Universal Screening is the name for the process many schools use to identify students who may be struggling and need additional instruction, practice or support. The word 'universal' indicates that all students in the school will participate in this process. The word 'screening' suggests that this process will be quick and efficient and will not compromise instructional time.
A lengthy, complex or in-depth assessment should not serve as a "screener" because it would unnecessarily take away from core instructional time. Therefore, universal screening is a process schools use to efficiently identify students early in the school year who may need additional attention. The goal is to identify struggling students early in the school year and early in their academic career so help can be provided to prevent school failure. Identifying at-risk students during their first two years in school, and providing them with additional support before they have significant academic problems, increases their chances of establishing and maintaining appropriate levels of academic progress.
Track My Progress provides a number of advantages as a universal screener compared to more traditional pencil and paper assessments:
Track My Progress reports universal screening results by way of the color of each student's score. Red scores are categorized as at-risk, yellow as borderline, blue as on grade level and green as above grade level. The cut scores that define these color categories can be changed from a School Administrator account to suit the needs of your school or district.
The color of each progress bar is based on the percentile of the score. For example, if a student scores is red it means that the score is below the 26th percentile. If a student score is in green it is above the 60th percentile. The percentile scores are updated for each test window. To change the cut scores for your school see How do I set the cut scores for the performance categories?
The graph below shows a typical Track My Progress distribution of scores. Most of the scores are in the grade level (blue) and above grade level (green) range. However, there are three borderline scores (yellow) and three at-risk scores (red). Therefore, the results of the fall universal screening for this class has identified three students as at-risk (at the 25th percentile or below) and three students as borderline (between the 26th and 40th percentiles).
It is possible that the default cut scores in Track My Progress may identify more or less than 20 percent of your students, depending on the demographics of your particular school. In this situation, you might consider choosing a cut score that reflects the performance abilities of students enrolled in your district or school.
Choosing a more stringent cut score, such as the 40th percentile for at-risk, will result in more students appearing with red scores. Choosing a less stringent cut score, such as the 10th percentile for at-risk, will result in fewer students appearing with red scores. The key is using cut scores that make sense for your school or district. A definition of at-risk that identifies half of the students in red is unsustainable because schools likely do not have the resources to provide additional instruction to half the students at the school. Similarly, when the Track My Progress results only return students in the blue and green color categories it likely means that the cut scores are not stringent enough and there are students who are falling behind their peer group but have not been identified by the universal screening process.
How we respond to a student who has a Track My Progress score identified as "at-risk" or "borderline" by the universal screening process varies by state and district. Some states or districts have prescribed procedures to follow once a student has been identified during the universal screening process. Others take a more flexible approach and respond to each student on a case by cases basis.
The Track My Progress philosophy is to coordinate data questions with multiple data points when possible. The example in The Importance of Multiple Data Points demonstrates how we can be susceptible to a 'false positive' when only considering one data point. Having said that, some districts use a "direct approach" where an at-risk score on the universal screening requires interventions start right away and the student is assigned to a different instructional tier based solely on the one universal screening result. The rationale for this strategy is that at-risk students should not be delayed in receiving interventions due to further observation and progress monitoring. A limitation to this method is that some students may be falsely identified as at-risk during the universal screening and unnecessarily participate in an intervention.
Other districts use progress monitoring as a second form of assessment to confirm the universal screening finding. In the progress-monitoring method, all students with at-risk universal screening scores are monitored for an additional amount of time before they are assigned to a different instructional tier.