What is a universal diagnostic2021-09-21T16:47:42+00:00

FAQ

What is standards-based assessment?2021-09-17T20:07:20+00:00

Standards-Based Education Requires Standards-Based Assessments

In the United States, a standards-based assessment is a test that evaluates a student’s mastery of standards for specific knowledge or skills. Standards-based assessments are the natural result of standards-based education, or outcome-based education, used in most state education departments. The components of standards-based education are standards-based assessment, standards-based instruction, standards-based learning, and standards-based grading.

To develop standards-based education, educators have to determine the specific standards that cover the discrete knowledge and skills that every child must master for each grade; these include all content standards. This has been true for most elementary schools for some time, but middle school and high schools are beginning to adopt standards-based education. Many see this as a result of Standards-Based Education Reform. Controversy emerged in past years as all states moved towards these higher standards that focused on college and career readiness. Today, all states have adopted some form of these new standards, although many states have masked the standards by renaming them with their own language.

While the set of skills and knowledge for each grade may vary from state to state, for the most part they are similar. School districts within a state abide by the standards as written by the state. This paradigm ensures that state educators, parents, and students know what is expected for each grade. And the similarity of standards from state to state ensures that students can easily move from state to state. The goal of standards-based education is a high school diploma and the assurance that by high school graduation, students will be prepared for success in college and career.

Standards-based assessments test the standards that must be mastered to attain proficiency in each grade. These assessments are used to measure student mastery of the standards. Many districts and schools create or purchase benchmark assessments that indicate progress toward the standards during the school year. Using standards-based tests, teachers can implement standards-based grading to evaluate student progress.

Standards-based instruction is developed to ensure that students can achieve the standards for each grade as a result of the direct and hands-on instruction and practices and projects that are assigned each year. The assumption is that if the instruction is well-designed then at the end of the year, students will be able to demonstrate mastery of all grade-level standards.

Standards-based instruction in other words should lead to standards-based learning, which is also called mastery learning. For instance, educational departments in each state might set specific goals for what students need to learn by the end of each grade: first-graders need to know certain phonics rules, be able to count to 100, recognize basic 2D shapes, etc. The goals increase in difficulty for each additional grade level.

To Find Learning Gaps, Use Diagnostic and Formative Assessments

When a standards-based assessment is given at the end of the school year, it is considered summative. These assessments are not designed to be a diagnostic assessment or a formative assessment. Why do teachers need diagnostic assessments and formative assessments? If a student does poorly on a standards-based assessment, the teacher will not be able to figure out why the student didn’t achieve mastery. For example, if a 5th-grade student is given a 5th-grade math test and scores a 20% on it, the student is not considered to be proficient for their grade level; they didn’t achieve mastery. But the teacher may ask why did the student fail? What are the next steps? Does the student need 4th-grade math concepts? Or 3rd-grade concepts? Maybe the student was new to English and couldn’t read the test very well, and therefore failed not because of limited math ability but because of difficulty reading the instructions. (See this article discussing the limitations of standards-based testing in education for more information.) Therefore, while standards-based assessments are extremely important from an accountability standpoint, relying on them exclusively and using them inappropriately can prevent an understanding of student learning gaps. You don’t use a screwdriver to pound a nail into a piece of wood; you use a hammer. Use the right assessment for the right purpose.

Why Use a Universal Diagnostic instead of a Universal Screener2021-09-21T18:21:15+00:00

K-12 schools use universal screeners in RTI programs. As part of the RTI process, all students take a universal screening assessment to determine who is struggling and what type of support they need to progress toward grade-level goals. Universal screeners are typically short, easy to administer and test only high-level critical skills and concepts. Once teachers determine which students are struggling, they administer a diagnostic assessment to help them figure out why students are struggling. In other words, they determine student learning gaps regardless of a student’s current grade level. Struggling students are then placed in Tiers 2 or 3 as appropriate for individual needs.

