In my area teachers are using the DIBELS, DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) and DSA (Developmental Spelling Assessment all of which are reputable tools and recognized nation wide. Here are a few things you must know before we dig in too deep.
The true purpose of universal screenings (or whatever they are called at your school) is to measure the effectiveness of day-to-day classroom instruction and identify those children who are not making the progress or meeting expectations as one would expect.
In regards to the effectiveness of instruction it is similar to the chapter test a teacher might give in science. If the entire class fails the teacher can't assume that every child did not study but rather they have to look at how well they covered the material and was there something they could have missed that would have made a difference. The teacher would use that information or data and reteach concepts missed by the most students or spend a few more days on those chapters before giving another test because the ultimate goal is for the child to learn the information. Weekly tests and chapter/unit tests are basically universal screenings so if we view our universal screenings in literacy like that maybe people will understand their purpose and not feel like it is something else added tot he already full plate of the teacher.
In regards to identifying children who are not making adequate progress we must understand this is a multi step process built into the simple act of administering a screening. Using the same analogy from oboe if the class takes a chapter test and only a few children do poorly the teacher must figure out why those children did poorly in comparison to the other students. Maybe one of the children had excessive absences during the days and weeks the majority of instruction was provided. Maybe the child simply didn't study or give the material the attention it deserved for a variety of other reasons. Maybe the child is not a strong reader and writer and the test format required the child to read and write a lot. If that is the case the teacher could simply ask the child the information orally and see if performance improved. If that is the case then steps should be taken to put in place the tools necessary to promote success in the students. So many of the disabilities that interfere with a child's success cannot be seen so I challenge you to think of what adaptations to the test would you make for a child who was blind? Wouldn't that be the same case for a child who is Dyslexic or has another type of learning disability? Providing the right tools and support is not enabling the child or giving them a handout, instead it is teaching them to adapt and succeed in the face of a challenge.
Unfortunately for those children who are identified through universal screenings there isn't a print out or manual that states explicitly... if the child does this you do that...So as educators we must become adept at analyzing the information not simply monitoring the scores. If we analyze the performance then the interventions needed reveal themselves. If we monitor the overall score our interventions are too general and therefore not as successful.
So what information do you gather from the DRA, DSA, and DIBELS. Well, first we must look at the grade level because the assessment and expectations change with the grade. For instance if a child in the 3rd grade does not do well on the DIBELS and DRA there must be additional screening and assessment done because at that point the foundation skills in reading and comprehension are no longer measured on those tests. So we must have a deeper understanding of the foundation skills required for reading and writing and then systematically measure those skills as well. In the younger grades these skills are more consistently built into screening and assessment tools and yet often times I see teachers providing too broad of an intervention instead of systematically addressing the deficits.
One of the most under assessed skill especially after children are out of 2nd grade is phonological and phonemic awareness skills because there is an assumption that skill have been adequately addressed and developed in the earlier grades. For all children regardless of their age, grade, and skill level I will measure spelling skills with the following instructions "Write the sounds you hear." I would use the DSA or a related instrument as well as a measure of nonsense words because the child has to rely on his or her foundation skills without the aid of their vocabulary. I would also do a measure of their phonemes or sounds for both written recall and oral recall. I want to know if the child hears and represents all sounds in a word and if the sound is represented but with the wrong symbol I need to know if they can identify and recall the symbols that could represent that sound. Depending on their performance this is also where I would start with an intervention because if you cannot hear the individual sounds of our language and you cannot accurately represent them then you are going to struggle in reading and writing.
In my experience these are not typically and consistently measured in school. The closest is in kindergarten and 1st grade when learning the alphabet and sounds but I challenge you to think about how confusing it is for some children to understand that connection because it is far from explicit. For example we often teach that the alphabet letter A says '_a_' (short vowel sound) and 'a_e' (long vowel sound). Sometimes this is referred to as the letter saying it's sound or saying it's name. Children often remember those sayings but struggle to make the connection when expected to read and write these in words especially since the 'a' alone is a word and we read it as "uh". (Wait isn't there a different letter that has that sound?) Also the long vowel A sound can be spelled ai or ay...(wait I thought i & y had it's own sound and name?) or it is spelled 'eight' as in eight.. (wait how can that make the long vowel sound the alphabet letter isn't even in there?).
Another example...the alphabet letter E it also has a sound and can say it's name. The short vowel E can be spelled the following ways in the following words: bet, bread and wait that sound is in the word said and there is no letter E. The long vowel sound can be spelled in the following ways in the following words: be, bee, team, and baby. And then let's throw in how to tell which vowel sound to use when this word comes up...READ?
For those who learned to read easily they often struggle to understand how difficult this process is for some. As human beings we have many more years with the development of oral language but the idea and presence of written language is very young so there is still a lot to learn about how to effectively teach these skills especially to those children who don't fit in the instruction provided. The first step is to identify where the break down is and begin building those skills.
There will definitely have to be a follow up post to go into this in more depth. Please post specific questions and I'll make sure to address them. I have added the phonemes I typical assess for EVERY student. I call them out and have them write them and then I have them read them from cards. I DO NOT give them examples of words those sounds are in. I want to know can they recall theme without the aide of their vocabulary. This also helps to measure their rapid recall skills.