About the Data
The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) is a research based screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring tool for students in grades K4 through 2nd grade. Wisconsin teachers use PALS to identify students at risk of developing reading difficulties, diagnose students' knowledge of literacy fundamentals, monitor progress, and plan instruction that targets students' needs. In addition to these uses, PALS data may play other roles in the education of students. This document identifies the main uses for PALS data and suggests situations where the use of PALS data should be limited.
PALS Data, In Short
PALS scores are provided in WISEdash for those schools that have students in grades K4 through 2nd in order to facilitate thorough data analyses. PALS scores are not used for school accountability purposes. Schools and districts are required by Wis. Stats. 118.016 to administer a literacy screener in order to identify students who are at risk of developing reading difficulty. These tests are an important part of a balanced assessment system and, as such, DPI is supporting the use and dissemination of results by making these dashboards available. There are no plans to make these data public; that is, they cannot be accessed in WISEdash Public Portal.
PALS results are available in WISEdash beginning with the results from the 2012-13 school year for students in KG and expanded to include students in K4 and 1st grade for the 2013-14 school year with a further expansion to 2nd grade for the 2014-15 school year. Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, districts need to sign a data release agreement in order for their PALS data to appear in WISEdash.
PALS Data Exchange
Districts are required to administer a literacy screener at least once during each school year to students in grades K4 through 2nd. After the conclusion of an administration window for all districts across the state who utilize PALS, results from that administration are provided to DPI. DPI loads those results into the data warehouse for presentation in WISEdash for Districts. WISEdash for Districts displays aggregate PALS results for the fall and spring administrations (not for the optional mid-year – or winter - administration). If a student has taken the winter administration, those results will be shown in that student’s Student Profile.
Part of the data loading process involves matching the assessment with the appropriate student in the data warehouse. That process uses the WISEid (if provided), student name, and date of birth and allows some degree of variation or inaccuracy. Even so, some records cannot be matched and will be loaded and reported as unknown. A very small percentage of records may be misidentified with an incorrect student.
- Planned Load Schedule
- Fall test term: mid-December
- Winter test term: April
- Spring test term: end of June
Appropriate Use of PALS Data for Districts Utilizing PALS to Meet the Requirements of Wis. Stats. 118.016
Note: PALS K4 does not include fall performance benchmarks for 4-year-old kindergarten students. PALS results may still be used to identify students who can be grouped together for small group instruction, identify areas where overall classroom instruction and curriculum should be adjusted, and as a component of a student/school learning objective.
- Identify students who haven’t met the benchmark and are statutorily required to be provided intervention. Students who do not meet the PALS benchmark are deemed to be at risk of reading difficulty and schools and districts are required to provide interventions or remedial services for these students. Wisconsin Statute 121.02(1)(c)3. states that the interventions or services provided the student shall be scientifically based and shall address all areas in which the student is deficient in a manner consistent with the state standards in reading and language arts.
- Identify students who have met the benchmark but have one or more task scores below the benchmark and can benefit from intervention. Students who meet the overall benchmark but miss one or more of the task benchmarks should be provided focused instruction in the areas where they were deficient.
- Identify students who can be grouped together for small group instruction based on their similar performance. Student data collected from PALS provides a direct means of matching literacy instruction to specific literacy needs. Small group instruction can be an effective classroom organization technique that could be utilized when groups of students present with similar needs.
- Identify areas where overall classroom instruction or curriculum should be adjusted based on student performance. If an entire classroom struggles with one or more tasks, the PALS results could be used by the teacher as a tool to guide and adjust future instruction. PALS provides a variety of lesson plan options that can be used to improve literacy instruction.
Limitations with PALS Data
- PALS data should not be used as an overall accountability measure. PALS results are designed to identify students who are in danger of falling behind in their acquisition of literacy skills. PALS results are not intended to identify overall student reading proficiency. Overall student proficiency is not calculated until 3rd grade when students complete the Badger Exam. PALS is also not designed to predict Badger Exam performance but instead to identify students who are in danger of falling behind in their acquisition of literacy skills.
- PALS results should not be used to make high stakes decisions about a school. PALS data is not included on the school report cards as PALS is designed as a screener and not an overall summative measure of a school’s performance.
