Universal screening systems in schools are an essential component of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework is a comprehensive service delivery model designed to meet the academic and behavioral needs of students in schools. Universal screening data are used to drive decisions in the interest of reducing risk and promoting positive outcomes for students. This commentary reviews the considerations for selecting screening approaches for assessing social, emotional and behavioral risk within a proactive MTSS framework and advocate for the use of universal screening systems that involve the development of local norms, including local norms for the presence of protective factors. An increasing body of research supports the value of protective factors (e.g. connected with teachers and school, empathy, engagement, pro-social peer groups) as a means of addressing students’ needs proactively through a competency-based lens.