What is Universal Screening? - Definition & Tools

Instructor: Heather Turner

Heather has taught for 10 years as a lead special education teacher and Educational Diagnostician for a district. She has a doctorate in Curriculum Studies.

In the school setting, screening takes the form of academic and behavioral scans to identify students who are at risk for performing below expectation. This lesson will provide an overview of universal screening at the school level and discuss tools and definitions for professionals.

Universal Screening: Purpose

Universal screening is the process of providing a brief assessment to all students to identify those who may experience lower than expected academic outcomes. It is a component of response to intervention, which involves a strategic approach to providing tiered, evidenced-based strategies for students who are at risk for falling below grade-level expectations. Universal screening is the first step in identifying those students who may be at risk in both academic and behavioral categories.

Assessment Types

Universal screening requires the use of valid, age-appropriate assessments. Typically, these assessments are brief measures, requiring only a few minutes of time. Each assessment is designed for a specific academic domain such as reading fluency, decoding skills, math computation, and math reasoning. There are also behavioral screenings that can be used to identify those students who are at risk in their social-emotional development.

Universal Screening: Process

Selecting an Assessment Tool

Not all universal screenings are the same. When selecting an assessment tool, the grade level and academic focus of the universal screening are the first two decisions made. This information will be used to select an appropriate universal screening. The Center for Response to Intervention provides a table analyzing and comparing different assessment tools. This information is available online.

Administering Assessments: Frequency

Universal screenings are typically administered three times a year to monitor students' progress, including the fall, winter, and spring. They are an excellent way to determine if students are meeting or not meeting grade-level expectations for a specific domain. Educational professionals can use this information to remediate and extend the learning outcomes for students who perform below or above expectations.

Analyzing the Data

The results from an appropriate universal screening will show which students performed on average, above average, and below average based on either grade level or age-level indicators. It is helpful to understand that these screenings produce norm-level data, which requires that students be compared to each other based on either grade level or age. Norm-level data will always sort based on the average, above average, and below average performance of students.

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