How Universal Screening Identifies At-Risk Students

There is widespread agreement among education researchers and experts that universal screening is central to an effective RTI program. Implemented as part of a Tier 1 Intervention, universal screening identifies current or potential academic deficits for every student.

Issues with Single-Stage Screening

Universal screening instruments may include Curriculum-Based Measures (CBMs) such as regular classroom tests, quizzes, activity reports and more formal evaluations of skill mastery, such as state assessments, district assessments, and other assessments as determined by the school’s RTI team.  Some researchers suggest that a single-stage screening, which relies on a sole instrument of measurement and is performed during a single sitting, can result in significantly inaccurate results. Such inaccurate results can include a high level of false-positives or false-negatives, unnecessarily increasing a school’s investment in RTI or under-identifying at-risk students, unacceptably delaying their access to needed interventions.

Two-Stage Screening and Accessible Results

To avoid this challenge, researchers recommend a two-stage screening, in which the cut point is set sufficiently high to eliminate students  clearly not in need of intervention, including gifted and talented students who are advanced in mathematics. This is followed by a second, more detailed assessment of students who did not meet the cut point on the first assessment.

An effective universal screening process should quickly and accurately determine which students to target for intervention and identify specific gaps in student performance and expected instructional outcomes according to grade level.

Universal screening instruments should also be easy to administer and analyze, presenting data in a way that is accessible and facilitates timely instructional decisions regarding course placement and scheduling. This also ensures that universal screening occurs with fidelity—that teachers or other school staff are consistent and timely in their intervention programs.

Adaptive Instruction

Ascend Math can play an important role in multi-stage universal screening.  A school may choose to utilize Ascend’s adaptive Level Recommendation Screener for all student populations to quickly eliminate students not in need of intervention and  efficiently identify students performing significantly below grade level. Or, following a stage 1 “high level” screening such as a state test, which eliminates students clearly not at risk, schools can administer Ascend’s Level Recommendation Screener to students that did not perform adequately to quickly and efficiently identify their exact functional level.l. Easily readable Teacher and Administrator Dashboards allow educators in different roles to view students’ proficiency status in terms of a student’s functional level versus actual grade level. Diagnostic assessments then pinpoint students’ performance according to mathematics standards and major content areas to provide a comprehensive, accurate picture of current levels of math proficiency and to automatically create a fully-individualized intervention plan for each student.

Ascend’s Dashboards further facilitate the analysis of individual student and whole-class screening with immediate results and color-coded charts and graphs that provide a quick and detailed read on each student’s skill level, and overall class progress.

District Results Confirm Effective Screening

For example, in a Maryland middle school, administrators selected a set of students who had not made adequate progress on the state mathematics test in previous years. These students were administered Ascend’s diagnostic assessment, which found that 97 percent tested at least one grade below their current grade and 70 percent three or more grades levels below. This data supported the accuracy of Ascend’s diagnostic assessment in confirming the need for intervention and allowed districts to accurately place students in Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions in a timely manner. Dramatic results in less than a school year include: the number of students testing at third grade level decreasing by 92 percent; and 60 percent of grade six through eight students gaining two-to-three grade levels. For additional results, see Holabird STEM Program, MD.

Learn more about the Six Critical Components of a Strong Math Intervention Program and the Ascend Math Model.


Part three of this series will focus on Individualized Instruction.

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The Key Role of Tiered Intervention

Researchers agree that a tiered system of math intervention is critical to an effective RTI model. The tiered design includes three, increasingly intensive, levels of intervention depending on a student’s needs and ability to successfully respond to a customized learning plan.

Tier 1, Level 1, or Primary Intervention is, in essence, regular instruction delivered in the general education classroom.  Ideally, teachers provide research-based, differentiated instruction based on a student’s particular needs.

Students who lag behind in grade-level skill mastery or have preexisting math deficits are moved to a Tier 2 intervention model.  At this tier, the intensity of both assessment and instruction is greater, with teachers monitoring progress more frequently and adapting individual learning plans as needed.  This adaptation differentiates the instructional experience for each student by acknowledging newly mastered concepts and addressing continued skill gaps.

Based on this timely collection of data, students may be moved back to Tier 1 general classroom instruction, may remain in Tier 2, or may be moved to Tier 3 for even more intensive intervention.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Ascend Math is its ability to empower teachers and administrators with up-to-the-minute data on each student’s progress, allowing for timely decisions about placement. Unlike end-of-the-year state assessments, whose results may not be available to schools until late in the following semester, Ascend Math assessment data can help inform decisions about summer school learning needs and a school’s fall intervention scheduling.

Individualized Solution

There are perhaps fewer things more discouraging to struggling students than being forced to work through a preset battery of lessons that includes skills they’ve already mastered.

Ascend Math’s adaptive Level Recommendation assessment effectively places students at their correct individual functional level. This allows learners to begin to see success immediately. As students progress through their continuously adapted learning plan, Ascend Math automatically removes objectives in which they demonstrate mastery in the pre assessment, infusing an ever-greater level of individualization.

