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NYC Helpline: How To: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

How to Use the DIBELS Assessment Tool by Arlyne LeSchack

DIBELS stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills and the test is not without controversy. Many educators who believe in focusing on meaning and having students construct their own knowledge frown on this tool. However, you may be asked to administer it to your students, particularly students who are struggling with early reading skills. This article will not take a position on the efficacy of the tool, but it will help you understand the various measures involved in the assessment. You can decide if they are useful for your students.

The DIBELS has several subtests or measures: The first is Initial Sound Fluency. It is a standardized, individually administered measure of phonological awareness that assesses a child's ability to recognize and produce the initial sound in an orally presented word. The administration looks like this: The examiner presents four pictures to the child, names each picture and then asks the child to identify the picture that begins with a sound produced orally by the examiner. For example, the examiner might say, “Here are pictures of a sink, cat, gloves and hat, which picture begins with s?” The child is also asked to orally produce the beginning sound for an orally presented word that matches one of the given pictures. The examiner calculates the time it takes for the student to answer. The whole measure takes about 3 minutes and there are many alternates to use for monitoring progress.

The next subtest is called Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PSF). This test measures the student's ability to segment three or four phoneme words into their indidual phonemes fluently. This measure is also standardized and administered individually. According to research done by Kaminiski and Good in 1996 this measure has been found to be a good indicator of later reading achievement. In the this test, the examiner would say "sat" and the student would say back the sounds s/a/t.

The next measure is Nonsense Word Fluency. Here the student is given a sheet of consonant/vowel/consonant (cvc) words that are not real. The student is required to provide the sounds for each letter and for higher credit to roll them into a word.

Another DIBELS measure is Letter Naming Fluency. Again it is standardized and individually administered. Here the child is presented with a page of upper and lower case letters that are randomly ordered. Students are asked to name as many letters as they can in one minute. Students are considered at-risk for difficulty achieving early literacy benchmark goals if they perform in the lowest 20% of students in their district.

After Kindergarten, the DIBELS also includes Reading Connected Text. In the second grade students have to retell the story within the connected text.

The DIBELS measures were devised based on skills and strategies that are prerequisite and fundamental to later reading success. Though somewhat controversial, I do think DIBELS have merit. Try administering them as an assessment tool and decide for yourself.

If you have any questions about DIBELS, please
contact me at aleschack@aol.com.


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