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The Controversy Over DIBELS

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Elizabeth Hart

on 14 May 2014

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Transcript of The Controversy Over DIBELS

So what's the big controversy?
The Problem with DIBELS
Phoneme Segmentation Fluency
(PSF) measures a student's ability to segment words into individual phonemes fluently. For example, the examiner reads, "log," and the student responds, "/l/ /o/ /g/."
Nonsense Word Fluency
(NWF) measures the student's ability to read individual letter sounds in nonsense words. For example, the student is given a sheet of paper with randomly order VC and CVC nonsense words and asked to read as many words as he or she can in one minute.
Oral Reading Fluency
(ORF) is a set of passages to identify patterns in oral reading including omissions, substitutions, and hesitations of more than three seconds. The student is given one minute and the examiner records the number of words read correctly. The student has three seconds for self-correction.
Retell Fluency
(RF) monitors student comprehension of a passage read aloud for one minute. Checks for comprehension that is not consistent with the student's fluency scores.
Word Use Fluency
(WUF) assesses a student's ability to use expressive vocabulary.
Limited Focus
The DIBELS assessment is designed to assess the five Big Ideas of literacy:
phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency with text, vocabulary
. However, the test does not provide opportunities for the students to read a passage in its entirety and ask and answer questions to accurately monitor comprehension or assess students' vocabulary.
Many argue that DIBELS measures individual skills, rather than the students' ability to read for comprehension and meaning.
While the Retelling sub-test asks the students to regurgitate as much information as possible from what they have read,
there is no measure of comprehension involved at all within DIBELS.

Timed Assessments
Many argue that the one-minute timed sub-tests make way for a multitude of issues. First, many argue that the
one-minute timed sub-tests measure speed more so than accuracy.
While students are expected to read for accuracy, fluency, and comprehension, the timed test often
affects the students' ability to perform successfully in all areas.
Specifically, students with
anxiety disorders or attention deficits often fail to perform to meet high standards
because of the expectation to read an entire passage in one minute or less. Similarly, students fail to meet the expectations of the Retelling sub-test because they have read for speed, rather than understanding.
Ennis and Hart
Wednesday, May 15, 2014
Vol XCIII, No. 311
What is DIBELS?
Read All About It!
DIBELS stands for the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills and is comprised of a set of procedures that assess the acquisition of early literacy and reading skills from Kindergarten through the third grade.

DIBELS was designed to be used as a formative assessment tool for low-stakes educational decisions. However, DIBELS has more recently been used to label and track students regarding advancement or retention.

In recent years, DIBELS has become a controversial assessment tool because of misuse of its data.
Students with Disabilities
The DIBELS assessment is a standardized test that does not consider student with disabilities. Specifically, students with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities or physical disabilities are provided with no accommodations or modifications at this time. DIBELS identifies the subgroups of students that the test does not consider as the following:

"DIBELS are appropriate for all students for whom a
goal is learning to read in English with a few exceptions:
a) students who are deaf; b) students who have
fluency-based speech disabilities, e.g., stuttering, oral
apraxia; c) students who are learning to read in a language other than English; d) students with severe disabilities" (Dynamic Measurement Group, 2007).

Student Self-Esteem
The DIBELS assessment promotes low self-esteem by correcting students with only three seconds of think time, and not allowing students to finish before giving them a score.

The Controversy Over DIBELS
Initial Sound Fluency
(ISF) measures phonological awareness by assessing the student's ability to recognize and produce the initial sound in an orally presented word when given a picture. For example, the examiner gives the student four pictures, names the pictures, and then asks the student to identify the picture by the initial sound.

Letter Naming Fluency
(LNF) measures risk for difficulty achieving literacy benchmark goals. The student is provided with upper and lower case letters and asked to name as many letters as he or she can in one minute.
As a classroom teacher, use DIBELS to determine areas of need considering phonemic awareness and alphabetic principle. Form literacy instruction to respond to these needs and monitor student growth using the DIBELS assessments.

Do NOT use DIBELS to determine retention or advancement of a student.

Incorporate comprehension instruction and assessment into data analysis. Require students to summarize texts, as well as identify main idea to monitor comprehension.

A one-minute test will not answer WHY the student lacks fluency or accuracy. Consider using Miscue Analysis or Running Records to answer WHY.
Diverse Learners
The DIBELS assessment does not consider diverse learners, such as English Language Learners. DIBELS explains that its goal is to measure students probability of becoming readers (Dynamic Measurement Group, 2007). Students who perform low on DIBELS benchmarks are unlikely to become readers. (Not good readers, just readers.)

Misuse of Data
Data from the DIBELS assessment is grossly misused to determine whether or not students should be retained or promoted to the next grade.

Additional Issues
DIBELS sub-tests represent a series of steps that does not consider students who do not attend Kindergarten. This means that these students are considered behind before they have ever entered a school setting.

The use of Nonsense Words to identify students' ability to blend letter sounds does not make sense if students should be reading real words at grade level.
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