Fidelity a Factor

Students who do not respond to Tier 2 Intervention and are therefore moved to Tier 3, are accommodated with an increase in both frequency and duration of interventions. Typically, failure to respond to Tier 3 Intervention results in a referral for Special Education Services. Thus, it is critical that intervention is implemented with absolute fidelity and that this fidelity is clearly supported through documentation, which Ascend Math provides.  Tier 3 Interventions may require significant flexibility on the part of schools to ensure that class scheduling and staff availability can accommodate the increased intensity of the intervention.


Because Ascend Math is fully automated, time-consuming tasks associated with individualizing student learning experiences are taken off the teacher’s plate.  Students can move seamlessly between intervention tiers as needed, and the challenges of managing groups of students needing multiple levels of intensity are minimized.

The student interface incorporates Growth Mindset and motivational features through games, activities and badges in Base Camp.  Student engagement is enhanced by learning activities that include video, interactive explorations and immediate feedback on practice. Continual assessments ensure students remain engaged, set goals and track progress. Automatically generated dashboards help teachers keep parents and administrators abreast of individual and whole class student progress without adding extra hours to their day.

As an online solution, Ascend Math also offers the advantage of “anytime, anywhere” learning. Beyond classroom hours, students can access the program in computer labs, and before or after school from home or any internet-connected location. This provides schools the flexibility to ensure that learners receive the intervention intensity needed to meet progress goals without over-taxing the staff and school schedule.

Learn more about the Six Critical Components of a Strong Math Intervention Program and the Ascend Math Model.

Part 2 of this series will look at Universal Screening and Adaptive Instruction.

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Ascend Math Honors 37 Schools for Math Leadership!

Ascend Education recently announced that a record 37 schools are being recognized as Gold Medal schools this year.

The Gold Medal Award was established in 2010 to honor the schools or districts that best demonstrate a dedication to ensuring that all students become successful at math. The Gold Medal nominees all used Ascend Math to supplement their math instruction to achieve results better than they would in the normal classroom environment.  All 37 Gold Medal schools or districts will receive an award commemorating their success.

These 37 schools represent some of the best and most successful math implementations in our country during this ESSA era. In each of these schools students made tremendous strides far beyond what they have done in the past without this personalized learning model.  I am extremely proud of the important job these educators are doing to help their students succeed in math, gain confidence and positively advance in life.

The 9,851 students in these 37 Gold Medal schools mastered 271,313 math objectives and worked 191,720 hours in Ascend Math.  Most students gained from 1 to 4 grade levels in math. The complete Honor Roll of all Gold Medalists can be viewed at

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Equity in Education: Achieving a Math Identity

The goal for math equity is to achieve a math identity for all students.

When I think about the many challenges schools and districts face in addressing all students, I also think about the possibilities for success that new opportunities offer such students.

I have just returned from the NCSM conference, an event I looked forward to as an opportunity to dig deeper into the issue of equity in education. The strand on equity offered effective strategies for meeting students on their “cultural turf”.  The speakers shared research and experiences on best ways to overcome the challenges of multicultural classrooms and offered practical solutions.

One of the common themes was how we must focus on student learning and engagement in a way that is relevant to the student given their cultural and socio economic backgrounds.  I am excited about the strategies presented that will allow students to embrace math in ways in which they can identify and speak about math.  Whether in mathematics or equity, we must create an entry point for all participants. Only when students can speak about math in the context of their lives, then they truly have adopted a math identity and become active learners.

I look forward to reflecting on this post and offering new perspectives on math engagement for all.

Stay tuned

Marjorie Briley

Equity Begins with Awareness






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Equity Begins with Awareness

When my husband, Kevin, and I founded Ascend Math back in 2007, it was with the goal of helping to give all kids the gift of math literacy, especially those who may have fallen through the cracks. What we’ve received in return since then has been satisfying proof that Ascend is having a real-world impact on struggling learners. In particular, we’ve noticed that students in underserved communities are making impressive—even dramatic– gains. Examples include students that pass high stakes tests for the very first time sometimes in 8th grade after multiple years of failure.  We recently heard from a teacher, “Ascend participants have gained confidence through completing lessons, and are encouraged through the earning of flags, fireworks and time at Base Camp. This confidence has spilled over into other areas and has manifested itself in better progress monitoring scores, better scores on common assessments and school wide universal screeners.”

The success these kids are enjoying stands for more than just better test scores. In many cases it means envisioning a successful future for the first time. This kind of vision is something that can only be achieved when schools and districts make a conscious effort to reach learners who lack the everyday support many of their peers enjoy.

In my next few notes, I will be exploring the concept of equity, an issue that is much on my mind and the minds of educators across the nation these days. The upcoming National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) conference (April 23rd-25th) offers a dedicated strand on the topic of equity, and I am eager to learn more and share my thoughts about how we might all ensure kids get equal opportunities at learning.

Stay tuned.

Marjorie Briley

Equity Begins with Awareness








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Celebrate Earth Day 2018 with these fun math problems!

