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The Educator’s Guide to the Importance of Universal Screening

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May 26th, 2022

Waiting for a referral from teachers or parents before providing support for struggling students can be detrimental to learning outcomes because a referral relies on predicting learning gaps that might not be obvious without data.

With universal screening, all students who may need it have access to intervention services, as opposed to only those who receive a referral.

Here you will learn all about universal screening, including:

  • How it benefits both students and educators
  • How to best use universal screening; and
  • Why it is so important for future success

Table of Contents

  • What Is the Importance of Universal Screening for Students?
  • What Is the Importance of Universal Screening for Schools?
  • Why Is Universal Screening Important? There Are 2 Primary Ways Universal Screening Improves Instruction
  • 3 Critical Times to Utilize Universal Screening
  • 3 Areas Where Universal Screening Is Beneficial
  • #1: The Importance of Universal Screening for Reading  
  • #2: The Importance of Universal Screening for Math
  • #3: The Importance of Universal Screening of Social-Emotional Behavior
  • What Can Happen if Universal Screening Is Not in Place? 
  • Illuminate Education’s FastBridge Assessment Provides the Tools Educators Need to Streamline the Universal Screening Process

What Is the Importance of Universal Screening for Students?

Universal screening is used to identify the needs of students and ensure they have the resources necessary to best help them learn, grow, and succeed in their education.

With universal screening, educators can identify both academic and social-emotional behavior gaps in students and begin early intervention.

Students struggling academically might: 

  • Be falling behind in classwork
  • Have low grades
  • Perform below expectations reading, math, or writing

Students who struggle with social-emotional learning might:

  • Be impulsive
  • Have difficulty problem-solving
  • Struggle with managing their emotions
  • Have challenges making friends

Using universal screening can help educators intervene as soon as possible, creating better success for the student’s academic career and social-emotional skills.

Why Is Universal Screening Important for All Students?

Parents are often curious why a school is collecting screening data for their child. Teachers can explain universal screening to parents as similar to a well-child check-up with a pediatrician, which acts as a way to make sure children are growing throughout the year to make the appropriate milestones.

Similarly, we universally screen in reading, math, and social-emotional behavior to ensure that their child is making enough growth throughout the year to achieve their learning goals. 

It also allows teachers to make changes to instruction before small learning gaps become larger. Additionally, screening data help educators determine when students who are high-achieving may need additional acceleration to support their continued growth. 

Lastly, screening allows parents to see how their child compares to other students at their grade level and it provides information about if their child is on track to meet grade-level goals.

What Is the Importance of Universal Screening for Schools?

For educators, universal screening provides an equitable education to all students. 

It helps schools to:

  • Determine grade levels where less than needed growth has occurred
  • Identify all students who are at-risk of not meeting grade-level standards
  • Identify students who exceed standards and may need additional accelerations 
  • Prioritize instructional coaching and intervention resources

When students and educators are living through difficult times for learning, like the COVID-19 pandemic, universal screening is even more important. 

With so much disruption in learning due to …

  • Missing class due to quarantining when ill or exposed to the illness; or
  • Virtual learning and the difficulties that come along with it

… it’s even more important to collect data through universal screening for prevention and intervention purposes. Screening allows districts to identify when instruction should be intensified for all students and allocate instructional coaches, interventionists, and other resources that can intensify instruction for all or some students.

If universal screening identifies a gap in Tier 1 instruction, schools can implement group remediation and save small-group intervention for students with higher needs. 

Illuminate Education provides a comprehensive universal screening assessment to equip schools with everything they need to be successful in serving their students.

Why Is Universal Screening Important? There Are 2 Primary Ways Universal Screening Improves Instruction

Universal screening is more than just a test provided once a year to assess what students do and do not know. 

Instead, universal screening allows schools to look at data to identify both individual and group needs within the school and their classrooms. It is an essential part of having a system in place that focuses on early intervention rather than waiting on teacher or parent referrals.

Universal screening identifies:

  1. Students who may be at-risk for poor learning outcomes
  2. Tier 1 instructional needs

#1: Universal Screening Identifies Individual Students Who May Be At Risk for Poor Learning Outcomes

Students learn in different ways, and it can sometimes be difficult for educators in a classroom to structure their curriculum so that every student is absorbing the information the best way possible. 

Unfortunately, teachers can’t give one-on-one attention to every student. This is why universal screening is so important. 

