How do we select an effective screening tool?
There are important factors to consider when selecting the right screener to identify children in your school classroom or district. First of all, you want to make sure that it assesses all important skills that we know are important for learning to read.
Secondly, you want to make sure that the screener is evidence-based — that there's some research behind it, that it's not just someone who put some words together and said, “This is a great screener because it has worked last year in my classroom.” And what are the characteristics of the norming group? So I will give you an example.
If you are in an urban school, with many children from maybe low socioeconomic status families, you want to make sure that this was represented when the screener was normed, meaning: were kids included from lower SES families when they were norming the screener?
You also want to make sure that the overall time that it takes for you to screen the children is — works in your classroom, right? There are very short screeners. There are very long screeners. So you want to make sure that this works with your school and it works with your — what we call a screening protocol. So you could screen the summer before kindergarten — which may give you a little bit more time because you get the kids in individually.
Or do you need to screen within the first week of kindergarten and you have very limited time? You want to look at sensitivity and specificity of a screener. So sensitivity is correctly identifying those who will develop a disability, and specificity is correctly identifying those who will not develop a reading disability. So you can also call it the false positives and false negatives.
You have to make a decision about how to deal with what we call false negatives and false positives. So a false positive is, a child is identified as being at risk but is not actually being at risk, which can be due to problems with the instrument, the day they were tested they were tired, didn't have breakfast, et cetera.
Then you have false negatives, which is — a kid is actually at risk, but you are not detecting it with your instrument. So as a district, we recommend that you catch all the kids who are at risk so you would have no false negatives, but that could be – that could lead to more false positives.
And so you can move these two bars and decide based on the resources, the number of testers you have, et cetera, how you want to move the discrepancy between the false positive and the false negatives.
Petscher, Y., Fien, H., Stanley, C., Gearin, B., Gaab, N., Fletcher, J.M., & Johnson, E. (2019). Screening for Dyslexia. Retrieved from improvingliteracy.org.
Nadine Gaab Ph.D.
Nadine Gaab is an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The research reported here is funded by awards to the National Center on Improving Literacy from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, in partnership with the Office of Special Education Programs (Award #: S283D160003). The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of OESE, OSEP, or the U.S. Department of Education. Copyright © 2023 National Center on Improving Literacy. https://improvingliteracy.org