internalizing 12.28% $(n = 07),$ externalizer-internalizer 24.56% $(n = 14),$ internalizer-externalizer 10.53% $(n = 06)$ and mixed 24.56% $(n = 14)$ behavioral patterns. Further analysis of the at-risk subset $(n = 57)$ revealed significant differences between ethnic groups for the TRF-Externalizer scores and for the PIPPS Disconnection factor. Teachers reported that African American boys $(M = 70.45,\ SD = 10.29)$ exhibited significantly more externalizing behaviors than Hispanic boys $(M = 62.27,\ SD = 09.86)$ on the TRF-Externalizer; African American girls $(M = 65.83,\ SD = 10.10)$ were reported as exhibiting significantly more behaviors associated with the Disconnection factor on the PIPPS than Hispanic girls $(M = 53.81,\ SD = 10.17).$ Finally, moderate significant correlations ($p < .01$) were found between parents' and teachers' ratings of behavior on the CBCL and TRF and on the SSRS Social Skills Scale. By further demonstrating the validity of the PIPPS for both English and Spanish versions, this study contributed to the development of culturally appropriate instruments to measure deviant behavior in minority children. Also, by identifying the percentage of children that may be at risk in Miami-Dade County, the study paved the way for establishing a formal screening procedure which would then inform intervention and service providers for young children at risk for emotional disturbance.


Education, Tests and Measurements; Education, Early Childhood; Education, Special; Sociology, Public and Social Welfare; Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies; Psychology, Psychometrics

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