Tier 1/Schoolwide Screening: Assessing the Entire Student Population for Academic Risk

Under the RTI model, students at each level, or Tier, of intervention are assessed using academic measures at a frequency that matches their estimated risk for academic failure. At Tier 1 (universal instruction), all students in a school are assessed in a process often referred to as universal screening.


The school first identifies a standard set of academic measures to use in the screening that are quick to administer and provide predictive information about student academic success. Universal screenings at each grade level are then conducted at least three times per year. For schools that follow a traditional calendar, screenings would typically be scheduled in fall, winter, and spring. The school shares that screening data with classroom teachers to help them to adjust their instructional practices. Additionally, the school uses screening data to determine which students are performing below academic expectations and require supplemental intervention (Stewart & Silberglit, 2008).
Universal academic screening data has several important uses. It can help the school to estimate efficiently the typical academic skill level of any grade, as well as proactively to identify those struggling students who need supplemental intervention support. Additionally, schools can use universal screening information to better allocate instructional and intervention resources to the appropriate grade levels or pockets of struggling students (Stewart & Silberglit, 2008).


There are three general steps to implementing a school-wide screening program (Stewart & Silberglit, 2008).

  1. First, the school must decide on the range of measures or sources of data that will be used to screen their student population.
  2. Next, the school must line up the required resources to conduct the screening. This step includes scheduling time for screening measures to be administered and finding personnel to administer, score, and interprets the results of those measures.
  3. Finally, the school must build a process for communicating the screening results to classroom teachers and other interventionists and for using the screening data to identify students who need supplemental (Tier 2 or 3) interventions.

A widely used family of RTI universal screening tools for basic academic skills is known generically as ’curriculum-based measurement’ (CBM). CBMs have been developed to measure such skills as phonemic awareness, oral reading fluency, mechanics and conventions of writing, math computation, and content-area vocabulary (Shinn, 1988). CBMs offer advantages as RTI academic screeners: they align with districts’ curriculum goals; have technical adequacy as assessments; use standardized procedures in preparing, administering, and scoring the measures; and allow schools to apply specific decision rules to help educators to interpret student CBM data and make appropriate instructional decisions (Hosp, Hosp & Howell, 2007).


There is broad agreement that universal screenings should be a central part of RTI implementation (Glover & DiPerna, 2007), especially for elementary schools.  Schools should remember, however, that whole-group screening results are often not sufficient to map out completely what a specific student’s skill deficits might be—nor are they designed to do so. Rather, screenings help schools to single out quickly and with the minimum required investment of resources those students who need more intervention assistance. Some students picked up in a screening will require additional, detailed follow-up “instructional assessment” (Hosp, 2008) in order to better understand their learning needs and select appropriate interventions.
Academic Screening Resources
Here are some additional resources that schools may want to check out on the topic of schoolwide academic screenings:

  • Schools interested in reviewing the array of CBM tools available for use in universal in reading, math, and writing creenings can use the document Finding Students At-Risk for Learning Problems: Creating a School-Wide Academic Screening Plan (see attachment at the bottom of this page).   This organizer is designed to help schools to assemble a universal academic screening plan built around CBM measures.
  • The National Center on Response to Intervention rates the ‘technical adequacy’ of commercially available academic screening and progress-monitoring tools. Review their findings at http://www.rti4success.org/chart/progressMonitoring/progressmonitoringtoolschart.htm
  • Harn (2000) offers excellent advice on how to conduct a schoolwide screening in literacy skills at the elementary level. Those guidelines can be found at https://dibels.uoregon.edu/logistics/data_collection.pdf


  • Glover, T. A., & DiPerna, J. C. (2007). Service delivery for response to intervention: Core components and directions for future research. School Psychology Review, 36, 526-540.
  • Harn, B. (2000). Approaches and considerations of collecting schoolwide early literacy and reading performance data. Retrieved on July 26, 2010, from https://dibels.uoregon.edu/logistics/data_collection.pdf
  • Hosp, J. L. (2008). Best practices in aligning academic assessment with instruction. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp.363-376). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
  • Hosp, M. K., Hosp, J. L., & Howell, K. W. (2007). The ABCs of CBM: A practical guide to curriculum-based measurement. New York: Guilford Press.
     Shinn, M. R. (Ed.), (1988). Curriculum-based measurement: Assessing special children. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Stewart, L. H. & Silberglit, B. (2008). Best practices in developing academic local norms. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 225-242). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.