Predicting School Suspension Risk from Eighth through Tenth Grade Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire

Contemp Sch Psychol. 2019 Sep;23(3):270-289. doi: 10.1007/s40688-018-00215-y. Epub 2018 Nov 3.


The current study examined (1) if the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) would yield alternative factor structures related to either symptoms or strengths with early adolescent students when an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) is used; (2) which scales best predicted suspensions of typically developing early adolescents; and (3) what cut-off scores were useful for identifying youth at risk for suspensions. The current study included 321 parent-student dyads, who were followed from the middle of eighth grade until the end of tenth grade. A symptoms-based EFA yielded three factors: Misbehavior, Isolation, and Agitation. A strength-based EFA yielded three factors, as, well: Emotional, Social, and Moral competence. Logistic regression path analyses were used to predict risk of any suspension at the end of eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. The predictor variables were the original SDQ Conduct Problems and Hyperactivity scales in one model, the Misbehavior and Agitation scales in a second model, and the Emotional and Moral competence scales in the third model. Only the Misbehavior scale consistently predicted suspensions across each grade (b = .27, OR = 1.32, p < .001; b = .15, OR = 1.18, p = .029; b = .17, OR = 1.18, p = .029, respectively). For the Misbehavior scale, cut-off scores were established that reflected the 75th and 90th percentile; however, each cut-off demonstrated strengths and weaknesses for identifying at-risk students. The expectation of screening to identify youth at-risk for suspensions, a complex school discipline decision, is discussed.

Keywords: adolescence; behavioral screening; exploratory factor analysis; parent report; school suspension.