By screening all students, educators can use the data to identify which students might be at risk for poor learning outcomes. Who might be struggling the most and need individual intervention?

Rather than relying on a teacher or parent to identify a student who is struggling and refer them for intervention, the data collected from universal screening makes that identification for you. The hope is that universal screening identifies these students sooner and allows for early intervention ultimately preventing gaps in learning.

#2: Universal Screening Identifies Tier 1 Instructional Needs

Identifying Tier 1 instructional needs is important for identifying group needs, like those of an entire grade level, for example. If universal screening determines that many students within a grade level are not on track to meet standards, a different approach for intervention can be taken. 

Work likely needs to be done within the instruction, but there are interventions schools can focus on immediately to help a group, saving the resources for individual intervention for students who need them the most.

3 Critical Times to Utilize Universal Screening

Universal screening can be conducted between one and three times a year, but many schools choose to conduct universal screening in the fall, winter, and spring.

Do you want to implement universal screening in your school system? Illuminate Education offers all of the necessary tools for you to be successful.

#1: Fall

The fall is the beginning of the school year and is a great time to identify which students are performing at grade level from the start and which students are struggling and may need intervention. At the kindergarten level, fall screening supports educators to know if students may need more intentional opportunities to learn and practice critical early learning skills to ensure they are on track to meet essential learning goals.

#2: Winter

Halfway through the school year, in the winter, universal screening should be conducted again. This time the data show if instruction and intervention provided thus far have had the expected impact. At this point in the year, schools examine fall to winter growth for students, grade levels, and schools to allow for time to make changes to improve learning trajectories for the rest of the year.

#3: Spring

At the end of the school year, universal screening should be conducted once more. The spring screening identifies what level students perform at the end of the year. But more importantly, the spring screening can identify the students who could benefit from summer instruction or early intervention at the start of the following school year. It also allows schools to plan for Tier 1 improvement needs for the following fall by identifying the grade levels with the highest needs.

3 Areas Where Universal Screening Is Beneficial

#1: The Importance of Universal Screening for Reading

To allow students to become strong readers, universal screening for reading is important. 

The data collected helps to identify the students who are struggling, allowing educators to intervene and create support in their instruction where necessary.

#2: The Importance of Universal Screening for Math

Universal screening for math helps to determine which students are performing at grade level and which students are struggling with mathematics.

To collect the best data, schools should:

    1. Consider screening three times a year
    2. Create criteria to identify struggling students

#3: The Importance of Universal Screening of Social-Emotional Behavior

Researchers have pointed out that students simply being academically successful isn’t enough. Instead, for students to be the most successful in their education, they should also be competent in social-emotional behavior

What does this mean?

Students should possess the following skills:

    • Self-awareness
    • Social awareness
    • Self-management
    • Relationship skills
    • Responsible decision-making
    • Motivation
    • Academic achievement

Students should not:

    • Be aggressive
    • Be noncompliant
    • Be disruptive
    • Be worrisome or fearful
    • Show withdrawal or avoidance

With universal screening three times a year, educators can more easily identify the students who need intervention early on.

What Can Happen if Universal Screening Is Not in Place?

What if a school chooses to not implement universal screening? 

They’ll likely have to work harder to ensure students have everything they need to be successful.

Without universal screening, the system becomes reactive instead of proactive. Rather than identifying struggling students early on, schools become dependent on teachers or family members to identify struggling students and refer them for additional support. This takes up both time and resources.

Even more, the gaps in skills or achievements continue to become larger, making them more difficult to remediate.

Universal screening is beneficial to both the school and the students. Schools save time and resources while ensuring that no students are left behind struggling and instruction can be modified as needed.

Illuminate Education’s FastBridge Assessment Provides the Tools Educators Need to Streamline the Universal Screening Process

Universal screening has many benefits and is important to help students become academically successful as well as have social-emotional behavior competence. This helps to create a well-rounded student that will aid in their lifetime success. 

With universal screening in place, educators can ensure:

  • Tier 1 needs are identified
  • Struggling students get the help that they need early on
  • Necessary modification in instructing

Illuminate Education offers a streamlined universal screening toolkit to help you get started and have success with the process. Interested? Access the toolkit and schedule a demo today.





Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. By combining comprehensive assessment and MTSS management and collaboration tools, the Illuminate Solution enables educators to accurately assess learning, identify needs, align whole child supports, drive system-level improvements, and equitably accelerate growth for every learner.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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