The Scale for Assessing Emotional Disturbance
(SAED) (Epstein & Cullinan, 1998)
This review was published in the NASP Communiqué and is reproduced here with
permission (all rights reserved0
Dumont, R., &
Rauch, M. (2000) Test Review: Scale for Assessing Emotional Disturbance (SAED),
Communiqué, Vol. 28, 8, 24-25
The Scale for Assessing
Emotional Disturbance (SAED) (Epstein & Cullinan, 1998) is a rating scale
designed to assist identifying students who may be experiencing emotional and/or
behavioral difficulties within the educational setting. It is also reported to
be useful as a screening device a tool for research and a method to measure a
student's progress. The scale comprises 52 items which encompass Seven subscales
and a single item that highlights overall educational performance. These seven
subscales include Inability to Learn (e.g., "Homework skills are poor")
(8 items), Relationship problems (e.g., “Has few or no friends") (6
items), Inappropriate Behavior (e.g. "Cruel to peers") (10 items),
Unhappiness or Depression (e.g., “Lacks self-confidence") (7 items),
Physical Symptoms or Fears (e.g., Anxious, worried, tense") (8 items),
Socially Maladjusted (e.g., "Runs away from home") ( 6 items), and
Overall Competence (7 items). The single item highlighting overall academic
performance is termed Adversely Affects Educational Performance. The
actual rating form is broken down into three domains that include Student
Competence Characteristics, Student Emotional and Behavioral Problems, and
Adversely Affect Educational Performance.
A psychologist, teacher,
parent, caregiver, or any other individual knowledgeable about the individual
and his or her behaviors can complete the SAED. Professionals who have
appropriate knowledge and background about the SAED specifically and
psychometric properties and psychological interpretation in general should
complete scoring. Respondents to the SAED are asked to rate the child on each
statement using a Likert-type scale. Items within the domain of Student
Emotional and Behavioral Problems are scored on a four-point scale, the Student
Competence Characteristics on a five-point scale and the Adversely Affects
Educational Performance a six-point scale. There are also eight open-ended
questions at the conclusion of the scale, which offer ratings related to the
student's athletic, academic, social, family and community strengths.
Once the SAED scale is
completed, the scores for the subscales are summed, and these raw scores can be
converted into percentile ranks and scaled scores (M = 10, SD= 3) .The scaled
scores from the five subscales are combined to obtain an overall indication of
emotional and behavioral functioning, termed the SAED Quotient (M = 100, SD=
The SAED was normed on a
nationally representative sample of students without emotional disturbance (NonED)
and a national sample of students with emotional disturbance (ED). The
non-emotionally disturbed sample included 2,266 students ranging in age from 5:0
to 18:11, while the emotionally disturbed sample included 1,371 students ranging
in age from 5:0 to 18:11.
No explanation whatsoever is
given about how these 1,371 children came to be classified as ED. Given the
extreme variability in identification of emotional disturbance between and
within states, the inclusion of the ED sample without some clear description of
how the children were identified in the first place leaves one to wonder about
the validity of this sample. Are these children those with specifically
diagnosed conditions of emotional disturbance as indicated in DSM-IV or are they
the "typical" school-identified emotionally disturbed children?
The SAED was examined for four
types of reliability—content sampling, time sampling, rater and scorer. The
content sampling of the SAED yielded coefficients that all exceed .75. Two
studies were completed to examine whether the results of the SAED were stable
over time. Two groups of children identified as Emotionally Disturbed were
rated twice over a two-week period. The results of the two studies yielded
correlation coefficients that range from .84 to .94. Interrater reliability was
examined with the rating of 44 ED students by six pairs of special education
teachers. Resulting correlations ranged from .51 to .84. Most reliability
coefficients were near or in the .80’s. Two subscales, Physical Symptoms or
Fear and Unhappiness or Depression, had the lowest reliabilities, .51 and .61
respectively. Correlation coefficients between scorers (as opposed to raters)
for all scales were .99. These results indicate that the SAED is a highly
Epstein and Cullinan examined the
content, criterion-related and construct validity of the SAED. Median item
discrimination coefficients were calculated for each subscale for both the NonED
and ED groups, and the results were reported by age. For the SAED all
coefficients were above .39 with a majority in the .6 and .7 range. These
results indicate a high degree of content validity
To examine concurrent validity,
the SAED was compared to the Teacher Report Form (TRF, Achenbach, 1991) as well
as to the Revised Problem Behavior Checklist (RPBC, Quay & Peterson, 1996).