Recently, educators are considering the need for universal diagnostics rather than universal screeners. Why? All students have been impacted by the learning loss caused by the  COVID-19 pandemic so the assumption that 80% of the students in a classroom are at grade level is tenuous at best. Teachers may have to contend with an incredible number of learning levels, and the results of a universal screener will not offer the data they need.  The power of a universal diagnostic is that it identifies learning strengths and gaps. Laura LoGerfo, Assistant Director of the National Assessment Governing Board,  addresses the learning loss issues in a blog article: “In order to address massive and unknown variations in learning, my magic wand would have schools and teachers implement universal diagnostic testing, with frequent assessment updates and teaching aimed at attaining fundamental skills and knowledge as swiftly as possible.”

Perhaps it’s time that school districts replace universal screening with universal math and reading diagnostics to ensure equity and student achievement as we address the issues caused by COVID-19.

  • Modern diagnostically designed assessments can provide data to inform instruction in about the same amount of time as a screener, particularly when these are online and scoring and reporting are accomplished in real-time.
  • Today’s classrooms are more academically challenging because the students are at radically different learning levels and have more diverse backgrounds. The stakes are also higher: students need more academic skills today in order to be successful in college and career.

Note that because of COVID-19, traditional RtI models are often less effective.  When a classroom of students has only 40-50% proficiency in math, 30-40% of the students are more than a year behind.  This means a traditional pull-out program cannot accommodate the number of students who need support. Take a look at “Choosing an Assessment: Data-Driven Personalized Learning” for more information.

What is a universal screener as opposed to a universal diagnostic?2021-09-22T00:06:30+00:00

In education, a universal screener is an assessment that is short, easy to administer, and only tests high-level critical skills and concepts. Typically, K-12 schools use universal screeners in Response to Instruction (RTI ) programs. As part of an RTI process, all students take a universal screening assessment to determine who is struggling and what type of support they need to progress toward grade-level goals. Once teachers determine which students are struggling or at risk, they administer a diagnostic assessment to help them figure out why students are struggling. In other words, they determine student learning gaps regardless of a student’s current grade level. Struggling students are then placed in Tiers 2 or 3 as appropriate for individual needs.

Universal screeners use a single-cut score.  For example, “above 75%” means the student good to go.  “Below” means the student needs help.  Ideally, the screener helps teachers realize that a particular student is struggling with grade-level content before five or six weeks have elapsed in a school year.  A universal screener flags students early so that they can receive extra help right away. Under an RTI model, at-risk students are then put into a group or individual short-term intervention.  They are initially diagnosed and a personalized learning path is prescribed.  Some students might be tested further to determine if they qualify for special education services.

Today, educators can also use a universal diagnostic rather than a universal screener. The real benefit of the universal diagnostic is that It can diagnose why certain students are struggling and pinpoint learning gaps.  For this reason, more and more district administrators are choosing to implement universal diagnostics over universal screeners.  Doing a universal diagnostic addresses students who may be marginally at-risk by providing a roadmap for remediation that can be implemented in the regular class with support.  It also addresses a deeper need in schools with a high percentage of students who are performing below grade level. For example,  the learning loss caused by COVID-19 will disrupt many RTI assumptions. A traditional RtI model of reform works well when only 10-15% of your students need pull-out services. But when 50-60% of students are at risk, you cannot pull all of these students out of class.  Some intervention needs to be provided within the core general-ed classroom.  Real-time diagnostic data reports can help students realize their own gaps and provide teachers with data for small group and individualized instruction.

The power of a universal diagnostic is that it identifies learning strengths and gaps for all students. Laura LoGerfo, Assistant Director of the National Assessment Governing Board,  addresses the learning loss issues in a blog article: “In order to address massive and unknown variations in learning, my magic wand would have schools and teachers implement universal diagnostic testing, with frequent assessment updates and teaching aimed at attaining fundamental skills and knowledge as swiftly as possible.”

Perhaps it’s time that school districts replace universal screening with universal math and reading diagnostics to ensure equity and student achievement as we address the issues caused by COVID-19.

