Universal Screening in Math

I have received several questions about Screening in Mathematics. Now what?

When I think of a Screener, I am reminded of a thermometer.  A thermometer can be used as a measurement tool to measure the temperature for an entire class of students.  It will most likely identify several students who have a core body temperature above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of those students may have a slightly elevated temperature for a whole host of reasons.  Some might have a very elevated temperature also for various reasons.  What we can do is decide based on the data about further steps.

First, we would want to consider the environment. Is there something in the environment that is causing a higher than expected number of students to present with an elevated temperature. If there is, then we would need to address that environmental factor.  Otherwise, trying to address all the elevated temperatures without addressing the cause will not be able to be sustained long term.  After we have taken care of our environmental factor, then we will have a more reasonable number of elevated temperatures to address.

Next, we would make decisions about which students will be looked at further.  Some students with a mild elevated temperature might just be watched for a few days to see if the temperature returns to normal.  Some students with a little higher elevation might receive some medicine to help control the temperature to see if it resolves itself.  Some students, may get further testing to attempt to diagnose what is causing the students to run the temperature.   Then, after a diagnosis, the students may receive treatments of various types.

What we would not want to do, is to try to find one treatment to lower the temperatures of all students without considering environmental, student developmental changes, further testing, and an expert diagnosis.  None of us would want that for our children with an elevated temperature.   Most of us would want to sue the doctor for malpractice if every time our child had an elevated temperature, the doctor prescribed the same medication, the same dosage, and the same strength as he does for every other child.

We would also be very frustrated with the doctor who only addressed the temperature and did not look further.  If the doctor just kept treating the temperature for the sake of getting the temperature to decrease, and not addressing the cause, I think most of us would look for a new doctor.

This analogy demonstrates a screener in mathematics.  It will identify where classroom instruction can be strengthened so more students can have access and equity to best practice in mathematics instruction.  It will also over identify students who may not need any further testing, diagnosis, treatment, etc.  It will also not tell us what is causing the problem, what the problem is, or how to fix it. Most importantly, we should not look for a “cure all” for all students or give all the same students the same treatment.  And we should definitely not try to manipulate or control the screening data for the sake of the data.  These attempts will only prove to further perpetuate the situation for struggling students’ long term in their mathematics education and achievement.

So, what do we do?  We do some of the same things we did before we had screening data but we do it more accurately.  We reflect. We reflect on our classroom instruction and is it meeting the needs of most learners?  If not, what can we do to strengthen that?  Can we work with an instructional coach, AEA math consultant, etc.  Can we have more Focus throughout the year on the Major Work of the Grade and Clusters? Can we allow students more time and experiences around the mathematics that demand conceptual understanding before procedural fluency?  Can find tasks that promote problem solving and reasoning and use the 5 Practices to increase student discourse and increase engagement and understanding.

What about the students who are really struggling? What did we do before? Are there students who need further assessing to find out what the mathematics is that they need more experiences with? Can we give them more experiences to help them build the knowledge? Can we go ahead and send some information home so parents can work with them earlier? Can we call the parents in sooner than conferences to help get the extra time before or after school with the student?  Can we respond at the first sign of struggle when it is still manageable? There are several things that we can do to help students.

I would love to know what are some of your favorite responses when students do not learn.  Keep the great questions coming.



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