Academic journal article School Psychology Review

A Comparison of Methods to Screen Middle School Students for Reading and Math Difficulties

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

A Comparison of Methods to Screen Middle School Students for Reading and Math Difficulties

Article excerpt

Many schools have adopted a response-to-intervention (RTI) framework in which educational services are provided within a tiered system of support. As part of the RTI model, the needs of a majority of students are assumed to be satisfied through core instruction, whereas some students may require supple mental support and an even smaller number of students may require intensive instructional support (Brown-Chidsey & Steege, 2010; Jimerson, Burns, & VanDerHeyden, 2007). Appropriate instructional decisions and the allocation of school resources hinge on the degree to which relevant data on student performance are available (Crawford, 2014; Glover & DiPerna, 2007). Universal screening is a prominent form of assessment within an RTI model as it helps educators to efficiently estimate the quality of core instruction and identify students who may benefit from supplemental support. To guide school leaders in their screening practices, there are a variety of resources to help evaluate specific screening tools (e.g., National Center for Response to Intervention [NCRTI], 2014). Likewise, several articles exist to provide more general guidelines for selecting screening tools for different academic and behavioral concerns. Such guidelines generally encourage practitioners to consider the purpose of the screener, the screener's psychometric properties, and the degree to which the tool is usable in the school context (Glover & Albers, 2007; Kettler, Glover, Albers, & Feeney-Kettler, 2014). Although there are many factors that affect which screening tool is adopted by a school, psychometric qualities tend to receive the greatest scrutiny.

Because the act of screening implies some level of diagnostic utility, researchers and practitioners are often interested in the degree to which a given screening tool accurately identifies those students who require additional support and those for whom core instruction is sufficient. Establishing evidence for this purpose generally includes a direct assessment of the relationship between a brief screening measure and a gold-standard test of the intended construct. In reading and math, these gold-standard assessments are often state accountability tests or individually administered achievement tests. During such comparisons, researchers will establish one or more cut scores on the brief screening tool that help educators predict which students are likely to fail to meet proficiency criteria on the gold-standard assessment. Although test users can manipulate the number of students who are identified as at risk for academic problems by changing a cut score, authors of screening tools generally provide guidelines for cut scores, along with information regarding the diagnostic accuracy of those scores.


While agreed on standards for technical adequacy exist for screening tools, there are many differences in screening practices among schools (Prewett et al., 2012). Those differences mirror the range of screening methods discussed in the RTI literature (e.g., Jenkins, Hudson, & Johnson, 2007; Speece et al., 2011; VanDerHeyden, 2013). For example, many schools use one or more published screening tools to determine which students will receive supplemental instruction (Prewett et al., 2012), and in some cases, teacher rankings of students may also be used (Kettler, 2012; Speece et al., 2010). When using multiple sources of data, educators may adopt a gated screening model or consider those sources simultaneously. Whichever method of screening is used in schools, decisions to increase the number of screening assessments should be tempered with practical limitations and the degree to which such assessments improve decision accuracy (Van-DerHeyden, 2013).

Gated Screening

The addition of multiple phases of screening is usually intended to improve the accuracy with which educators identify struggling students (Compton et al. …

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