What can we learn by screening kids early?
If I were the reading king I would have required mandatory, early screening for all children in kindergarten and grade one and grade two. We’ve had a law like that in Texas since 1997. And what we would do is develop, well, we have developed very short, for early screening we developed short instruments that take less than five minutes, they’re teacher administered. They vary depending on what the child needs to know in kindergarten, grade one, and grade two.
And they accurately identify kids who are not at risk. And that may seem odd to talk about identifying kids accurately who are not at risk, but a lot of people worry about over identification of kids at risk. It is far more serious an error to miss a kid who is at risk than to identify a kid not at risk, because you should follow up — an early screening instrument with a re-inventory or progress monitoring and that will tell you which child is going to be developing as they should and which child is still going to struggle.
So missing a child is a far more serious issue than falsely identifying a child. So our instrument is geared towards identifying children who are not at risk and very accurately the false positive rate goes down over time quite a bit, so that the instrument is quite accurate by the middle of first grade.
In Texas we developed the Texas Primary Reading Inventory for schools to use in Texas. It was free to schools in Texas and 1.95 percent of all the school districts in Texas were using it. We then expanded the list in Texas to include other instruments that showed reliability and validity. The idea behind the screen is that it has to reduce teacher burden. It has to be very short, it has to permit rapid triage of the entire classroom, and it does one simple thing in a very automatic way.
It either says that a child is at risk or not at risk. Once you identify children who are at risk, you spend more time doing an inventory or reading assessment or progress monitoring, something like that, because you need to put the child into a surveillance system where you know how all children are doing. And then you can begin to introduce interventions in the general education classroom and then intensify the interventions based on how the child responds to general education classroom instruction.
Petscher, Y., Fien, H., Stanley, C., Gearin, B., Gaab, N., Fletcher, J.M., & Johnson, E. (2019). Screening for Dyslexia. Retrieved from improvingliteracy.org.
Jack Fletcher, Ph.D.
Jack Fletcher is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston, a board-certified child neuropsychologist, and director of the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities.
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