By Dr. Evelyn Johnson
Boise State University
Last Wednesday, together with Dr. Juli Pool from Boise State University, I gave a webinar on screening for reading problems within an RTI framework. The event was hosted by the National Council for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and is archived on their Web site. The goal of the webinar was to provide an overview of the screening process and to discuss specific issues and measures related to screening for reading problems across the grade levels.
By far, the majority of the questions we received when our presentation ended related to secondary screening tools, so I thought I would highlight here some of the elements we discussed in that webinar (and in other articles on the NCLD’s RTI Action Network). One question we received was whether there were no-cost options for screening at the secondary level. To this question I gave a fairly long answer (as I’m unfortunately prone to do!).
How screening is conducted depends on a number of factors (Jenkins, 2003), including:
- What is the outcome we are trying to predict?
- How have we defined that outcome?
- What level of risk are we interested in identifying?
For high school, one could argue that one purpose of screening is to identify students who are likely to drop out without targeted support. This certainly isn’t the only way the RTI model can be used at the high school level, but it does represent one potential use of the framework. A number of research studies examining high school dropout rates have identified key indicators that predict dropping out as early as ninth grade (with some research indicating the indicators are highly predictive at sixth grade as well). These key indicators include:
- Attendance during "transition" years, where transition is defined as the first year of middle school and the first year of high school.
- Attendance during the first 20 days of those transition years.
- Cumulative GPAs, especially in core classes like English and math.
- Failed courses, and more specifically, failed core courses.
- "On track" progress in terms of credit completion.
The National High School Center has developed a free tool called the Early Warning System (EWS) that can be used to monitor and analyze these indicators –- thus identifying students who are "red-flagged" and likely in need of support if they are to be successful in school. Much of the research on the predictors listed above has been conducted in larger urban areas, like Philadelphia and Chicago. Therefore, it will be important for schools to test whether the predictors are accurate within their own setting. For example, in a recent analysis in Idaho, we (Johnson & Semmelroth, 2009) found that attendance was not as strong a predictor of dropout rates in rural or suburban districts. We’ll be presenting that data at next month's CEDS conference in Philadelphia.
We are also currently examining whether the EWS can be expanded to include state-level assessment data that could be used to identify students who have not met grade-level performance benchmarks, in addition to screening data in reading and math (click here to review screening tools that have been reviewed by the National RTI TA Center). For math, we plan to determine whether an algebra progress monitoring tool developed by Project AAIMS is predictive of student performance in math (as measured by Idaho state assessments). Integrating this data within the EWS tool can help provide more comprehensive data, especially when a school uses it to inform decisions about how to improve their Tier 1 program, and demonstrate how to best devise appropriate interventions within the Tier 2 system that support the needs of struggling students.
Next entry, as promised, I will review some outcome data from secondary schools that have successfully implemented RTI.