Ask the Experts

Student Assessment - Universal Screening

Our district has been doing universal screening in reading for at least 5 years. We are moving our whole district toward the RTI model with the focus at K-1 this year. Should we try to implement a universal screening for math at this time? Or should we wait?

Response from Amanda VanDerHeyDen, Ph.D.:

I don't think there is a "right" answer to this question. Any district considering initiation or expansion of their RTI efforts has to make that decision considering the goals of the district (desired and prioritized outcomes), existing resources, and resources needed to implement. When I have helped make such decisions I have found it helpful to specify what improvements are possible with the implementation or expansion, how much the effort will cost, and then to determine whether the cost is worth it. Once a decision has been reached that the added implementation effort is worth the cost to implement, then it's helpful to specify exactly what actions need to occur well for implementation to have the desired effect. To me, the key is to only undertake as much as can be done well. If I were in your shoes, these are the questions I would ask:


  1. What are our reading outcomes in our district? How do our students perform on the year-end accountability measures in reading? What about the high-risk groups of readers? Are there many class-wide or any grade-wide reading problems?
  2. What effect has our implementation of RTI procedures in the area of reading had on the number of students being referred and evaluated for special education services? Are there any particular demographics that are over-represented in the referral and evaluation pool?


Answers like, "Reading scores are on the rise. We have no demographic categories of students who are under-achieving relative to their peers. More children are getting intervention (correctly selected and implemented) than previously and this seems to have reduced the number of students who must be discussed by the school-based referral team" indicate that the RTI effort in reading is occurring well and is having a discernible effect on student and system outcomes. If the Reading RTI effort is being implemented well and having the desired effect, then expansion to mathematics may be warranted. In my work, we are finding systemic performance problems in mathematics in lots of schools. So once reading intervention and prevention efforts are being implemented well and having the desired effect, it might be a good use of resources to expand to mathematics. One basis for expanding RTI to mathematics might be low year-end accountability scores or school-wide screening data indicating poor performance on mathematics skills.


In your case, it sounds like your district is already planning an expansion. It sounds like your district will be adding the tiered interventions and decision making districtwide for reading. If that is the case, it might make the most sense to ensure that the reading RTI is implemented fully and correctly so that it can have the desired effects prior to undertaking mathematics implementation. Implementation is the linchpin of RTI and it is better to implement on a smaller scale with quality. Correct implementation requires constant monitoring and adjustment.


Other ideas for starting small include: beginning with particular grade levels and expanding to additional grades, beginning with one school and expanding to additional schools, beginning with one topic area (e.g., reading), and/or beginning with one component of the RTI process (e.g., universal screening).

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