One topic that often comes up at this time of year relates to universal screening, sometimes called benchmark, screening results. Some of the most common questions revolve around how they compare to other kinds of assessments, and how to share the information with families at conferences.
Beyond talking about a student’s individual score, teachers want to provide a meaningful context for screening data. Many of the parents and guardians who attend conferences never encountered screening assessments when they were in school. Indeed, prior to the last decade, the only assessments in schools were chapter tests and end-of-year exams.
Today’s teachers often find themselves needing to explain not only a student’s screening scores, but also why there are many different types of assessments now used in schools. That’s where a broad understanding of types and functions of assessment comes in handy.
To better understand what benchmark screening is, it's instructive to look at the two major types of assessments used in schools: (a) formative, and (b) summative.
Formative assessments, which include the “benchmark” assessments, are focused on specific learning targets and occur frequently during instruction so that the teacher can know how each student and the class is doing and make decisions about how to adjust instruction. In this way formative assessments inform instruction. Summative assessments by comparison, come at the end of a course or unit and provide information about the sum of the student’s learning and are typically used to determine if students have met pre-determined learning goals.
Universal Screening ("Benchmark") Assessments
These are standardized assessments of basic academic skills that are taken by all students. They are also sometimes known as “benchmark” assessments because each student’s score is compared to a specific goal. (at FastBridge, we refer to such assessments as universal screening measures and the grade-specific goals are the benchmarks). The purpose of conducting universal screening is to identify students who could benefit from more support in different ways.
Most FAST assessments can be used for universal screening, and are given in fall, winter, and spring. Universal screeners provide some of the most useful information for making decisions about individual and group instruction.
Progress Monitoring Assessments
Progress monitoring typically follows universal screening and includes regular assessment (i.e., weekly) of students who are participating in intervention. When a specific area of need is pinpointed for a student and an intervention is started, a progress monitoring tool gives very specific feedback about the student’s progress and the effectiveness of the intervention. This information helps inform decisions about continuing the intervention or trying something different.
- State Assessments. These are also often known as “high stakes” assessments because they function as accountability measures giving evidence of student learning, sometimes tied to state resources and support. In the U.S., each state selects and administers an assessment one time during a school year for students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Usually, these are tests are administered in the spring of the school year. State assessments typically cover the broad range of content that students learned during the school year. State assessments primarily serve the purpose of meeting state and federal requirements for annual testing and allow schools and districts to determine the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction, but they are generally not useful for informing instructional decisions at the classroom level.
- Diagnostic Assessments. Diagnostic assessments are used when more detailed information about a student’s current learning needs is indicated. Diagnostic assessments can be either informal or formal. Informal diagnostic assessments include additional tests used to learn more about a student’s current learning needs. Formal diagnostic assessments are used if a student is referred for a comprehensive evaluation for special education. When such testing is conducted, the purpose is to determine whether the student qualifies for special education services according to state and federal guidelines.
Sharing with Families
When families ask about their student’s FAST assessment scores, they do not necessarily need to be given all of the above details about assessment types. They will appreciate learning more about the purpose of universal screening and how student scores can help teachers know if a student is on track to meet the end-of-year learning goals.
This month, FastBridge released an all-new Family Report to help teachers communicate to parent how their student is performing across reading and math measures.
A Helpful Analogy: Health Care
In order to explain universal screening and benchmark scores to families, teachers might want to use an analogy from health care.
Physicians use many types of screening assessments to assist with identifying patients who might be at risk for health problems and need treatment. Examples include measures such as weight, blood pressure, and temperature. These are all important metrics that connect with the likelihood of wellness. Similarly, schools use universal screening assessments to learn the relative academic wellness of all students and those who might need extra help.
FAST screening scores, by themselves, will not indicate a student’s long-term school future. This is just like how measures of weight, blood pressure, or temperature will not confirm any particular diagnosis. For this reason, FAST screening data should be reviewed alongside the teacher’s classroom observations and assessments in order to determine a student’s specific learning needs. In some cases, additional informal or formal diagnostic assessments might be needed to confirm a student’s need.
When describing this to families, teachers can explain that having all students participate in universal screening, and comparing the results to benchmarks helps teachers make certain that no students “slip through the cracks” and that all students are provided with challenging, rigorous instruction at the appropriate level. Additionally, universal screening and the benchmark comparisons help inform families, teachers and students about a student’s progress throughout the year.