Part 2: using Universal Screening Data to Evaluate Learning Loss
and creator of The Reading Science Academy
Due to learning loss from pandemic-related school closures, the next beginning-of-year universal screening assessments will likely identify a higher-than-usual number of students as at risk. Although schools typically support students unlikely to be skilled readers at the end of the year by providing small-group instruction outside the general-education classroom, the increased number of students projected to need instructional support next academic year may well surpass the capacity of any functional intervention system. Rather than using pull-out reading intervention, schools can accommodate the uptick in at-risk students by leveraging universal screening data to align with learning loss and improve the effectiveness of classroom reading instruction
With this in mind, an important beginning-of-year question will be: How can we maximize classroom reading instruction to benefit all students?
- Time: Does our schedule allow for 90 to 120 minutes of regular classroom reading instruction? Are all students in class during that time and getting any necessary additional supports (i.e., speech therapy, English learner support, reading intervention, etc.) at another time of day?
- Core components: During classroom reading instruction, do we spend time teaching essential early literacy skills (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension) in a systematic and integrated fashion?
- Intentional instruction: Do we make use of effective instructional routines?
- Materials: Do we have a scope and sequence, teacher’s manual, and student materials that support delivery of instruction aligned to reading research?
- Teacher knowledge: Have teachers been provided professional learning opportunities on effective reading instruction and how children learn to read?
- Grouping: Do students spend the majority of classroom reading instruction in small, flexible, skill-based groups? Does our schedule allow adult resources such as Title 1, remedial reading, or special education staff to support these small groups during classroom reading instruction?
- Planning: Do we use assessment in a structured, data-based, decision-making model to align student needs and classroom reading instruction as a grade-level team?
Next, we’ll take a look at how grade-level teams at two schools with different beginning-of-year screening results can use universal screening data to answer these questions.
At the beginning of last academic year, universal screening data indicated that 70% of grade 1 students at Acorn were unlikely to be skilled readers at the end of the year unless they received instructional support.
- 55% could not segment phonemes in spoken words
- 65% could not accurately and automatically match sounds to letters
- 82% could not read a single VC or CVC word
The grade-level team scheduled all grade 1 teachers to teach reading for 120 minutes at the same time each day, which allowed staff to form small groups focused on the next skill that each student needed to learn. Teachers dedicated 20 to 30 minutes to whole-group instruction, working on content knowledge, vocabulary, and listening comprehension through intentional discussion and reading aloud, then spent the rest of the time cycling through small groups to teach phonemic awareness, decoding, spelling, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Even before collecting diagnostic data, teachers used patterns of student performance on universal screening data to form the following groups:
|Group||Pattern of Skills||Focus of Instruction|
|1||Low on phonemic awareness and letter knowledge||alphabet knowledge, letter names, letter sound|
|2||Low on phonemic awareness, OK on letter knowledge||phoneme blending and segmenting; reading and writing words with VC, CV, and CVC patterns|
|3||Low on letter-sound, OK on phonemic awareness||reading and writing words with more complex patterns beyond CVC|
At the beginning of last academic year, universal screening data indicated that 15% of grade 1 students at Oak were at risk.
- 10% could not segment phonemes in spoken words
- 25% could not accurately and automatically match sounds to letters
- 20% could not read a single VC or CVC word
Like their counterparts at Acorn, the grade 1 team at Oak had 120 minutes for classroom reading instruction that included discussion and reading aloud to support building content knowledge, vocabulary, and listening comprehension. Because fewer students were at risk, the Oak teachers presented a whole-group phonics lesson and used small-group time to differentiate the level and amount of reading connected text, spelling, and fluency building. The small number of students struggling with phonemic awareness and phonics received an additional intervention at another time that involved pre-teaching and re-teaching the skill taught in the whole-group phonics lesson.
The actions of these two grade-level teams serve as examples of how to glean information about specific skill deficits from universal screening data, then maximize every minute of classroom reading instruction to turn learning loss into targeted action. When classroom reading instruction is carefully analyzed for alignment to student needs, it can reduce risk, free up resources for intervention, and increase reading outcomes—as Snow, Burns, and Griffin noted in 1998, “Quality classroom instruction in kindergarten and the primary grades is the single best weapon against reading failure.” (p. 343).