Hypotheses regarding both the positive and negative correlational relationships
between the scales are described in the manual. The correlations that were
found were all both statistically and relatively high enough to support each of
the predicted relationships made by the authors. The predictive validity of the
SAED has not yet been explored.
Finally, construct validity for
the SAED was examined. Analysis of group differentiation ability using eight
t-tests and the Bonferroni procedure to control for multiple comparisons
indicates that the SAED did differentiate between the standardization NonED and
ED groups effectively with the NonED group obtaining a mean SAED Quotient of 100
compared to 122 for the ED group. Examination of interrelationships between
subscale and total scale scores revealed moderate to strong relationships both
between individual subscales and the SAED quotient. According to Epstein and
Cullinan, the SAED appears to have strong validity in all areas indicating that
it is a valid measure of emotional disturbance.
Despite the reliability and
validity evidence provided in the SAED manual, these reviewers have a number of
concerns regarding the use of the SAED. One of our major concerns regards the
conceptualization of the SAED and its relevance to diagnosing children with
"Serious emotional disturbance" as defined by the Federal Register. The stated
focus of the SAED is on "the five qualifying conditions on which identification
of emotional disturbance is based as well as other key features of the federal
definition" (p. l ). Unfortunately, from these reviewers' perspective, the SAED
avoids the more specific aspect of the federal definition which highlights "the
term means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following
characteristics..." (Emphasis added). The SAED appears to base a determination
of an emotional disturbance on the identification of one or more of the
"characteristics" listed in the federal definition rather than on identifying
the condition of emotional disturbance from which the characteristics stem.
The federal definition of
Serious Emotional Disturbance also includes limiting criteria that seem poorly
operationalized by the SAED. For example, the federal definition requires that
the characteristic evidenced must have been present "over a long period of
time." In its description of this specific criterion, the SAED manual notes that
during standardization, all raters had known the individual children for at
least two months. This raised concern for these reviewers in two ways. First,
the period of time for which a characteristic is being rated is based upon the
length of contact the racer has with the individual and not on how long the
child has exhibited the characteristic. Second, the minimum two-month period is
fairly arbitrary and may not conform to individual state or district policies.
Another concern relates to the ratings for "adversely effects educational
performance." This area is scored using a single rating of a single question.
There are no definitions or criteria given on the protocol or in the manual to
indicate how one should judge the "adverse effect" or what the terms "slightly,"
"moderately," or "considerably" mean in relation to scoring this category.
Although the SAED reports a
large (1,371) sample of children labeled ED, the manual provides absolutely no
information about how these children came to be identified as ED, no breakdown
of what were the different emotional “conditions" that led to identification and
no explanation of the criteria used for inclusion in the emotionally disturbed
group. The need for a scale like the SAED is predicated upon the fact that there
is such extreme variability in tile diagnosis and classification of ED. To
validate a scale on an undefined sample seems problematic.
There is also some confusion
caused by differing numbers in the SAED tables. Table 4.1 provides the
demographic characteristics of the normative NonEd sample. The table reports
that, for ages 5 through 11, 12 through 14, and 15 through 18, there were 1,287;
535; and 44 children respectively. In Table 4.2 the number of children in the
age ranges is reported as 1,333; 581; and 352 respectively. Beside these
inconsistencies, the three age categories used to convert raw scores to standard
scores are presented in what seem to be fairly large bands. The manual (p. 15)
refers to the age ranges as "elementary," "middle" and "high school" age ranges.