- PALS results should not be used to determine the overall effectiveness of a school or program. Statements such as “our program is effective because 90% of our students meet the PALS end-of-year benchmark” are misleading because they fail to account for how much progress students made in the program. Also, mean score data for schools should not be used in an attempt to rank order school performance as the primary purpose of PALS is identifying individual student needs and not determining overall school performance.
- PALS results should not be the only tool used to judge the overall effectiveness of a teacher or curriculum. There are many variables that should be considered when evaluating overall effectiveness of a teacher or curriculum. Guidance on determining overall teacher effectiveness can be found at the Educator Effectiveness System webpage.
- PALS results should not be the only data used when making retention or special education referral decisions. PALS results should not be used as the sole reason for retaining a child in a grade level or for a special education referral. Grade level retention and special education referrals require more data than is available from administering PALS.
- PALS data is insufficient to determine whether students are meeting grade-level expectations. Students that meet the PALS benchmark are not guaranteed to be meeting grade-level expectations. The PALS screener is designed to identify students who are at risk of developing reading difficulties. It is not intended to identify overall student reading proficiency as PALS measures only some components of reading (primarily reading foundational skills such as concepts of print, phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency). More information from a variety of sources needs to be gathered to determine whether students are indeed meeting grade-level expectations.
- PALS results from successive administrations should not be used as a growth measure for an individual student. PALS is not designed as a growth tool because PALS results do not represent the full range of student performance. Many students are likely to perform above the highest threshold of performance and as a result any growth results derived from PALS would be limited.
PALS Trends and 1st Grade Cohort
Presentation of trend data is approached differently for PALS dashboards than in other WISEdash topic areas. Rather than displaying a selected grade level over the most recent three years, PALS Results (Trends) shows all years of PALS results for all students in a selected first grade cohort. That is, the group of students that ended or are planned to end the year together in first grade. The dashboard shows how that same group of students performed on each administration of PALS across the years.
- For example in 2014-15, if you want to display the PALS performance of your school’s 2nd grade students for the current school year, you would select 2014 under 1st Grade Cohort filter, as that is the year they completed the first grade. WISEdash will show how that group of students have performed on PALS tests in each successive year from 2012-13 (KG) through 2014-15 (2nd).
- Note that as students in a 1st Grade Cohort progress through the school years, their grade levels may not all remain alike. Some may repeat a grade level, others may skip a level. Therefore a small number of students represented in a school year bar on the graph may be in a different grade level than the others when tested.
Schools have the option of screening students in grades KG through 2nd grade with PALS español instead of the English language version of PALS. The “language” filter on the dashboard can be utilized to identify students who were screened with PALS español. More information about PALS español can be found at PALS Marketplace.
- Average Entry Level Summed Score: This is the mean (average) entry level summed score for this grade level and administration window as filtered by the user.
- Average Task Score: The mean (average) of all scores for selected tasks for this grade level and administration window as filtered by the user.
- Benchmark: A predefined minimum score for a task or set of tasks which is used to identify whether the student is at risk of reading difficulty. Benchmark values vary from task to task, test administration, and grade level. No benchmarks are provided for K4 or the optional winter administration.
- First Grade Cohort: The calendar year the student is projected to end first grade as determined by student’s earliest enrollment in or after kindergarten. For KG (5-year-old kindergarten), this is the year following the end of the current school year.
- Instructional Reading Level: The instructional reading level is determined by individual student performance on the Oral Reading in Context task. The Oral Reading in Context task is designed to measure student accuracy, fluency, and reading rate and is administered to 1st and 2nd grade students.
- Range: the developmental range of scores provided in the student profile results for tasks for the winter assessment in lieu of benchmarks.
- Summed Score Benchmark: The summed score benchmark is a predefined minimum score which is used to identify whether a student is at risk of reading difficulty and required to be provided a reading intervention or remedial services.
- Task: PALS screening consists of a series of tasks or activities that are completed by each student. Students’ scores on specific tasks are added together to create a summed score. Each grade level requires a different series of tasks to be completed in order to obtain the summed score.