  • Modern diagnostically designed assessments can provide data to inform instruction in about the same amount of time as a screener, particularly when these are online and scoring and reporting are accomplished in real-time.
  • Today’s classrooms are more academically challenging because the students are at radically different learning levels and have more diverse backgrounds. The stakes are also higher: students need more academic skills today in order to be successful in college and career.

Take a look at “Choosing an Assessment: Data-Driven Personalized Learning ”for more information.

What is a Professional Learning Community?2021-09-30T00:23:41+00:00

In education, a professional learning community (or PLC) is a community wherein teachers collaborate regularly to share questions, issues, and solutions within a particular work environment or school department. The term was first used in the 1960s to answer teachers’ complaints that they were working in isolation, which stymied their growth and their effectiveness.

PLC’s gained stature as research demonstrated that schools where they actively met experienced the highest level of success. A study by Fred Newmann and Gary Wehlage in 1995 researched over 1,200 schools and found: “The most successful schools were those that used restructuring tools to help them function as professional learning communities.”

An ISTE post in 2021 by Jennifer Serviss describes key goals of a PLC:

  • Improved teaching and learning
  • Strong relationship among teachers
  • Access to new research and technology
  • Collaborative time for reflection

In practice, teachers within the same grade level might meet together weekly. For instance, all 4th-grade teachers might meet in one group and 5th-grade teachers in another group. All special education teachers might meet as one group or, depending on the size of the school, perhaps special education teachers working with the same grade range of students.

Often PLCs are a requirement of district “PLC” initiatives. The meetings are meant to provide time to reflect on student testing data–qualitative and quantitative–and allow teachers to plan how best to achieve their teaching goals and objectives. The quality of PLC implementation varies greatly depending on how formal or informal the initiative is.

In the best of circumstances, PLCs can be great agents of change as teachers see their value and work together. They give teachers a voice and a means of formally collaborating with colleagues towards clear goals. The effectiveness of each PLC will depend on the individual teachers attending and/or the school leadership.

What is an FBA?2021-01-27T23:46:08+00:00

A functional behavioral assessment (or FBA) is a process that identifies a specific or target behavior that interferes with a student’s education. The assessment attempts to designate the particular behavior, identify the factors that support the behavior, and determine the purpose of the behavior.

The basic idea is that a student’s behavior serves a purpose. Whether they know it or not, kids act in certain ways for a reason. If schools and families can understand what is causing a behavior, they can find ways to change it.

Once an FBA is completed, it is often followed up by the development of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).  The intention of the BIP is to incorporate what was found in the FBA and craft a plan to re-teach desirable behaviors and help the child be more successful in school.

The six steps to an FBA are as follows:

  1. Choose a problem behavior to change.
  2. Measure the problem behavior by collecting data.
  3. Determine the function (purpose) of the problem behavior.
  4. Conduct a functional behavior assessment.
  5. Create a behavior intervention plan.
  6. Teach a new alternative behavior.
What is a BIP?2021-01-27T23:47:10+00:00

A Behavior Intervention Plan (or BIP) is a written plan that teaches and rewards good behavior. It can be a single page or many pages. The purpose is to prevent or stop misbehavior, not simply punish the child.

A Behavior Intervention Plan can also be used as a “proactive action plan to address behavior(s) that are impeding the learning of the student or others.” It is assumed that lesser interventions at Tier I and Tier II have not been successful. If developed for a student with an IEP or 504 plan, the BIP becomes a part of those documents. A BIP includes “positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports.” Behavior Intervention Plans should focus on understanding why the behavior occurred (i.e., ‘the “function’”or “communicative intent” of the behavior) and then focus on teaching an alternative behavior that meets the student’s needs in a more acceptable way. This step includes making instructional and environmental changes and providing reinforcement, reactive strategies, and effective communication.

What is FAPE?2021-01-27T23:47:37+00:00

A cornerstone of IDEA, our nation’s special education law, is that each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child’s unique needs and that prepares the child for further education, employment, and independent living.

