Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Screening for At-Risk Readers in a Response to Intervention Framework

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Screening for At-Risk Readers in a Response to Intervention Framework

Article excerpt

Abstract. This article examines universal screening, one component in a response to intervention approach for serving struggling learners. In a response to intervention framework, screening is the principal means for identifying early those students at risk of failure and likely to require supplemental instruction; as such, it represents a critical juncture in the service delivery continuum. Our focus is students at risk for unsatisfactory reading achievement. We first examine classification accuracy and the factors that affect it. Then, relying on studies conducted since 1998 that examine the classification accuracy of reading screens, we summarize research on candidate measures with potential for identifying students at risk for reading disabilities and identify areas in need of more research.


Response to intervention (RTI) is a multitiered framework designed for early, and if necessary, sustained intervention for students who are unsuccessful in the general education curriculum. An RTI approach is consistent with research showing that early identification and intervention can reduce subsequent reading failure (e.g., Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Torgesen, 2000). Universal screening, the first step in any prevention approach, is the principal means for targeting students who struggle to learn when provided a strong evidence-based general education (Tier 1) and who require supplemental (Tier 2) instruction. Screens consist of brief assessments focused on target skills that are highly predictive of later reading outcomes. As such, screening represents a critical juncture in the continuum of educational services (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006).

Because RTI is still at an embryonic stage, developers have yet to settle on whether screening is essentially a one-time event or a more elongated process combining static assessment and subsequent progress monitoring (PM). In some RTI models (the direct route), universal screening identifies students for Tier 2 intervention (Vellutino et al., 1996). In other models, universal screening identifies students for subsequent PM (the PM route), whereby entry to Tier 2 is determined by students' performance level and rate of growth on PM measures (Compton, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2007). The PM route yields somewhat better identification accuracy, but postpones intervention for students in need of help. By contrast, the direct route leads to earlier intervention, but places a premium on screening accuracy (i.e., without PM to catch screening errors, students wrongly identified by the screen qualify for Tier 2 intervention, resulting in wasted resources).

Our purposes for this article are threefold. First, we provide an evaluative framework for selecting screening measures. Second, using this framework and selected screening studies, we examine measures with potential for identifying students who may be at risk for poor reading outcomes. Third, we offer several suggestions for screening research, including an investigative protocol for identifying effective screens.

Attributes of an Ideal Screening Mechanism

Screening measures can be evaluated on several dimensions, including classification accuracy, efficiency, and consequential validity. Because of space restrictions, we limit discussion to the proximate purpose of screening in RTI models, classification of individuals as at risk and not at risk for future reading failure.

Criterion Validity

Researchers report two types of evidence related to a screening measure's validity: criterion validity and classification accuracy. Studies of criterion validity examine correlations between performance on a screening measure and an established measure of reading (e.g., word identification, reading fluency, reading comprehension), the latter administered either concurrently or at a future time. The strength of the correlation between the screening and criterion measure provides evidence on the screening measure's criterion validity. …

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