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Universal Screener: Writing

August 23, 2012


In the RTI (Response to Instruction/Intervention) framework, there are five categories of assessments: outcome measures, universal screeners, progress monitoring assessments, diagnostic assessments, and informal assessments. Each kind of assessment plays an important role in determining each student’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses in whatever content they are meant to assess.

At the middle school that I taught at from 2009-2013, students took a universal screener three times per year in reading, writing, and math. The purpose of a universal screener assessment is to give the teacher a snapshot of all of his or her students and how each one compares (1) to the standard and (2) to his/her classmates at the time of its administration. I decided to administer universal screeners quarterly to my students, and this was the writing assessment that I developed for that purpose. All students write about the same image, and they write about the same image every time the assessment is administered so that comparisons between students and to demonstrate advancement in language acquisition is simple.

I do not recommend entering a grade in the gradebook for this assessment. Rather, take time  to review each assessment with the student and examine it in relation to the proficiency targets that are set for his or her level. Also, I do not recommend screening Spanish 1 students until second quarter, since they cannot produce any Spanish when they first start class.


  1. Show students an image to write about (project or photocopy it). I use this image from the University of Pittsburgh because there are tons of things going on and many opportunities to create imaginary story lines:.
  2. Explain that students must write a description of the image. Clarify that they can make up anything and everything, and that it is their job to make the story about things that they know how to say–if they don’t know how to describe some things that are happening in the image, they should focus on a specific detail or use their imagination to make it so that they can talk about it! They can describe what is actually happening in the image and create back-stories about the characters, setting, etc.
  3. Collect and evaluate students' writing. I use this Universal Screener for Writing form to administer the assessment because proficiency rubrics are embedded within it.

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