A special thank you to the 8th grade math students from Johnsburg Junior High School in IL for submitting the following math problem to the 2018 Earth Day Math Contest:

If a tree grows 5 branches and each of those branches grows an additional 5 branches and each of those grow another 5 branches, how many branches are on the tree?

We hope you enjoy celebrating earth day this week with this fun math problem. This year’s earth day theme is to help end plastic pollution. Here are some problems submitted related to this year’s theme. Enjoy and share with your class!

  1. Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour! Most of them are thrown away! Only around 27% of plastic bottles are recycled. How many bottles are recycled an hour? How many more would be recycled if the percentage rose to 30%
  2. It takes 100 to 400 years for plastics to break down in a landfill. If you buried a plastic bottle today what is the soonest date that it would be broken down?
  3. Five recycled plastic bottles provide enough fiber to create one square foot of carpet. If the carpet in your classroom is 50 square feet how many plastic bottles would need to be recycled to make it.
  4. Americans buy 29 billion bottles of water a year, more than any other nation. It takes 17 million barrels of crude oil to make this many plastic water bottles. How many billion bottles can be manufactured from one barrel of crude oil?
  5. If 32,000,000 tons of plastic were produced in 2017 and only 9% was recycled, how much plastic was not recycled?
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Earth Day Math Contest 2018

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22. This year’s theme is to end plastic pollution. Celebrate with  your math class this year and remind students to recycle, reuse, and reduce.  The first 10 classrooms to send us their Earth Day Math Problem (with solution) will receive a packet of Earth Day pencils made from recycled newspaper for their students.

Submit your math problem by end of day Friday, April 13 to Be sure to include the name of your class, school and location. Then on Monday April 16 check out the Ascend Math blog to see all the problems that were submitted. Choose your favorites to share with students to celebrate Earth Day.

Try these links for numerous Earth Day Facts and Figures just crying out for you and your students to turn into a fun math problem.

Again, send your math problems to


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Announcing March Mathness V

Are you ready for March Madness, the annual NCAA Men’s basketball tournament? Math plays into this annual event in more ways than you might think. Some of the most popular posts of the past four years have been those celebrating March Mathness, the math behind the sport of basketball!

Check this blog regularly for more fun math problems. Send your ideas for March Mathness math problems to

Here are some favorites to kick off the 1st Round:

If there are 64 teams in the tournament and half are eliminated each round, how many rounds does it take to determine a champion?
A basketball court measures 94 feet by 50 feet. What is the perimeter of the court? What is the area?

College players use a basketball that is 9.4 inches in diameter. The hoop is 18 inches in diameter. If a ball passes exactly through the center of the net, how much space will there be between the edge of the ball and the hoop?
Last year we asked some questions about mascots. Here is another interesting fact, if you were to pick a team to win the championship based on school color, what color would you pick? Blue, more than 75% of the champions have had blue as their school color.

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Happy Pi Day 2018

Pi Day, celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world, is right around the corner. Start your celebration by sharing these sweet Pi Day links with your math students and friends.

A brief history of Pi:
Pi Activities:
Pi Humor:
Pi Song:
Pi Rap:
Pi Facts:

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Olympic Math Events for Your Classroom

Here are a couple of Olympic Math Events to try in your classroom.

  1. Try introducing this concept to students working to understand that each circle is 360°.Two-time Gold Medal Olympian Shaun White landed the best halfpipe run of his career at the U.S. Grand Prix of Snowmass. On the first jump he performed a 1440, on the second a 1080, on the third a 540, and a 1260 on his final jump. To the uninitiated the trick numbers may seem random but most math teachers will figure out quickly that they refer to the degree of rotation the board undergoes while airborne.

    *540 = 540° of rotation or 1 ½ times around
    * 720 = 720° of rotation or 2 times around
    * 1080 = 1080° or rotation or 3 times around
    * 1260 = 1260° or 3 ½ times around
    * 1620 = 1620° or 4 ½ times around

    Here are three challenges you may want to share. As preparation to the challenge remind students that when a snowboarder makes a half turn (180) the board is then backwards.

    CHALLENGE 1:  Shaun White will be trying for his third gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. If one of his jumps is a triple how many degrees of rotation is that?

    CHALLENGE 2:  Jamie Anderson is the reigning Gold Medalist in the 2018 Women’s Winter Olympics Snowboard Slopestyle event. If she performs a 720 followed by a 540 and another 720.  What is the total number of revolutions in her jumps and is her board going backwards or forwards at the end of her run?

    CHALLENGE 3: 2014 Olympic Gold Medalist, Sage Kotsenburg, completed a run that consisted of a 270, 540, 180, 1260, 1080, 1620. What was the total number of revolutions Sage made and was his board backwards or forwards when he ended?

  1. Here is an Olympic Math Event appropriate for Grade 8 and up.If Maame Biney, the first African-American woman to be selected as a speed skater for the U.S. Olympic Team, competes in the 1,000; 1,500; and 10,000 meter events and puts in 6times as much distance practicing before the events. What total distance in kilometers will she have skated during the competition?

    Option: Break students into groups and ask them to solve the problem together. Time each group and post the times. Offer Gold, Silver and Bronze for the three fastest times.

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