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What is Screening?

By: Jessie Kember, Ph.D.

Screening involves the assessment of important student skills or abilities in reading, math, or behavior for the purpose of identifying those students who might benefit from additional instructional or behavioral support as well as predicting which students will meet grade level expectations by the end of the school year. Academic and Behavior screening is similar to a vision screening test to identify whether a student needs eyeglasses to support better vision. Screening is essential within a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework because it helps to ensure the optimal allocation of resources at the classroom, school, and district level. Typically, screening assessments are administered three times throughout the academic school year (e.g., fall, winter, and spring).

While FastBridge recommends three screening periods per academic year (Fall, Winter, and Spring), the FastBridge website allows up to five screening periods. FastBridge recommends three screening periods for all students in kindergarten through fifth grade because student performance can change across the school year. For students in sixth through ninth grade, two screenings a year might be enough. For students in tenth through twelfth grade, there are usually many sources of information about school performance and additional assessment can be more individualized. In some instances, a student might require support in the fall, but could no longer need this support by the winter due to increased performance. Alternatively, another student might score in the average range in the fall but much lower by winter and need assistance.

Screening is a universal practice (i.e., Tier 1). In other words, all students are assessed during scheduled screening periods using an assessment that is the same for all students. Once students are assessed during a screening period, this information is used to identify those students who might benefit from additional support (e.g., “at-risk” v. “not at risk” students). Students identified as “at-risk” can then be administered additional screening measures to gather more information about their skills and abilities. Additionally, a school team can review other prior data about a student’s performance to see how it compares with the screening score. The combined information from screening can be used to identify which students require additional instruction, also called intervention. Within the “at-risk” category of identified students, these students may vary in regards to whether their scores are very discrepant from grade level expectations (e.g., “high risk”), or only somewhat discrepant (e.g., “some risk”). This information is important in order to determine what level of intervention or additional instruction is needed. All students who participate in interventions should complete regular (i.e., weekly) progress assessments to show whether the intervention is working.

Finally, aside from identification of students who might benefit from additional support, screening data are also important in evaluating the effectiveness of instructional practices in the classroom. For example, if fewer than 80% of students reach grade level expectations according to the screening measure, it is important for educators to improve Tier 1 instructional practices (e.g., core instruction). Within an MTSS framework, it is expected that core instruction will support approximately 80% of students (i.e., 80% of students will meet grade level expectations) without additional instruction or intervention needed.

Screening using FastBridge

District Managers have the responsibility to schedule the district’s screening periods using the FastBridge website. Screening periods can be established for individual schools, grade levels, or even by specific assessments. However, if no changes are initiated by the District Manager, the default screening periods are used. Detailed instructions about how District Managers can edit screening periods are found in the Knowledge Base. While FastBridge recommends three screening periods per academic school year (Fall, Winter, and Spring), the FastBridge website allows up to five screening periods.

Understanding Screening Scores

After screening is complete, educators can access and interpret students’ scores using the normative and benchmark scores established for FastBridge assessment tools. Benchmark scores are standards that are used to determine whether students are on track to be successful, or are at-risk. Specifically, there are three benchmark score levels as follows:

  • High risk: Scores below the 15th percentile
  • Some Risk: Scores from the 15th through 39th percentile
  • Low Risk: Scores at the 40th percentile and above

The term risk refers to a student’s likelihood of not meeting the end of year grade level goals. Similarly, normative scores, or local percentiles (i.e., local norms) compare a student’s score to other student scores in the same classroom, within the school, across the district, or with national norms. It is worth noting that two FastBridge assessments, earlyReading and earlyMath, use multiple subtest scores to create a composite score for each screening period, which indicates a student’s readiness or risk. Collecting data during the designated screening period is imperative to using these benchmark, normative, and composite scores for interpretation.

Screening v. Progress Monitoring

In order to understand screening, it is important to understand two essential processes within an MTSS framework: screening and progress monitoring. While the purpose of screening is to identify students at risk for potential school problems, the purpose of progress monitoring is to determine whether additional instruction (e.g., intervention) has led to improvements in student performance. Unlike progress monitoring, screening is a universal process for all students. Progress monitoring is only intended for those students participating in additional instruction and/or intervention services. Finally, screening takes place on approximately three occasions throughout the year for kindergarten through fifth grade students, two occasions for sixth through ninth grade students, and on one or two occasions per year for tenth through twelfth grade students.

Regardless of grade level, progress monitoring is completed weekly or monthly. Despite these differences, screening and progress monitoring are interrelated. More specifically, screening data help to inform the best assessment or measure to use for a specific student for progress monitoring. In order to determine which students might need progress monitoring, and which progress monitoring assessment to use, educators first review universal screening data. Using your FastBridge account, you can view universal benchmark screening data by exploring the Group Screening Report. This report will help you to identify which students scored below benchmark, and how the percentile rankings of students in each class compare with school and district norms. Although screening data can help to inform progress monitoring, FastBridge endorses a multi-method, multi-informant process when identifying students that need additional instruction or intervention.

FastBridge screening tools in the reading, math, and behavior domains are brief, reliable, and are highly predictive of future outcomes, three characteristics of effective screening tools. Taking the time to screen students maximizes later instructional time and resources. FastBridge screening tools offer an online data management system that allows users to collect and manage data, making it easily accessible to educators. Using FastBridge, screening data can be generated at the individual student, classroom, grade level, school, or district level to help educators evaluate instruction.

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