Legislative ambiguity and the accurate identification of seriously emotionally disturbed

Rick Ostrander, Robert Colegrove, Neil H. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study surveyed 127 school psychologists practicing under three types of state criteria that are used in identifying children as seriously emotionally disturbed (SED). The school psychologists were required to read 12 behavioral descriptions of specific disorders defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Vol. 3 (DSM III) and indicate whether the targeted DSM III conditions qualified as SED/BD (behavior disordered). The responses were then compared with a legal interpretation of the public law and examined to determine if the tendency of school psychologists to identify DSM III conditions differed across the three types of state criteria. The marked discrepancies were examined between the school psychologists' judgements concerning eligibility and the legal interpretation of eligibility for classification as SED. Additionally, the results indicated that school psychologists practicing under behavioral-oriented classification criteria were significantly more likely to identify acting-out children as eligible for classification and less likely to identify children with an affective disorder. The implications of the findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-85
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of School Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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