The DESSA mini is a strengths-based social-emotional competency screening assessment. As a universal screener, it should be completed for all students 2-3 times per year. There is one version of the assessment for students in kindergarten through 8th grade and another version for students in 9th through 12th grade. The screener available through Branching Minds is teacher-facing and includes 8 questions per student. The DESSA mini takes teachers one minute to complete per student.

The purpose of the DESSA-mini is to identify students who could benefit from additional social-emotional instructional support. The results can also be used to identify school- and grade-level trends in student social-emotional competence as well as track students' social-emotional development over time. The DESSA is a strengths-based assessment, meaning that each question asks about the degree to which students exhibit a specific social-emotional skill.

The DESSA-mini has research evidence to support its use as a universal screener. The questions in the assessment were developed and selected based on studies with nationally representative groups of students. Studies with the DESSA mini have also shown that it has a strong degree of specificity and sensitivity, meaning that it accurately identifies students who need additional social-emotional support (More research findings on the DESSA mini can be found here).

There are four DESSA mini forms that are equivalent and can be used interchangeably. If your district is completing the DESSA mini through Branching Minds, the version will be automatically selected each time it is completed.

Guidelines for Administration

Please review the guidelines below before administering the DESSA mini.

Training for DESSA Mini

It is strongly recommended that all teachers who will be completing the DESSA mini receive the appropriate training. Teachers will be invited to join a one hour virtual workshop, where they will learn more about the screener and how to use it effectively. If you are unable to attend your school's training session, please connect with your school principal or MTSS leadership team to figure out an alternative training plan.

Who Should Complete the DESSA Mini?

If your district is using the DESSA mini through the Branching Minds platform it should only be completed by classroom teachers. School counselors, social workers, and other specialists should not complete the DESSA mini. If students have more than one classroom teacher, it should be completed by the teacher who spends the most amount of time with the student. If students spend an equal amount of time with multiple teachers (e.g., at the middle and high school level) school and district leaders can decide which teachers will be responsible for completing the DESSA mini for groups of students. Only one teacher should complete an assessment for each student and teachers should complete the assessment independently and not with other teachers.

When Should the DESSA Mini be Completed?

Classroom teachers should wait until they have spent at least four weeks with their students before completing the DESSA mini. This includes returning from the winter break; after this break teachers should again wait four weeks before completing the DESSA mini for their students. If a new student joins a teacher's class, they should again wait until they have had that student for at least four weeks before completing the DESSA-mini for that specific student.

Similar to academic screeners, there are three possible administration windows for the DESSA mini: Fall, Winter, and Spring. District and school leadership teams should decide when your DESSA mini screeners should be completed and the corresponding window. This should then be communicated to all teachers completing the DESSA mini. Once the administration window has been opened for your district and school, it is recommended that teachers complete the screener for all of their students at the same time, or as close together as possible, within a two-week period.

Completing the DESSA-Mini on Branching Minds

Step 1: From the Students page select students you would like to complete a DESSA mini screener for. If needed, use the filters at the top to narrow down the list of students.

Step 2: Go to the Actions Menu and select Administer DESSA Assessment

Step 3: Select the Assessment Window from the drop down menu.

Step 4: Under Assessment, select DESSA Mini/Screener.

Step 5: Select the Start button next to each student's name to begin their DESSA-mini screener assessment. Remember that this is a teacher-facing assessment and students do not have any interaction with the platform or need to be present for the assessment. Teachers can also search for students and add them to the list using the search box.

Step 6: Answer all of the screener questions for one student at a time. The progress bar on the top right corner of the screen will indicate how many questions have been answered. Once you are finished, select Submit at the bottom of the page.

Step 7: Once you submit an assessment for a student, you will be taken back to your list of students. Continue working through the list. After each one is completed, the Completed On date will appear as well as who the screener was Completed By.

Reviewing Student Results

Students' scores on the DESSA mini screener can be viewed under Benchmarks & Universal Screeners on the student's Overview Page.

Each student will have three DESSA mini results. The Score is a standardized T-score that has a set mean of 50 and standard deviation of 10. T-scores have equal units along the scale, ensuring that the scores have the same meaning across the range. This makes it possible to compare across students and assessment windows. The Percentile describes the student's relative score on the DESSA mini compared to other students who have been assessed. The student's Level is determined based on cut points for the T-score. T- Scores of 60 and above indicate that the child has social and emotional “strengths,” T-scores of 41-59 inclusive indicate that the child is showing a “typical” amount of positive behaviors related to social and emotional competence, and T-scores of 40 and below indicate that the child has a “need for instruction” to further develop social and emotional skills as compared to the national standardization sample.

Tiering Students Using the DESSA mini

District Administrators and school Managers can bulk tier their students using the results of the DESSA mini screener. The recommended cut point score for Tier 2 is 40. There is no recommended cut point score for Tier 3. Districts and schools can determine their own Tier 3 cut point score or manually assign students to Tier 3 for Behavior/SEL.

Step-by-step instructions on bulk tiering students can be found here.

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