“Look what he can do! Who knew?” BC High School conducts uPAR Pilot

“Look what he can do! Who knew?” BC High School conducts uPAR Pilot

It took no more than 10 minutes of using uPAR in a BC school to generate the first profound, goosebump-raising results.

The team supervising the uPAR assessment called-up the screen of a grade 12 student (let’s call him Zack) working intently away. He was one of 22 students in the room ranging from grades 9-12 that the teachers had identified for uPAR screening because:

  • they were reading well below grade level,
  • they all had a variety of supports such as content adaptation, extra staff resources for support, accommodations for testing (extra time, readers, scribes, assistive technology), etc. 

But no one had a handle on whether or not these students could benefit from a text-to-speech accommodation alone or with strategic support.

Zack came in with a tested independent reading level of grade 3. But using the e-text reader option, he was successfully answering the comprehension questions in uPAR, at his grade-level -- nine grades higher than what he came in with.

“We need to get this kid access to a text-reader, now!” whispered one of the teachers monitoring the results, trying to control his excitement. “Look what he can do! Who knew?”

What keeps you up at night?

Most recommendations for literacy supports are initiated by either teacher referral or parental advocacy. Think of how good children are at masking a hearing or a vision condition; how many students slip under our learning support radar?

Conversely, even the staunchest AT advocate will admit that they’ve seen plenty of kids who are the recipients of a laptop with an electronic text reading tool and seem to derive no benefit from them.

How do you screen for a reading accommodation?

The answer is uPAR.



uPAR helps identify which students would benefit from reading accommodations


uPAR helps identify which students would benefit from reading accommodations

How uPar works

On a morning this past April, in a high school in Burnaby BC, 22 students filed into a computer lab and took their places at headphone equipped stations. The Coordinator of Learning Services gave them a little run down:

“You are going to be reading passages and answering questions on the computer. Some of you will finish early, some will keep going. At any time you can call us over and say you have had enough or that you need help with something. We are doing this to see whether having text read to you helps you to read more difficult text than what you can read on your own. This kind of information will help us to better understand what you need to be as successful and independent as you can be.”

uPAR assesses a student’s abilities to comprehend grade level text and helps teachers identify the support for the student that is most likely to be beneficial. The student reads a few passages in 3 ways:

  • silently, independently
  • with a recorded adult reader 
  • and an e-text reader

After each passage is read the student answers comprehension questions. The system analyzes the student’s responses to the questions with different accommodations, adjusting for grade level . The data derived from uPAR indicates to what extent and to which grade level a student can be successful with a read-aloud accommodation.



The individual student data shows how the student performed with each accommodation.

The individual student data shows how the student performed with each accommodation.


uPAR does not determine independent reading level. In fact, this information is necessary to use as a baseline when you are setting the system up for each students screening. uPAR reveals whether a student is able to read and comprehend text at or above grade level, with appropriate supports. Conversely, it will indicate if a read out-loud support is unlikely to be beneficial.

The BC pilot: riveted by real-time results


As the kids logged on to their machines, the adults in the room -- 2 district staff, the support services team from the school, and several teachers -- huddled around one computer at the front. Claire Zeijdel, from Bridges, was there representing and supporting the technology side of things, which turned out to be a pretty minimal job. uPAR is a cloud delivered system. Setting up user names for the students and the Educator Dashboard to monitor results took just minutes with a few simple steps.

The computer where the adults were clustered displayed the uPAR Educator Dashboard, which revealed all twenty students’ progress in real time.

The atmosphere soon turned electric.

As they called-up the results of one student after another, everyone was riveted. Some students, like Zack, showed that they could work at grade level with the right accommodation. Some didn’t. But for the educators, the clarity and immediacy of the new insight into their students was revelatory.

As the students continued, the adults were having a discussion about how this information fit with what they already knew about these kids: preferences, behavior, learning strengths and needs.

In less than an hour, twenty students were screened. Automated, uPAR will keep running tests until it hits a ceiling for a student. By the thirty minute mark, uPAR had finished the assessment process for many of the students. When someone was done, they went back to class. By the end of the period, 2 students were still going. In uPAR you can always retest. Whether that be a follow up to see how an accommodation is working, or just to redo a session because the student was having a bad day or was interrupted.



Summary data shows the students who can benefit from accommodations

Summary data shows the students who can benefit from accommodations 


Following the assessment session, the District Vice Principal of Learning Services, Elizabeth Gardner, noted how important it is to run this assessment in high school. “As implementation gets more challenging, often the supports that are so plentiful in elementary school get dropped in higher grades.”

Other team members mused that uPAR screening should be routine and mandatory – like hearing or eye tests.

All were anxious and excited about their upcoming “data talks” with the students that had been screened and continuing along the path this new tool brought to their school.


Are there students in your classrooms that you think could benefit from supports?

Contact Bridges about running uPAR screenings in your school or district.

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  • Bogdan Pospielovsky
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