Developmental and Social-Emotional Screening Module - Components of a Quality Screening Process

Developmental and Social-Emotional Screening Module

Section 4: Components of a Quality Screening Process

In addition to the criteria recommended for use when selecting a developmental screening instrument, there are further important considerations.  The following considerations are process and population based.

The MN Task Force recommends that developmental screening instruments be easy to use and take a minimal amount of time to administer and score.  Instruments administered to English-speaking populations should typically take 30 minutes or less.  (Meisels, Atkins-Burnett, 2005)  Instruments recommended by the MN Task Force range from 5 to 30 minutes for administration, with instruments administered by staff taking longer than those which are parent-report.

Population and Age Span Targeted by the Instrument
The age of the child and the target group for whom the instrument was designed and standardized should be considered when selecting an instrument.  It is important to select an instrument that has been standardized on the age group and population to which a child belongs.  This information is available from and should be clearly stated by the publisher of the instrument.

Cultural, Ethnic, and Linguistic Sensitivity
“Children are heavily influenced by the culture, opinions, and attitudes of their families.”  (Hagan, et al, 2008).  It is important to take this into consideration when selecting an instrument so that children from diverse cultures can be accurately screened.  Many instruments are also provided in multiple languages.

Normative scores, or scores used to establish appropriate cutoff points for referral for the population for which the test is developed, should be provided.  “Children who do not speak English as their primary language or whose family culture differs from the mainstream should not be penalized by the limitations of the screening instrument.”  (Meisels, Atkins-Burnett, 2005)

Minimum Expertise of Screeners
Some screening instruments are designed to be administered by persons with varying levels of expertise, but with adequate training, such as health care professionals, assistants, teachers, psychologists, or paraprofessionals.  The level of expertise and training required to administer a screening instrument are established by the publisher and the information is available from the publisher of the instrument.  Other screening instruments may be completed by a parent, using a survey or questionnaire, but need to be scored or evaluated by a professional to determine if the child should be referred for further assessment. 

Developmental screening should be efficient and inexpensive.  “Most screening instruments require a modest expenditure for manuals and equipment, plus the cost of consumable supplies such as score sheets and parent questionnaires.” (Meisels, Atkins-Burnett, 2005)  Some instruments allow copying, which reduces costs.

The MN Task Force understands that cost is a consideration when selecting a developmental screening instrument. For this reason, the MN Task Force provides cost information on each developmental screening instrument, as available from the publisher.


1. Recommended developmental screening instruments should take _______ to administer.

10 minutes or less
30 minutes or less
60 minutes or less

2. It is important for providers to be sensitive to differences in culture and language.


3. Who is able to administer developmental screening instruments?
Only physicians are able to administer screening instruments.
Only nurses, teachers, and psychologists are able to administer screening instruments.
Persons of varying levels of expertise, but with adequate training, may administer screening instruments and each instrument may have different staff criteria.


Hagan JF, Shaw JS, Duncan PM, eds.  (2008),  Bright Futures:  Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, Third Edition.  Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Meisels, S. J., & Atkins-Burnett, S. (2005). Developmental Screening in Early Childhood: A Guide (5th ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

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