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User’s Guide to the Middle School Version of the

Washington Assessment of Risks and Needs of Students


The Washington Assessment of Risks and Needs of Students, Middle School Version (msWARNS) is a 30-item student self-report instrument designed to provide information to school personnel relevant to reducing unexcused school absenteeism and address discipline problems among students engaged in misconduct.  The instrument is modeled after the high school version of the WARNS, which was developed for the same purposes and comprised of a somewhat different set of items reflecting the different issues and concerns that present themselves in high school compared to middle school.  While evidence for validity, reliability, and score interpretation have been obtained for the high school version of the instrument (George et al., 2015), much less is known about the msWARNS with respect to these important attributes of the assessment.  That is, the msWARNS is currently under development and data on its reliability, validity, and interpretability of scores is being collected.  Based on the combination of extrapolations for the high school instrument and pilot data collected with the help of several middle school principals and school-engaged juvenile court truancy officers, we believe the msWARNS can be useful with respect to evaluation and intervention planning for purposes of reducing truancy for middle school students.  In what follows, we describe the instrument and the conditions required for its responsible use.  We also identify the steps that are currently being taken to more thoroughly validate the instrument.

Description of the msWARNS

Both the WARNS and the msWARNS instruments consist of items that seek to identify student functioning on the following six domains: Aggression-defiance (7 items), Depression-anxiety (7 items), Peer deviance (5 items), Substance abuse (6 items), Family Problems (7 items), School Problems (7 items).

Validity and interpretation of the msWARNS

Content validity of items. The item set of the msWARNS differs somewhat from that of the high school version of the WARNS to reflect differences in the issues facing students during these developmental epochs.  The items of the msWARNS have been reviewed by over 50 professional educators – including middle school principals, teachers, and counselors — to ensure their age-appropriateness.  Feedback from these professionals is supportive with regard to the required reading level and their subject matter content.

Usefulness of scores.  The msWARNS has not been validated with a normative sample. Therefore, we do not have norm-based cutoffs to determine how scores relate to percentile scores.  However, with the help of two middle school principals working in the Spokane Public Schools, we have identified provisional cutoffs for low-risk, medium-risk, and high-risk for each of the six domains. These cutoffs were established based on the professional judgement of these principals. They should be viewed as useful guidelines, and not as definitive markers of risk or functioning.  Of course, this type of warning even applies to normative cut-off scores because risks, needs, normality, and psychopathology are not dichotomous constructs but rather each exists on a continuum.  In sum, msWARNS scores are designed to provide a starting point for evaluating students, and for contributing to the search for the risks that may lead to truancy and delinquency, and for considering individualized intervention options.  Scores should be used in the context of other information about students and not relied upon, solely, for making high stakes decisions about interventions or placements for students.

Accessing the msWARNS

Both the WARNS and msWARNS were developed for use in school and juvenile court settings. The instrument can be accessed through WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center (LPRC) for users who have completed the WARNS User Agreement.  Please click on the Manuals and Forms link in the menu on the left.

msWARNS Items

The items presented below are organized according to the six domains.  Each item is responded to on a three-point scale (0 = Never, not much, 1 = Sometimes 2 = Always, a lot). (r) indicates reverse-scored items.

I get into fightsI lose my temper
I steal or break things on purposeI get so mad I hit or yell at people
I lie to peopleI pick on or tease other kids
I do things that could get me arrested
Nothing cheers me upI feel sad or unhappy
I worry about thingsI get nervous
I have trouble sleeping or sleep too muchEven when I'm not sick, I don't feel like eating
I do fun things (r)
Substance Use:
I use tobacco productsI have used alcohol (beer/wine/liquor)
I use pot/weed/marijuana I get high or drunk from drugs or alcohol
I have experimented with drugs
Peer Problems:
My friends get into fightsMy friends get into trouble at school
My friends steal or break thingsMy friends stay out late at night
My friends have been arrestedMy friends break the rules at home or school
Family Problems:
I like my parents (r)I get into trouble at home
My parents get mad at meI yell at my parents
I do fun things with my parents (r)I follow the rules at home (r)
I disobey my curfew
School Problems:
I like schoolI like my teachers (r)
I get into trouble at schoolI get good grades at school (r)
I learn important things at school (r)I skip or cut class
My classes are interesting (r)

msWARNS Citations

George, T., Coker, E., French, B., Strand, P., Gotch, C., McBride, C., McCurley, C. (2015) Washington Assessment of the Risks and Needs of Students, WARNS User Manual. Olympia, WA: Center for Court Research, Administrative Office of the Courts.

Iverson, A., French, B., Strand, P.S., & McCurley, C. (2016). Understanding School Truancy: Risk-Need Latent Profiles of Adolescents. Assessment. Online first publication: 10.1177/1073191116672329

Strand, P.S., Gotch, C., French, B.F., & Beaver, J. (2017). Factor Structure and Invariance of an Adolescent Risks and Needs Assessment. Assessment. Online first publication: 10.1177/1073191117706021

Strand, P.S. & Lovrich, N.P. (2014). Graduation Outcomes for Truant Students:  An Evaluation of a School-based, Court-Engaged Community Truancy Board with Case Management. Children and Youth Services Review, 43, 58-66.