Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Screener vs. Diagnostic

By Savannah Hill, RME Professional Development Coordinator

One project we are involved with at RME is an initiative with the Texas Education Agency and Education Service Center, Region 13 called Middle School Students in Texas Algebra Ready (MSTAR). It began in the summer of 2010 with the goals of (1) improving overall mathematics instruction, and (2) impacting student achievement. MSTAR is comprised of three lead components structured and integrated to support students and teachers in grades five through eight to achieve mathematics success: the MSTAR Universal Screener, MSTAR Diagnostic Assessment, and MSTAR Professional Development.

After talking with many teachers, we have found there is some confusion on the different ways to utilize the MSTAR Universal Screener and the MSTAR Diagnostic Assessment. The intent of this blog is provide a short description of each of these components and how they should be implemented.

MSTAR Universal Screener 
The MSTAR Universal Screener is designed to be administered to all students and identifies students╩╝ level of risk for not being ready for algebra.  The Universal Screener helps teachers make two important decisions within the Response to Intervention (RTI) process:
  • Identify students on-track or at-risk for meeting expectations in algebra and algebra-readiness.
  • Determine the degree of intensity of instructional support or supplemental intervention needed for students who are at-risk for not meeting expectations in algebra.
Teachers monitor students╩╝ risk status by administering comparable forms of the MSTAR Universal Screener in fall, winter, and early spring.

MSTAR Diagnostic Assessment
The MSTAR Diagnostic Assessment is designed to address those students identified as struggling in Tiers 2 and 3. The diagnostic assessment is given after the MSTAR Universal Screener to those students in Tiers 2 and 3. Its purpose is to:
  • Inform educators where a student is on a learning progression.
  • Identify the underlying misconception(s) that caused the student to answer incorrectly.
  • Identify students current understanding of algebra-related content.
None of the diagnostic assessments are tied to a particular grade level because there may be a 7th grade student who is struggling from misconceptions about 5th grade content. However, when the teacher decides which assessment the student will take, there will be some direction about which assessment may be better for each grade. The reports given will provide information that can be used to plan supplemental instruction. This assessment is not intended to provide screening information.

MSTAR Professional Development
The MSTAR Professional Development provides tools for delivering instruction to all students in achieving algebra readiness and supports informed decision-making based on the results of the MSTAR assessments. The MSTAR Professional Development academies were created to support teachings in preparing students for success in algebra. Trainings are available in face-to-face sessions and/or online. RME researchers, along with TEA, delivered Professional Development in three training sessions for the MSTAR project for the Texas Education Agency in spring and summer 2011 and 2012. The trainings were replicated across the state by certified trainers.

The MSTAR Universal Screener can be accessed through the Project Share Gateway at It can also be accessed directly at This option will allow you to bypass the Project Share site entirely. Users will see an MSTAR icon after logging in. The same username and password is used for either option. For more information, you can also contact your local Educational Service Center.

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