PALS Update 2019-2020

PALS has a long history in the Commonwealth and reflects a strong partnership between the University of Virginia, the VDOE, and divisions and schools around the state.  It is because of the value of those partnerships that a reinvestment in PALS is important. As an academic partner in the state’s literacy screening effort, we want to ensure that the latest science is reflected in the screening tool we offer for use in the Commonwealth. We are committed to the improvements needed to achieve this. The strength of our efforts lies within the partnership we experience around plans to improve literacy screening, which are already underway.

The PALS K-3 tools used for screening in Virginia are over 20 years old. These tools were designed to snapshot a child’s literacy performance at four points across K-3. PALS was not designed to measure growth in literacy skills, distinguish profiles of struggling readers, or to detect dyslexia. Comprehensive, multi-skill, up-to-date screening tools can be highly effective for policies, programs, and practices that identify and address the multiple needs of readers challenged by various conditions, including dyslexia.

With regard to PALS and screening in Virginia, updates are needed in multiple areas of the measure to ensure it adequately screens all children for reading difficulties. The improvements that need to be made must increase its sensitivity to children at risk for various forms of reading difficulty, including but not limited to children with dyslexia. This could include English Language Learners or children who have social and demographic risk factors that make it more likely they will have difficulties with early reading development. The improvements must also provide teachers actionable data aligned to evidence-based instruction and intervention. These needs require significant changes to the measure. Changes include adding a rapid automatized naming (RAN) component, using colors and objects for kindergarten and letters and numbers for grades 1-3, creating word lists that are fully decodable and are not grade-level bound, creating a nonsense word decoding list with the same criteria as the real word lists, creating a phonological awareness task that spans all grades and reflects the broad developmental continuum of skills, and creating oral reading passages that increase in difficulty and provide data on rate and accuracy. These revisions also need to be technically sound and grounded in data obtained from Virginia’s schoolchildren.

In order to address the aforementioned gaps in the measure, the PALS office has the following work underway:

  • We have items developed for the phonological awareness tasks, decodable words and non-words, and the RAN protocols using letters and numbers. We will test items in spring and summer and use this information to prepare for the first pilot wave.
  • We are developing items for the oral reading fluency, RAN protocols for kindergarten and will test these items over the summer.
  • We are creating a brief webinar- available on demand from our website- articulating the vision for change to PALS and the work that is underway. We will share this with the VDOE.
  • The first pilot wave is expected to start in fall 2020. Data collection can occur in partnership with divisions and we are looking for divisions interested in partnering. Teachers will continue to administer the current PALS with pilot data collection taking place during the same fall window time through trained assessors.
  • We recognize that, even as the new measure is being developed, the current data must be used in support of EIRI.

We will create a short webinar and position statement on what you can do with the current PALS data to maximize its use. Our research points to a number of suggestions that can be implemented now and we shared these at the Literacy Summit.