There is widespread agreement among education researchers and experts that universal screening is central to an effective RTI program. Implemented as part of a Tier 1 Intervention, universal screening identifies current or potential academic deficits for every student.

Issues with Single-Stage Screening

Universal screening instruments may include Curriculum-Based Measures (CBMs) such as regular classroom tests, quizzes, activity reports and more formal evaluations of skill mastery, such as state assessments, district assessments, and other assessments as determined by the school’s RTI team.  Some researchers suggest that a single-stage screening, which relies on a sole instrument of measurement and is performed during a single sitting, can result in significantly inaccurate results. Such inaccurate results can include a high level of false-positives or false-negatives, unnecessarily increasing a school’s investment in RTI or under-identifying at-risk students, unacceptably delaying their access to needed interventions.

Two-Stage Screening and Accessible Results

To avoid this challenge, researchers recommend a two-stage screening, in which the cut point is set sufficiently high to eliminate students  clearly not in need of intervention, including gifted and talented students who are advanced in mathematics. This is followed by a second, more detailed assessment of students who did not meet the cut point on the first assessment.

An effective universal screening process should quickly and accurately determine which students to target for intervention and identify specific gaps in student performance and expected instructional outcomes according to grade level.

Universal screening instruments should also be easy to administer and analyze, presenting data in a way that is accessible and facilitates timely instructional decisions regarding course placement and scheduling. This also ensures that universal screening occurs with fidelity—that teachers or other school staff are consistent and timely in their intervention programs.

Adaptive Instruction

Ascend Math can play an important role in multi-stage universal screening.  A school may choose to utilize Ascend’s adaptive Level Recommendation Screener for all student populations to quickly eliminate students not in need of intervention and  efficiently identify students performing significantly below grade level. Or, following a stage 1 “high level” screening such as a state test, which eliminates students clearly not at risk, schools can administer Ascend’s Level Recommendation Screener to students that did not perform adequately to quickly and efficiently identify their exact functional level.l. Easily readable Teacher and Administrator Dashboards allow educators in different roles to view students’ proficiency status in terms of a student’s functional level versus actual grade level. Diagnostic assessments then pinpoint students’ performance according to mathematics standards and major content areas to provide a comprehensive, accurate picture of current levels of math proficiency and to automatically create a fully-individualized intervention plan for each student.

Ascend’s Dashboards further facilitate the analysis of individual student and whole-class screening with immediate results and color-coded charts and graphs that provide a quick and detailed read on each student’s skill level, and overall class progress.

District Results Confirm Effective Screening

For example, in a Maryland middle school, administrators selected a set of students who had not made adequate progress on the state mathematics test in previous years. These students were administered Ascend’s diagnostic assessment, which found that 97 percent tested at least one grade below their current grade and 70 percent three or more grades levels below. This data supported the accuracy of Ascend’s diagnostic assessment in confirming the need for intervention and allowed districts to accurately place students in Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions in a timely manner. Dramatic results in less than a school year include: the number of students testing at third grade level decreasing by 92 percent; and 60 percent of grade six through eight students gaining two-to-three grade levels. For additional results, see Holabird STEM Program, MD.

Learn more about the Six Critical Components of a Strong Math Intervention Program and the Ascend Math Model.


Part three of this series will focus on Individualized Instruction.

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