Assessment of children and young people using a strength-based tool. By Cathy Cooper

  • 3 October 2019

Psychometric assessment tests are structured and standardised measures of cognitive, behavioural or emotional functioning. They provide information that allows for inferences to be made about an individual based on comparison with a larger group of similar individuals who have also completed the same test (New Zealand Psychologists Board, 2015). This year in my studies to become an educational psychologist, I have had the opportunity to gain knowledge, experience and hopefully skill in using a number of psychometric tests.

I enjoy the role of assessing children and young people. I like establishing rapport and I like finding out about people. I am always interested in discovering what their strengths are. Knowing their strengths means together we can make decisions about interventions that could be effective and could assist the child or young person to more easily manage their day to day functioning. I would like to share my learning about what one often-used strength-based test involves.


Behavioural and Emotional Rating Scale, second edition (BERS-2)

The BERS and its successor, the BERS-2, were published by Michael Epstein in 1998 and 2004 to assess the strengths and competencies of children and young people aged 5 to 18 years from three perspectives: self, parent, and teacher. Epstein devised, and upgraded, the BERS to remedy his concern that the assessment of children and young people was often driven by a deficit model where information on what a child or young person could not do was sought instead of what they could currently achieve and could achieve well. Epstein argued that the latter information would be of far more value in identifying a child’s strengths and competencies as well as their weaknesses in order to plan effective interventions and to document progress (Epstein, 1998, and Epstein, 2004).

The BERS-2 has three domains: the Child/Youth Rating Scale, Parent Rating Scale and the Teacher Rating Scale. It is undertaken in a pencil and paper format and, while not timed, each domain takes approximately ten minutes to complete (Epstein, 2000). The BERS contained 52 items in five subscales.  It was normed on representative samples of US 5 to 18 year olds who had not been diagnosed with a behavioural or emotional disorder. The first subscale, Interpersonal Strength, assesses the participant’s ability to control emotions or behaviour in social situations. The second subscale, Family Involvement, focuses on a child’s participation and relationship with his or her family. The third subscale, Intrapersonal Strength, assesses the child’s outlook on his or her competence and accomplishments. The fourth subscale, School Functioning, focuses on the child’s competence in school and classroom tasks. The fifth subscale, Affective Strength, addresses the child’s ability to express feelings toward others and to accept affection from others (Epstein, 2000).

Epstein updated the BERS in 2004 to include an extra 5 items on each of the parent and youth rating scales on career strengths. Eight open ended questions were added to all three scales in the BERS-2 so participants could comment on what they saw as the child or young person’s academic, social, sporting, family and community strengths. The participant reads a statement (e.g., “participates in family activities”) and chooses the number on a Likert-type scale from 0 to 3 (0 = not at all like the referred individual; 1 = not much like the referred individual; 2 = like the referred individual; 3 = very much like the referred individual) that best represents the referred individual’s emotions or behaviours in the past 3 months. Raw scores from the five subscales are converted into standard scores and percentile rankings. Totalling the standard scores of the five subscales provides a total “Strength Quotient” (Epstein, 2004). 

The BERS-2 is valuable for identifying children and young people in mental health, school, youth justice and care and protection settings who demonstrate restricted behavioural and emotional strengths. Salvia and Ysseldyke (2001) reported that information obtained from the BERS-2 is useful in the development of individualised education programmes (IEPs), treatment or intervention planning, and in the evaluation of programmes or treatment plans.

Jimerson, Annan, Skokut & Renshaw (2009) noted the difficulty - due to differing values, specific knowledge, skill and learning pathways - many educational psychologists practicing in Aotearoa New Zealand face with using psychometric tests developed internationally. As a result, educational psychologists ensure psychometric testing makes up only one part of the assessment picture for a child or young person. Causton-Theoharis (2009) reported that the best way to understand a child or young person’s preferred way of working is to ask them, and following that, to include them in planning and assessment processes. With this I entirely agree!



Causton-Theoharis, J. (2009). The golden rule of providing support in inclusive classrooms: Support others as you would wish to be supported. Teaching Exceptional Children 42(2), 36-43.

Epstein, M. H. (1998). Assessing the emotional and behavioral strengths of children. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 6, 250-252.

Epstein, M. H. (2000). The Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale: A strength-based approach to assessment. Diagnostique, 25(3), 249-256.

Epstein, M. H. (2004). Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale—2nd edition: Examiner’s Manual. PRO-ED Austin Texas.

Jimerson, S., Annan, J., Skokut M. & Renshaw T. (2009). Educational Psychology in New Zealand: Results of the 2006 International School Psychology Survey School Psychology International, 30(5) 443-455.

New Zealand Psychologists Board Te Poari Kaimātai Hinengaro o Aotearoa (2015). Guidelines on the use of psychometric testing. New Zealand Psychologists Board, Wellington, New Zealand.

Salvia, J. & Ysseldyke, J. (2001). Assessment (8th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


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