Universal Screening vs. Diagnostic Assessment

During my life as a special education teacher, one of the biggest misconceptions I encountered was the belief that a universal screener could be used as a diagnostic assessment. Even this was many moons ago; the memory is still fresh in my mind. In this brief blog entry, I want to explain the difference between universal screening and diagnostic assessment.

So what’s the big difference?

A universal screener is developed to help you find who might need additional support. It is not designed to tell you what that support should be. There are ways that screening data can help you target intervention efforts; however, a screener’s goal isn’t to give educators the big picture for how best to help learners. This is where the diagnostic assessments come into play.

Learners who pop up with red flags on the screener should be progress monitored for a few weeks and administered a diagnostic assessment. This assessment digs deeper and helps you find gaps in knowledge or skills.

Diagnostic assessments are usually administered one-on-one and take longer to finish because they are looking for specific areas of strength and weakness. Some of the reading assessments given in school districts, like DRA or BAS, are diagnostic assessments. Many districts prefer to administer these to 100% of learners, but realistically, this is unnecessary and requires a great deal of time away from instruction.

With that being said, a screener is a tool designed to save you time by reducing the number of unnecessary diagnostic assessments you have to complete. You can even prepare a diagnostic for a learner who isn’t identified. Still, it affords you the luxury of considering the cost-to-benefit ratio for the teaching time taken by assessment.

Well, now you know that a universal screener is administered to help you find kids that may be at risk for academic failure and, because of this, may need additional supports. After this, a diagnostic assessment should be administered to tell you what supports and resources will be needed to help an at-risk student thrive academically.

Now that you know the difference between universal screening and diagnostic assessment, how will you utilize them at your school? Please place your answers below.

Choose your Reaction!