Understanding and using your child’s universal screening assessments to help guide academic progress.
By: Christy Bowers, M.A.
Whether your children are learning remotely or in person right now, schools must collect data to determine students’ strengths, deficits, and progress. One source of data used is called a universal screener. These assessments vary from school to school, but commonly used universal screeners include NWEA, MAP, Istation, i-Ready, STAR, and DIBELS. Understanding the purpose of these assessments and how the results are used by schools provides parents with a snapshot on their child’s performance when compared to other students his age, as well as guides conversations with teachers when you suspect that your child may be struggling.
Universal screening assessments are designed to be an efficient measure to assess reading and math skill development. Typically administered three times a year, these tests identify students who may be at-risk for academic difficulty. The school can use the information to create targeted, skill-based intervention groups, while also evaluating the effectiveness of their core instructional programs. Another benefit for analyzing universal screening data is to determine students’ growth over time.
Most universal screening assessments provide a standardized score that places a student’s performance in a range from significantly above grade-level expectations to significantly below grade-level expectations. Often a percentile score is provided that can correlate to standardized assessments to identify students who do not meet the benchmark set by the school district.
What if your child scores below the grade-level expectation? Don’t panic. There are many questions to consider. Is this score an outlier to your child’s typical performance? How does he perform on classroom tests, reading running records, or EOGs? If the universal screening score is not consistent with most of his other assessments, maybe there were distractions within the testing environment or maybe he didn’t feel well and didn’t complete the items to the best of his ability. It is also important to consider that students’ performance in general may not be typical due to loss of in-person instruction since mid-March, due to school closures for COVID-19. If, however, your child consistently performs poorly on classroom tests, struggles to complete homework independently, and has frequently scored below grade level expectations on the universal screening assessments given previously, this would be the time to request a teacher conference.
During the meeting, look at the information you have through test results, work samples, and observations to pinpoint specific skill deficits that may need to be addressed. A specific intervention plan needs to be established that details who will provide the instruction, what instructional strategies will be implemented, where the instruction will take place, and the frequency and duration of the intervention. Support for students who are currently remote learners will look different than what schools can provide at school; however, collaboratively, the parent and teacher can brainstorm how targeted instruction can be provided.
Schools need to provide evidence-based interventions that have been proven effective. More information about evidence-based instruction can be found here: Evidence-Based Practices at School: A Guide for Parents and Evidence-Based Practices at School
Repetition and practice are often important in the development of essential academic skills, so please ask the teacher what you can do to also support your child’s progress at home. It could be as simple as reading word cards each night or practicing multiplication facts in the car each day. Parents who wish to engage a tutor outside of school should provide consent for the teacher to speak with the tutor to collaborate so that the child‘s instruction is consistent and focused on common goals.
Don’t forget to also establish a plan for monitoring your child’s progress. The school-based team can use current assessment data as baseline, set a goal for the progress the team anticipates, and then determine how often the teacher will assess progress. Also, set a date to reconvene. When the team gets back together, request to see the data gathered and analyze our child’s rate of progress. Do you see steady progress or inconsistent performance? Ask if the teacher is noticing that the skills worked on in isolation are carrying over to grade-level work or if the child is applying the strategies to other subject areas. The team can use this data to either discontinue the interventions, if the goal is met; continue the intervention with a date to review progress again; or modify the interventions if the desired outcomes are not evident. Sometimes a change in the instructional group size or length of the session can intensify the intervention, while other times the team may need to consider implementing a different instructional strategy.
Although universal screening assessment scores are only one data point to consider when determining if your child is meeting grade-level standards in academic areas, it is a useful starting point for identifying and remediating essential skills needed to keep students on pace to meet grade-level expectations.