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All schools are, or should be, planning for what to do for all students when schools re-open, presumably (and hopefully) in the Fall, for the 20-21 school year. My schools are planning, and I believe that all schools should be planning, for supports that all students will need and the supports that the most vulnerable students will need.

The most vulnerable will be even more vulnerable…

We must be ready to meet student needs before the first day of school. Therefore, we must analyze data of student needs that we have generated during this current school year and pre-assess needs during the beginning of the year. We cannot and need not gather data on all standards. Let’s focus on the essentials. 

At the conclusion of each school year, there are still vulnerable students; in spite of our best efforts throughout the course of the year and in spite of student progress, school years end with students who are still not yet were they need to be and with us preparing for the ways in which we will support these students at the very beginning of the new school year, even if that student will be transitioning to a different school.

Wow…will we need to do that for this upcoming school year. In fact, there’s a strong likelihood that students who were vulnerable when schools shifted to virtual learning will have made less progress in closing gaps at home then they would have made had schools remained open. We must be ready. It starts with gathering and analyzing data.

This process has a name: Universal screening. What does it mean? Screeners filter those students who are at desperate risk of failure unless they receive immediate, intensive supports. 

If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. We can predict who these students are—they scored in the lowest performance band on the state test; they scored in the 6th percentile on a norm-referenced test; they were suspended for 12 days last year; they were not passing classes. A strong MTSS/RTI approach is predicated on the notion of prevention as opposed to the historical approach of waiting until a student fails and then launching a rescue mission. All students are screened to identify any individuals who, despite a strong core instructional program (Tier 1), are still in danger of failure. To ensure that students do not fall farther and farther behind, students must have access to immediate help. 

So here’s what we do: 

We screen to identify students most at-risk. What would we use to screen? Do we need to buy a new and administer a new test? We recommend that schools use the loads of data that they already gather to identify who is so far behind that they will simply not catch up in the absence of intensive support, provided as quickly as possible.

What could that look like, for example, in the area of reading? Most schools are using a three-times-a-year benchmark to establish current levels of readiness. Most of these benchmarks are computer-based and adaptive and many are quite good. Screening in these instances is simple; establish an initial criterion (e.g., students scoring in the 30th percentile or below or reading two or more grade levels behind). Students scoring below are highly likely to have a significant deficit in reading that requires immediate Tier 3 support (in addition to a highly differentiated and scaffolded set of Tier 1 supports). 

In preparation for this coming school year, we may need to reference the mid-year administration of such tests.

But, what if those types of benchmark tests are not available. While a grade of F may not accurately identify why a student did not pass a subject area or class, an F should serve to immediately screen a student as a likely candidate for more intensive supports, probably in the areas of reading or behavioral skills such as self-regulation, executive functioning, organization, or time management. An F in reading in elementary grades, or an F in an English class in middle and high schools, or multiple Fs in any grade level should lead to us asking questions about students’ reading skills. All grade levels and all subject areas require that a student read at or close to grade level to be successful, even when teacher teams provide scaffolded access to content.

Or, let’s systematically gather teachers’ specific feedback on students’ significant needs. Teachers spend an entire year or course with a student – or in this case, most of the year. If a significant deficit in the foundational skill areas of reading, numeracy, writing, or behavior exist, then the student will need intensive Tier 3 interventions and supports at the very beginning of the next year. Period. They ought to already be receiving these supports, but whether they are or are not, students are “screened” to be a strong candidate of Tier 3 supports if their current year teacher identifies them as such at the conclusion of the year. No other documentation or testing should be required to get them on the “list.” 

Screening is a process, not a test. The reason we screen is to as-immediately-as-possible begin providing intensive supports to students most in-need. First, we need to know why they are so significantly at-risk and determine their most immediate area of need.

In addition to end-of-the-year screening, my schools are also preparing short pre-assessments (or screeners) to administer at the very beginning of the year. These short tests assess student proficiency on the prior grade level or course essential learning targets and their preparedness for the coming year. The narrow focus of these pre-assessments will empower teachers to target prerequisite needs of students found to be vulnerable, particularly when combined with the screening information gathered prior to the end of this school year.

In these unprecedented times, our students need our best and we need the best tools to serve them. Mr. Elmer’s Intervention Compass is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Intervention Compass can help:

  • The universal screening of mindsets is available within Intervention Compass.
  • Data from these screeners can be organized and analyzed within Intervention Compass’ Data Walls.
  • Research-based strategies, found within Intervention Compass’ Intervention Library, can be used to promote more positive mindsets.
  • Students’ mindset needs and staff response to these needs can be documented within Intervention Compass’ notes section.
  • Progress monitoring can be scheduled, administered, and data plotted within Intervention Compass’ assessment support system.

We can be prepared to meet students’ behavioral needs. We must. Mr. Elmer is the best solution to help us in this critical work.

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