A Brief Summary of an Article by Pennsylvania Researchers Galbally, Sheppard, and Mayer: Community-Based Early Language and Literacy Screenings   Recently updated !


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Editor’s note: Universal screening in basic reading skills has long been a goal for advocates of those with dyslexia, and Pennsylvania now has legislation pending that would require universal screening in all K-3 classrooms. This article by a PBIDA board member describes recent research on a unique screening initiative piloted in Pennsylvania.

 

By Jenn Sharek, M.Ed., PBIDA

 

Researchers Jaclyn Galbally and Mary E. Sheppard from the Department of Special Education at Saint Joseph’s University, and Katharine Mayer, from Everyone Reads in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, recently published a study of early language and literacy screening in the journal Behavior and Social Issues (Galbally, Sheppard, and Mayer, 2024). This pilot study, which yielded positive results, examined how a community-based organization provided free language and literacy screenings using an app-based system that automates scoring (EarlyBird Screener, 2023). The screening results were used alongside parent education on language and literacy, as well as evidence-based instructional practices tailored to each student’s specific areas of risk.

In the past, the qualification process for dyslexia, known as the discrepancy model, has faced criticism for its “wait to fail” approach. Despite numerous attempts to address early literacy challenges, progress remains below expectations, with many students not identified until after the window for maximum impact has passed. Instead of the discrepancy model, this study used the Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTII) model, also known as the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). RTII incorporates screening for reading problems, evidence-based instructional programs and frequent progress monitoring. While screening measures alone are not enough to diagnosis dyslexia, they can help reduce the time students wait for a formal diagnosis before intervention.

The early literacy screening device employed in this pilot study was brief, efficient, and cost-effective, assessing all students based on identified risk factors. Recommended for children in kindergarten through third grade, it used a gamified mobile app-based program rooted in consensus reports on predictors of reading success (EarlyBird Screener, 2023). The overall screening initiative prioritized student needs within their communities through collaboration with schools, districts, families, and students to ensure high-quality instruction.

Data collected for the study came from survey responses, interviews, and information on implementation timelines and program expansion, with participants drawn from three stakeholder groups: parents and caregivers, volunteer screeners, and community partners.

The findings spanned multiple years of development during which the EarlyBird Screener (2023) was used within the community-based intervention framework. Following initial planning, two years of intervention activities led to growth in both the size and scope of the screening initiative, as shown in detailed timelines in the article.

The critical importance of early detection and intervention was highlighted, and participants expressed how easy it was to use and understand the screening application. Volunteers, primarily trained to administer the screeners via the app, recommended group education sessions for parents on literacy and on the interpretation of Screener scores. Parental involvement in advocating for better instruction significantly improved identification and literacy outcomes, fostering a community-like relationship beyond traditional caregiving roles. Study data showed that the initiative validated these parental concerns, enhancing their understanding of screening results and early literacy strategies, and empowering them to advocate within their school districts. Families sought language and literacy screenings for various reasons, including their child’s current literacy levels, family history, and the availability of free screening, with the majority finding the experience highly impactful.

Survey findings highlighted several implementation strategies for districts: partnerships with community-based programs; various funding avenues; and screenings in familiar settings such as libraries or community centers to enhance community awareness and engagement. Community organizations can advocate for children at risk for reading difficulties, and parents can receive education on language and literacy. While screenings alone cannot be used to formally diagnose disabilities, they can support advocacy for early evidence-based instruction and lead to improved outcomes.

The authors noted that their study had several limitations. It was small, primarily involving suburban districts known to be less diverse, both racially and ethnically. A larger and more diverse study would offer more insight. Following the success of this pilot study, the initiative plans to expand its partnerships in minority communities.

 

References and Resources

EarlyBird Screener, 2023. Retrieved May 1, 2024 from https://earlybirdeducation.com/

Everyone Reads PA, 2024. Retrieved May 1, 2024 from https://www.pareads.org/

Galbally, J., Sheppard, M.E. & Mayer, K. (2024). Community-Based Early Language and Literacy Screenings. Behavior and Social Issues. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42822-023-00153-2

Full Text Version of the Article

Saint Joseph’s University, Department of Special Education, 2024. Retrieved May 1, 2024 from https://www.sju.edu/degree-programs/reading-interventionist-certificate

 

Jenn Sharek has been a Pennsylvania kindergarten teacher for 18 years. She is a board member of PBIDA and Teach My Kid to Read; a McGraw Hill National Teacher Advisory Board Panelist; a structured literacy grant recipient; a training facilitator; a 2025 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year finalist; and a three-time finalist for the Goyen Foundation Fellowship.


The Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association is pleased to present a forum for information to benefit its constituents. It is IDA’s policy to not recommend or endorse any specific program, product, institution, company, or instructional material, noting that there are a number of such that present the critical components of instruction as defined by IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. Any program, product, institution, company, or instructional material carrying the IDA Accredited seal meets the IDA Standards.