Students in the Springfield Public Schools SHINE program get academic support in a safe environment before or after school. (Photo courtesy Springfield Public Schools)

The need for a K-12 universal screening tool — a system designed to identify each Springfield Public School students’ learning gaps and strengths — was one that Superintendent Grenita Lathan listed in the entry plan she released shortly after SPS hired her last year.

At Tuesday’s SPS Board of Education meeting, Lathan and Nicole Holt, deputy superintendent of academics, presented information on the screening system they want to use for the next three school years, at a cost of more than $2.1 million. 

The school board voted unanimously to approve a three-year contract with Imagine Learning, an educational technology company that has developed a system called Galileo that is designed to screen students three times through the course of a school year in an effort to identify kids who are at risk for learning difficulties. 

While it is administered at regular intervals to assess students, a universal screening tool is not a standardized test. It’s a resource that serves as “the first step in identifying the students who are at risk for learning difficulties,” according to the SPS school board agenda item about the recommendation to purchase Galileo licenses. 

The screening tool examines target skills, like phonological awareness, which is a measurement of a pupil’s ability to understand the collection of sounds that comprise spoken language. Research has also shown it is a predictive measurement of future language comprehension skills. The screenings can then be used to predict how students will fare on state standardized tests, according to Imagine Learning promotional material.

Galileo, as Imagine Learning describes on its promotional material, is designed to measure student learning gains across the school year in three areas of interest to SPS — English/Language Arts (ELA), math and science, subjects that are assessed on state proficiency tests.

Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores from 2020-2021 showed that two-thirds of SPS students weren’t proficient in math and science, and over half were below proficient in ELA.

Imagine Learning also touts Galileo as a predictive tool in terms of state testing, one that allows “a district to load state test data into the system and receive predictive state test performance data using Galileo’s benchmarks.” Holt said that while the predictive capabilities are a draw, the main feature of Galileo that is of interest to educators across the district is the ability to have real-time data to show how students are responding as they get ready for end-of-year state assessments.  

Nicole Holt

“So if I see that Stephen over time is performing really low in a specific standard, then I’m going to tailor my instruction in the classroom to give him opportunities and continued exposure to that standard so that when he does get to the test, it isn’t something that’s foreign to him, but it’s something that he’s had multiple exposures with,” Holt said. “So it’s great that it has this percent of predictiveness. But more importantly, it’s about how we fill gaps for kids. And this tool is going to give us a greater ability to do that well.”

The process that led to the selection of Galileo started in September, Holt said, when a committee of about 50 educators, including principals, administrative directors, teachers and academic coaches, began examining universal screening tools designed for all grade levels. The committee eventually narrowed a field of options down to two universal screening systems, which were each tested in a set of classrooms starting last December and ending in either late February or early March. Holt said that pilot teachers who used Galileo reported the screenings reinforced what they were seeing in terms of individual student performance, rather than refuting it. 

“So it wasn’t like a kid went in and took the assessment and scored vastly differently than how the teacher was seeing them perform in classroom observations on a daily basis,” Holt said.  

She said the pilot teachers also reported favorable comparisons between the Galileo assessments and the state’s MAP and End of Course assessments. Being able to administer a learning assessment in an untimed format also was a positive.

“Teachers are able to see how those students are performing, and the anxiety and stress of a timed test isn’t something that our kids have to experience with this particular tool,” Holt said. “That pleased teachers.”

The effort to screen students for learning gaps is not a new one. Currently, SPS licenses six software platforms that are designed to contribute toward the process of screening students who may experience learning gaps. The annual costs of licensing those platforms is $1,151,658. According to Holt, the Imagine Learning system allows the district to continue examining each of those six areas, meaning all six licenses will be canceled if the Imagine Learning recommendation is approved. The district would spend $431,991 less per year on screening programs if the change goes through. 

“We had other resources that we were using, other assessment tools, but they were only providing us that data in grades K through eight,” Holt said. “And so this screener gives us that ability to engage in grades K through 12. It’s going to offer us assessments across our grade levels that are really going to help us more effectively tailor our instruction in time. So they’re going to give us those three shots throughout the year that say, this is how they’re performing on the screener. But you get those in-time progress monitoring pieces for teachers across the year. So that’s going to be really helpful to us. And they offer us assessments not just in (English language arts) and math, but also in science, which is a tested content area for us as well in the state of Missouri.”

The three-year cost of licensing the screening tool for 25,000 SPS students is $2,159,000, or $719,667 per year, according to SPS documents. Federal dollars will cover nearly three-quarters of that price tag. The district earmarked $1.5 million from the second round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II) money that SPS received during the pandemic.

The Imagine Learning universal screening program will be implemented starting in the first semester of the next school year. 

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson