While there are many unknowns for next school year, one thing is certain: there’s great importance in screening all of your students this upcoming fall regardless of where and how instruction is provided.
Universal screening in schools is similar to taking your child to the doctor for regular well-child visits. Physicians know the typical growth that infants and children should be making as they grow, and well-child visits give parents and their care providers an opportunity to address any differences observed between a child's actual and expected height, weight, and other health variables.
In the same way, teachers can use school-based screening data to compare a child's academic and behavior data with school-based expectations for learning. Such screening is even more important now because learning has been disrupted for most students. In addition, the combination of flat growth or decline from spring 2020 disruption along with the typical summer loss means that the best starting place for fall instruction might not be where you had started instruction in the past.
Universal screening data will help teachers know what instruction students need as the school year begins.
Pre-Considerations for Conducting Universal Screening
As you think about how to best do universal screening this coming fall, you need to take into consideration some variables.
The first factor is consistency. Consider what screening assessments you've used in the past. In order to calculate your students' growth rates related to COVID-19, you will need to use those same assessments from the 2019-20 school year in the fall of 2020. In addition, it's possible that if you were to change the screeners this year, it might create additional stress for students and teachers.
Another variable that's important to consider is location of instruction. As we've experienced this spring, the location of learning doesn't necessarily have to be on a school campus. In the fall, your students might be in various locations. Even if your school plans to resume on-campus instruction, there could be students who cannot come to campus due to pre-existing health conditions or whose parents are not yet willing to send them. Schools should plan for both instruction and assessment that will happen in the school setting as well as at home.
Now, we’ll discuss the validity of both computer-based and teacher-based assessments. This is the primary distinction as you think about how and when all screening should be conducted.
As mentioned, we recommend you use whatever screener you've used in the past to maintain consistency, but you'll also have to think about the screening format in order to make sure all students can participate.
If you've decided to screen with the computer-based assessments, the benefit is that students can take this assessment on a device, whether they're at school or in the home, and you'll have immediate access to the results.
If you proceed with computer-based assessments, just be sure that you consider the following three steps:
- Make the tests available so that the students will be able to see them.
- Properly train all teachers who are participating and conducting the screening to ensure results will be reliable and valid.
- Provide instructions for the students and their family members who might be assisting them.
There are three main factors to consider for teacher-based assessments while students are in the home learning environment: test security, scheduling, and logistics.
This remains important regardless of where the student is completing the assessment. We recommend that your assessment of the particular screeners be done in a way that neither the student nor the parent would need to print anything, therefore ensuring all of the test content can remain secure.
Because the teacher-conducted assessments are all one-on-one, it will be necessary to have scheduled times when the teacher and student can meet in an online environment to complete the assessment. To ensure consistency and efficiency in communication with families, we recommend that you have the classroom teacher be the primary point of contact around any scheduling issues.
Consider student access and whether the student has all the required hardware, software, and access to the internet. Certainly, teacher readiness to conduct the assessments in this manner will be very important. If the teacher has been doing these assessments this past spring, that should be fairly easy to continue with a quick refresher. However, if it's a teacher who isn't as familiar with distance-based assessment, some preparation and training will be necessary.
Despite the uncertainties in the fall, universal screening remains an essential component of how teachers can learn and respond to their students academic and behavior instruction needs. We recommend that you continue universal screening for your students so that you will be able to identify where they're at with learning and provide timely and effective instruction for all students.
Focus on Universal Instruction after Universal Screening
For schools implementing MTSS, this pyramid probably looks really familiar to you. This pyramid represents all of the resources we have in schools, including the curriculum, instructional strategies, our staff and time. Districts implementing MTSS are focused on using all their resources strategically to meet student needs.
Let’s focus on the Tier 1 or universal instructional resources that schools use as these represent the most resources in any given school. It represents the most time we have, the most staff we have, and the most materials and parts of our schedules that we can use.
Universal instruction represents the curriculum, instruction, and assessment that all of our students receive. It's intended to support the needs of the vast majority of students in your school. If your universal instruction isn't strong enough, then you'll find that you have more students who need intervention than you have intervention resources to support them.
This fall, Tier 1 will be of utmost importance as many schools are expecting increased numbers of student needs. One way to support all students who have additional academic and social emotional behavioral (SEB) needs is by focusing resources in our district and school to provide additional support in the universal tier. This assures that all students are provided with intensified support as we enter the 2020-21 school year.
Intensifying Universal Instruction
There are many ways to intensify the universal tier to allow for supporting increased student needs. Sometimes, you may increase the amount of time that is spent on specific skills. For instance, if you realize that students come back this fall having lost automaticity with their math facts, you may extend math instruction for five minutes a day and have students practice their facts with a peer.
You can also increase the number of days a week we focus on specific skills. Instead of one lesson on social-emotional behavior per week, maybe you can have intentional activities focused on social emotional behavior every single day. You can also teach the same content, but shift to implementing an evidence-based routine. The shift doesn't mean you're teaching something wrong before—what it does is ensure that more students in your class can benefit from the instruction and that all students are fully participating.
Another common strategy is to target specific skills. For example, we may expect that all first-grade teachers address phonemic awareness every day. Perhaps in the past, each teacher has decided how to do this and for how long, but this fall we want all first-grade teachers to spend 15 minutes per day focusing on specific phonemic awareness skills such as sound manipulation or sound deletion. A reading coach or interventionist may also help the team determine which skills to teach at which times of the year.
Improving student motivation is also vital as it supports the ability for students to get the most benefits from high-quality instruction. This can be done in many ways from providing meaningful and relevant work to giving choice throughout the day, and building strong relationships with students.
Supporting the Universal Tier in Your Specific Role
As we think about all of these things, there are ways that each of us in our roles can contribute to an intensified universal tier this fall. What are some ways that leaders, teachers and specialists can support the improvement of the universal tier?
For district level leaders, you can support resource allocation that's focused on intensifying universal instruction when needed. Take into account the pyramid and how it represents all of the resources in your district or school. A district level leader can help support the allocation of those resources toward intensifying the universal tier. Fall screening data can also be used to identify specific needs and support those needs by targeting district-level resources to intensify universal instruction.
For specialists such as instructional coaches and interventionists, you may help in selecting evidence-based routines. For example, a literacy specialist may use the screening or intervention reports to identify specific needs, then review the resources to identify a few evidence-based routines that can be used to address those needs. The literacy specialist then brings those routines to a PLC, where a team can decide how to implement one of the routines.
Specialists can also support teachers to overcome barriers to implementation. They can facilitate discussions with teams to provide time and allow the space to address questions and concerns. In this case, it's less about their expertise and more about taking the time to be intentional. Although many specialists spend their time supporting students needing intervention, having purposeful focus on the universal tier for this fall is the main priority.
Suffice it to say, the back-to-school experience will be different from any we've known. Still, there will be some features of fall screening that will be the same as they've always been. No matter what your role is, consider the resources that can be devoted to the universal tier to support student needs and focus on using your fall screening data to support intensification of your universal tier. These steps will make a world of difference as you begin the new academic year.
***** Want to learn more? Watch our two-part webinar series on preventing the COVID slide.