Defined in IDEA at | 34 CFR §300.17, as follows:

§300.17 Free appropriate public education

Free appropriate public education or FAPE means special education and related services that—

(a) Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;

(b) Meet the standards of the SEA, including the requirements of this part;

(c) Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and

(d) Are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP) that meets the requirements of §§300.320 through 300.324.

What is a manifestation determination?2021-01-27T23:48:51+00:00

The hearing, a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR), is a process to examine all relevant information and specifically the relationship between the child’s disability and the behavior. Consequences for problem behaviors should not discriminate against a child based on a disability.  The MDR is conducted when the exclusion of a child for disciplinary purposes would constitute a change in placement.  The team considers the origins of the behavior as it relates to the child’s disability.  If it appears that the disability has a causal relationship to the behavior, then the child should not be excluded.

Why is the Endrew F. (2017) Supreme Court case so important?2021-01-27T23:50:12+00:00

In 2017, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (Video Explanation), sought to bring clarity to the IEP process by answering the following question: What is the level of educational benefit school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with a FAPE guaranteed by the IDEA?  In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the low educational benefit standard used by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Supreme Court ruled  that “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” (Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 2017, p. 15). The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Tenth Circuit to apply this higher educational benefit standard. The district court judge subsequently held that the Douglas County School District had failed to provide Drew with a FAPE. Eventually, the school district paid Drew’s parents $1.3 million for his private school tuition, related expenses, and attorneys’ fees.

6 minute video description of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District by Dr. Kurt Hulett.

What is disproportionality in special education?2021-01-27T23:51:13+00:00

In special education, disproportionality generally occurs in two primary areas. One, the over- or under-representation of children with disabilities in specific disability categories is of particular concern.  Two, the over-representation of students with disabilities in the discipline process is of considerable concern.  With regard to tracking disproportionality, school districts are most often tasked with the over-representation of students in these areas.

Disproportionality may be caused by:

  • Failure to recognize and accommodate cultural differences among minority groups;
  • Use of inappropriate assessment strategies for English Language Learners and racial and ethnic minorities;
  • Failure to accommodate parents of ELL students or language minorities; and
  • Lack of responsiveness to cultural and socioeconomic differences among children and their families.

Related Links…

5 Tips to Tackle Disproportionality.  Download Now!

What is an IEP?2021-01-27T23:51:49+00:00

An IEP — Individualized Education Program — is an overall approach to meeting the needs of a child with a disability, as required by IDEA (2004).  The IEP has become the center point of special education.  Developed via a team process, many stakeholders, including parents, have a role in the determination of content and services enumerated in the IEP.  The IEP is a legally binding document.

Sec. 300.22 Individualized education program

300.22 Individualized education program.

Individualized education program or IEP means a written statement for a child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with §§300.320 through 300.324.
What is the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP?2021-01-16T17:24:07+00:00

A 504 plan is a blueprint for how schools will support a student with a disability and remove barriers to learning. The goal is to provide the student equal access at school.  In contrast, IEP stands for Individual Education Program and centers around academic achievement and determining whether a student qualifies for special education services.

For example, a 504 plan might explain that a student with a physical disability has difficulty getting to class on the second floor of a building and outline ways to remove this physical barrier.  For instance, it could allocate extra time for this student to move between classes, as traveling to and from a particular elevator takes time.  In the case of a student who was both blind and had a mental impairment, the 504 plan would address the visual impairment of the student and ways to accommodate it.  The IEP would define an individualized learning plan to help the student improve academically and functionally.

What is due process?2021-01-27T23:52:35+00:00

Due process is the formal route to resolving conflicts in special education.  When a parent disagrees with a school district, the parent has specific rights and processes to follow in order to resolve the issue.  Often known as parental rights, due process is unique to special education; the same rights are not available to the parents of a child without an eligible disability under IDEA.

