Implications of new state universal screening legislation for all

SPECIAL GUEST BLOG FOR EDUCATORS from FULCRUM by Kareem Weaver, Executive Director, Liza Finkelstein Co-founder, and Devika Sood, Director of Program.

California’s new K-2 universal screening legislation (that goes by the name Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill) is a critical step for its educational system. It is an opportunity to engage in continuous improvement, leverage data, illuminate key actions, root out inequity, and ensure instruction is working for kids–all kids.

Why does this matter?

A 12th grade student describes her heartbreaking and inspiring journey with dyslexia, highlighting how years of pain and challenge could have been avoided if her dyslexia was detected earlier.  

What does this mean?

What does this new K-2 universal screening legislation mean for me, for my classroom, for my district? 

Universal screening is a critical tool that allows schools to act early, and a key step to ensuring that all kids learn to read proficiently, on time. 

So, let’s start with subduing fear about what it isn’t. Universal screeners don’t diagnose dyslexia–in fact, they don’t diagnose at all; they give us data about students’ mastery of grade level skills and inform our next steps. Remember–data is a flashlight not a hammer. 

Concrete steps the universal screening data can point us to:

As Nancy Young’s ladder of reading illustrates, research tells us that 95% of all students benefit from a structured, explicit, and sequential instructional approach to reading; for 65% of students it’s essential and all – including the other 35% – are advantaged by it.

So…if, for example, data from the screener shows that more than 20% of students are identified as “at-risk” (since we know that approximately 15% of the population is dyslexic) it could point to the need to strengthen Tier 1 instruction (aka universal or core instruction). 

Perhaps a curriculum review is needed to ensure alignment to Structured Literacy and SOR (science of reading) practices.

If you already have aligned practices, perhaps instructors need professional learning or coaching for stronger implementation OR perhaps literacy coaches need to calibrate on what implementation success even looks like through creating a shared rubric and conducting side by side walkthroughs.  

If, however, your Tier 1 instruction is being implemented effectively, perhaps the data sheds light on the need to strengthen your MTSS (Multi-tiered System of Supports). 

You may want to evaluate the alignment and implementation of Tier 2 (targeted) and Tier 3 (intensive) supports.  Is the curriculum or program aligned to the science? What is the format (small group or 1:1)? How about the dosage (frequency)? How consistently are students receiving supports?

If your Tier 2 and Tier 3 program is aligned and being implemented with integrity, you may want to ask these questions: Are we using the data to identify students who need intervention? What does targeted vs. intensive support look like? How – and how often – are we progress monitoring students to ensure they are responding to that targeted or intensive instruction? What supports do we layer on when students aren’t responding or making adequate growth? 

Or, you may want to assemble a literacy committee that can answer the above questions, collectively problem solve, continuously engage in data cycles, and adjust, improve, or streamline the literacy system. Optimally, this team would include folks responsible for Tier 1, 2, and 3 academics.

Ready to get started? With universal screening coming down the pike, this is a great time to evaluate the implementation of your literacy program so that you have systems in place to respond to the data. Instruction Partners’ Literacy System Diagnostic is a great tool to help you do just that. It comes from their Early Literacy Hub if you’re interested in exploring more resources.

Interested in how to select a Universal Screener? FULCRUM will be sharing a selection criteria and considerations for selection soon.

PALO ALTO — an example of a CA district making huge gains for most vulnerable group thanks to use of a universal screener: 

Universal screeners help ensure all students’ right to read is protected. Screeners allow school systems to determine gaps in student learning and the systems designed to support all stakeholders.  

Palo Alto Unified, for example, decided to have ‘Excellence for All’ be their standard and refused to be satisfied until all subgroups were thriving. So, despite the district’s overall student achievement being comparatively strong, they decided to administer a universal screener for reading difficulty, including dyslexia.

The results pointed towards gaps in their ELA program. Grounded in evidence, they were able to move past ideology and chart a path towards ensuring all students would become proficient readers. 

The superintendent presented the board with a multi-year plan to overhaul professional learning, curriculum, assessment, and their intervention program. Consistent with the Oakland NAACP’s literacy petition (and aligned with best practices from around the country), a district literacy leadership role was created. 

In just two years, their lowest performing subgroup went from 20% average or above average to 47%. This is incredible growth in a very short period of time.  

Effectively screening students for early reading difficulty, including dyslexia, was the catalyst for Palo Alto addressing a solvable crisis.

To read more about what Palo Alto Unified has done since implementing a Universal Screener and results, see this article

What do you think?

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