ABOUT THE DISTRICT
Founded in 1964, St. Michael’s School is a private, Catholic school located in Poway, CA. It has 551 students in grades PK, K-8 with a student-teacher ratio of 12 to 1, with 40 full-time teachers and 10 part-time teachers.
- Finding a comprehensive screener for early literacy
- Time consuming assessments
- Difficult to understand data
- Increased efficiency and time savings for teachers
- Increased teacher ownership of data
- Increased communication and collaboration
- Heightened focus on prevention
EarlyBird Pilot At St. Michael’s School
At St. Michael’s School, kindergarten literacy screening is an important part of educators’ efforts to identify students at risk for reading difficulties and support a preventive approach to instruction. “There was not always a direct path, however, for teachers to connect data from screeners to instructional planning,” said Susan Schatz, Ph.D., a literacy coach at the preK-8 school in San Diego County, California.
In her 2020 dissertation, “Kindergarten Literacy Screening: Cultivating a Multifactorial Preventive Approach to Literacy Instruction,” Dr. Schatz examined the relationship between constructs on early literacy screeners, teachers’ perceptions of using the screeners to create a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) for reading instruction, and practical elements of implementing the screeners in an inclusive kindergarten setting.
“Through my study, I saw that classroom teachers very much want and need to be part of the screening process so they feel empowered to apply the results to their instruction. But in practice in our classrooms, I often found myself needing to administer the screeners for teachers or in conjunction with them because the screeners were too time-prohibitive to administer on their own,” she explained. “I also found that screening measures varied in their identification of students at risk for reading delays, and many left out important components like rapid naming or oral language.”
Implementing A Comprehensive Screener
Through her research, Schatz learned about a game-based screener called EarlyBird. Developed at Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research, EarlyBird brings together all the relevant predictors of reading in one easy-to-administer assessment.
“What I found in my study was that each of the screeners had its own strengths, but none were as comprehensive as EarlyBird,” said Schatz.
St. Michael’s School implemented EarlyBird at the kindergarten level in the spring of 2021.
The EarlyBird cloud-based technology platform integrates key literacy milestones shown to be most predictive of later reading success with powerful analytics to identify where children are struggling on their learning pathway. It includes a game-based app that provides comprehensive, validated student testing, and a web-based dashboard that points teachers to easy-to-understand data and evidence-based resources for individuals or groups of students.
As part of the EarlyBird solution, St. Michael’s kindergarten teachers participated in professional development webinars to learn how to administer the assessment and then act on the data.
“We did the EarlyBird training on Monday, and teachers began conducting the assessment on Tuesday. They had already tested 10 kids before I even arrived!” said Schatz. “It was terrific because with other screeners, I’d have to sit in a corner in the classroom for days, and then upload and present the data to teachers. With EarlyBird, teachers can just log in and see the results. Our teachers feel empowered. They feel like they own the data.”
Having Fun With The Game
In the kindergarten classrooms, students self-administer the EarlyBird screener using a tablet and headset. In the game, they join their new friend, Pip, for a delightful journey through the city, meeting animal friends along the way.
“We started with one student at a time but quickly realized that EarlyBird works just as well in small groups. The app-based screener requires minimal adult supervision, and it’s a joy to implement,” said Schatz. “Our students love Pip and have fun with the game.”
The tablet-based game assesses students while they play, with auto-scoring features that save teachers time. The teacher dashboard then pairs student data with customized next steps and evidence-based resources.
Translating Data Into Action
“EarlyBird is very user friendly. Our teachers feel like it’s geared for them. It’s comprehensive, but it doesn’t require a specialist to interpret the data. The names of the subtests are clear, they’re grouped in meaningful ways, and they show percentile scores as opposed to standard scores so it’s all easy for teachers to understand. In four years of implementing kindergarten literacy screeners, this is the first time I haven’t had to take an active role in testing or data analysis. Instead, I could just be there to support the teachers,” said Schatz.
In the first administration of the EarlyBird screener at St. Michael’s School, one of teachers’ biggest takeaways from the data was a need to increase their focus on oral language.
“With EarlyBird, we can see the data and take next steps right away. Teachers can group students by need and integrate interventions suggested by EarlyBird into their instruction. For example, when teachers implemented oral language routines suggested by EarlyBird, they quickly noticed a change in the way the students were talking in the classroom. When you see results like that right away, it’s very motivating,” said Schatz.
“Another benefit is the teacher conversations that have resulted from the EarlyBird data. You have all of this rich information that invites conversation in a very nonthreatening way. When you get teachers talking about literacy and their instructional practices in a focused way, that’s when you see change happen. We’re also using EarlyBird data to look at our programming systemically to see how we can tailor our curriculum, instruction, and professional development to better support our students’ needs.”
Accelerating A Preventive Approach
In 2021-22, St. Michael’s School plans to administer EarlyBird in its kindergarten classes at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. “We’re super excited to be able to start in the fall so we can monitor our impact and student growth throughout the year. The teachers are thrilled,” said Schatz.
“While we were already moving toward a preventive approach in our literacy instruction, EarlyBird has given us a tool to accelerate that and in a more structured, systemic way,” she continued. “EarlyBird provides teachers with an efficient, self-administered screening tool and expert-vetted intervention resources to support a preventive approach. It assesses the right things, it’s practical to implement, it provides easy-to-understand data and next steps, and it fosters conversation. When you put those things together, you can really move forward and get to the next level. We’ve searched for an effective and efficient early literacy screener and we’ve found our answer.”