There is no empirical justification presented for dividing the normative data in
The SAED does not include
Social Maladjustment in any of the norms for children below the age of 12
“because many of the items are about behaviors in which elementary children
would not typically engage (e.g., exhibits precocious sexual behavior)" (p. 18).
This seems naive and a bit arbitrary. Examination of the SAED items found close
similarities between those on the Inappropriate Behaviors scale and those on the
Socially Maladjusted scale. For example, on the Inappropriate Behavior scale one
finds: “Cheats, Lies, Steals"; "Destroys or ruins things"; and "Uses obscene,
profane, or sexually oriented language." In comparison, on the Socially
Maladjusted scale, one finds the items: “Steals in the community or at home,"
"Vandalizes property in the community," and "Exhibits precocious sexual
behavior." The only distinction between these items seems be that those
described on the "Inappropriate Behaviors" scale occur in the home and in the
schools, while those on the "Socially Maladjusted" scale happens solely in the
These reviewers completed the
SAED on eight students, aged 10 to 14, classified as emotionally disturbed by
individual school districts and placed in a school specializing in the treatment
of children with emotional problems. Of the eight students, only three seemed
accurately assessed by the SAED. For only three of these children did the SAED
scales indicate characteristics of SED. For the other five students, none of the
SAED scales reached a level considered significant, suggesting that they did not
have characteristics of SED, although they were already classified as such.
This same concern (scores of
students identified as having emotional disturbance obtaining average scores on
the SAED) is again raised when one examines some of the scores obtained
by the various samples used in the SAED validity studies. Table 6.5
provides the subscale and SAED quotients for the NonED and ED standardization
groups. While the NonED group has an SAED Quotient of 100.00, the ED group's
SAED quotient is, as would be expected, much higher, with a mean of 122.66.
However, in Tables 5.6 and 5.7 the various ED groups have mean SAED Quotients of
94.00, 100.32, and 98.27 respectively. Why are the mean quotients for these
selected smaller samples of ED children so different from the ED norming
sampling? They are well below what would be expected and in fact are
either “average" or somewhat "below average" in overall rating.
The SAED possesses reportedly
strong psychometric properties and might possibly be useful in gaining a deeper
and clearer understanding of a child and his or her functioning status. These
reviewers, though, do have some skepticism regarding the usefulness of, and need
for, such a scale. Although the SAED may be useful at times in differentiating
between Emotionally Disturbed and non-Emotionally Disturbed children, it, like
many other similar scales, does not provide any information for remediation of
identified problems. The SAED is a deficit-oriented scale, but it would be
useful for professionals working with children to have information regarding
strengths. Such an approach (strength-based) might be useful in writing
individual education plans and creating treatment methodology. Examiners must be
careful to use SAED and similar scales only for their narrow purposes. As noted
above, the SAED does not diagnose the underlying psychological condition that is
presumed to cause one or more of the five "characteristics." That diagnosis must
still be done by the examiner by additional means. The SAED does not rule out
social maladjustment as an alternative cause of the "characteristics." It is up
to the examiner and the Team to determine by other means whether a student is
emotionally disturbed, socially maladjusted, or both. The "period of time"
assessed by the SAED extends back, at most, only to the rater's first contact
with the student and, really, only as far back as the length of contact the
rater has in mind while completing the form.
Achenbach, T. M. ( 1991 ).
Manual for the Teacher Report Form and 1991 profile. Burlington, VT:
University of Vermont. Department of Psychiatry.
Epstein, M.H., & Cullinan, D.
( 1998). The Scale for Assessing Emotional Disturbance. Austin,
Quay, H. & Peterson (1996)
Revised Problem Behavior Checklist Professional Manual. Odessa FL:
Psychological Assessment Resources.