What is the Rowley Standard?2021-01-27T23:55:20+00:00

The Rowley case concerned a hearing-impaired girl named Amy Rowley who was a student at the Furnace Woods School in Hendrick Hudson Central School District, Peekskill, N.Y. Amy had minimal residual hearing and was an excellent lip reader. During the year before she began attending school, a meeting between her parents and the school administrator resulted in a decision to place her in a regular kindergarten class. Several administrators prepared for Amy’s arrival by attending a course in sign language interpretation, and a teletype machine was installed in the principal’s office to facilitate communication with her parents, who were also deaf. At the end of the trial placement, it was determined that Amy should remain in the kindergarten class but that she should be provided with an FM transmitter. Amy successfully completed her kindergarten year, but her parents argued that she was not maximizing her educational benefit.  They believed the FAPE requirement under the IDEA protected such a right.  The Supreme Court sided with the school, determining that “some educational benefit” was required by FAPE and that the bar had been met.  This landmark decision set a low standard for special educators from 1982-2017, when the Endrew F. case increased the bar for FAPE.

What is LRE?2021-01-27T23:56:06+00:00

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is a legal principle defined in the IDEA.  This principle requires that all children with disabilities be involved in the regular educational curriculum to the greatest extent possible.  The LRE definition and regulations are as follows:

Sec. 300.114 LRE requirements

300.114 LRE requirements.

(a) General.
(1) Except as provided in §300.324(d)(2) (regarding children with disabilities in adult prisons), the State must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that public agencies in the State meet the LRE requirements of this section and §§300.115 through 300.120.
(2) Each public agency must ensure that—
(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and
(ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
(b) Additional requirement—State funding mechanism—
(1) General.
(i) A State funding mechanism must not result in placements that violate the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section; and
(ii) A State must not use a funding mechanism by which the State distributes funds on the basis of the type of setting in which a child is served that will result in the failure to provide a child with a disability FAPE according to the unique needs of the child, as described in the child’s IEP.
(2) Assurance. If the State does not have policies and procedures to ensure compliance with paragraph (b)(1) of this section, the State must provide the Secretary an assurance that the State will revise the funding mechanism as soon as feasible to ensure that the mechanism does not result in placements that violate that paragraph.

 

What is SDI?2021-01-27T23:57:01+00:00

Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is a legal requirement found in the IDEA.  SDI requires that special education students receive “specially designed instruction” as a part of their educational program.  The general idea is that children with disabilities need unique and customized educational interventions that address their specific deficits.  The definition of SDI is as follows:

(a) General.
(1) Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including—
(i) Instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and
(ii) Instruction in physical education.
(2) Special education includes each of the following, if the services otherwise meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section—
(i) Speech-language pathology services, or any other related service, if the service is considered special education rather than a related service under State standards;
(ii) Travel training; and
(iii) Vocational education.
(b) Individual special education terms defined. The terms in this definition are defined as follows:
(1) At no cost means that all specially-designed instruction is provided without charge, but does not preclude incidental fees that are normally charged to nondisabled students or their parents as a part of the regular education program.
(2) Physical education means—
(i) The development of—
(A) Physical and motor fitness;
(B) Fundamental motor skills and patterns; and
(C) Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports); and
(ii) Includes special physical education, adapted physical education, movement education, and motor development.
(3) Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction—
(i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and
(ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.
(4) Travel training means providing instruction, as appropriate, to children with significant cognitive disabilities, and any other children with disabilities who require this instruction, to enable them to—
(i) Develop an awareness of the environment in which they live; and
(ii) Learn the skills necessary to move effectively and safely from place to place within that environment (e.g., in school, in the home, at work, and in the community).
(5) Vocational education means organized educational programs that are directly related to the preparation of individuals for paid or unpaid employment, or to additional preparation for a career not requiring a baccalaureate or advanced degree.

Today, in the context of public education and providing all students with IEPs with SDI, the task can be very difficult.  But fortunately, technology tools have come a long way in the past 10 years and can assist special education teachers by providing them with tools to diagnose individual students’ more efficiently as well as deliver instruction using online tools that target students’ specific gaps.

Related Links…

DORA – Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment to help with IEPs and Progress Monitoring
ADAM – Adaptive Diagnostic Assessment of Mathematics to help with IEPs and Progress Monitoring
LGL Edge – Online instruction in Math and ELA that targets students’ gaps and provides automated SDI for teachers

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