In addition to the new schedule, the elementary schools are piloting a universal screening tool this spring with plans to implement universal screening next year. These conversations can get quickly mired in jargon and acronyms. I apologize ahead of time.
The basic tenet of universal screening is simple. We need a timely assessment of ALL students at every grade to determine who is reading at grade level, below grade level, and above grade level. This same assessment needs to be given several times during the year so that we can determine if our instruction is resulting in progress. At the end of the year, the universal screening tool allows us to measure which students made a year’s worth of progress – knowing that students who start below grade level actually have to make more than a year’s worth of growth in order to eventially be on grade level.
If our instruction is not producing progress, then we should discuss making adjustments or interventions. Interventions will be the topic of another post.
Now for the jargon and acronyms:
Universal screening is a critical component of a Response to Intervention (RtI) structure. The screening can apply to reading and mathematics. We are initially focusing on reading. As stated, universal screening allows a district and school to place students in the most effective learning environment and to measure their growth during the year.
Screening all students is not new to Burlington. Presently the district uses a diagnostic tool for reading called ” the developmental reading assessment” or DRA. The DRA provides excellent information, but the DRA is time consuming to administer. For instance, this year we did not have fall results completed until November. A more effective universal screening tool needs to be efficiently administered so that the student data can be used to make instructional decisions in a more timely manner.
Our pilot involves an assessment developed by Curriculum Associates. The tool is called the Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment (DORA). According to the Curriculum Associates material, the DORA is a “research-based and highly valid criterion-referenced assessment that: 1) adapts to the level of difficulty based on student responses, 2) develops unique student profiles of performance level with instructional recommendations, 3) provides teachers with student and class reports in real time, and 4) aggregates site and district data.”
The DORA is web-based and will allow us to administer the assessment to full classes of students simultaneously. In this way, we can have data available right at the start of the year. Assessment data means little without the expertise of the teacher to create effective lessons. Having universal screening data available and timely will allow our exceptional teachers to be more effective for students across the spectrum of reading proficiency.
There was a saying in Virginia from farmers who raise beef cattle that goes something like, weighing a cow more frequently does not help it gain weight. In other words, testing students more often does not help them learn new skills. All student assessments need to have a purpose. The purpose of universal screening is to help teachers, grade level teams, schools, and the district adjust instruction so that it can be most effective for every child.
As Kame’enui and Simmons say, “Each and all – to teach ALL children to read, we must teach EACH child to read.”