Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills DIBELS

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) is a formative early literacy assessment created by Dr. Roland Good and Dr. Ruth Kaminski (Kaminski, & Good, 2009) of the Dynamic Measurement Group. Research about this type of testing was first done at the University of Oregon (Kaminski, & Good, 2009). It is used by kindergarten through sixth grade teachers in the United States to screen for whether students are at risk of reading difficulty, and to monitor student progress and guide instruction. The DIBELS comprise a developmental sequence of one-minute measures: recognizing initial sounds, naming the letters of the alphabet, segmenting the phonemes in a word, reading nonsense words, oral reading of a passage, retelling, and word use. The measures assess phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency in reading text, vocabulary and comprehension (Kaminski, & Good, 2009). DIBELS results can be used to evaluate individual student development, as well as to provide feedback on effectiveness of instruction.

In goals, the goals for reading achievement are clearly defined and are set to be commonly understood by all users. The assessment materials provided, like described above, measure essential skills and provided valid information about student performance. Instruction is based on the reading goals and the assessments. The program provides materials that are based on state standards and benchmarks and are adaptable for all learners. The DIBELS program allows for professional development opportunities so that reading teachers can align their lessons better to the DIBELS data and assessment. Leadership within the DIBELS program allows teachers to interact and share ideas with the use of the program. Teachers sometimes remark that students subject to regular DIBELS testing throughout their K-3 years come to view reading as a meaningless exercise in making sounds or saying words. If this is the case, then these students would be severely handicapped in reading more complex texts later on, since an important strategy used in developing reading vocabulary is using contextual meaning to infer the meaning of an unknown word. If the reading process is viewed as inherently meaningless, students rely too much on orthographic rules, which are unreliable in English. Such teachers usually advocate for [whole-language instruction].

The materials alleged by the creators to be formative assessments appear to have no relationship to definitions of such assessment as designed to provide specific, constructive feedback to students as to their progress and future growth and improvement. Multiple choice test items may be of doubtful usefulness in providing such information to students or positioning teachers to frame such feedback. Furthermore, multiple choice items may be of limited value at best in providing data on how students think about, say, a mathematical idea. Multiple choice items are traditionally linked with providing graded data. Research suggests strongly that providing grades or scores is counterproductive to the goals of formative assessment. In cases where students are given both numerical or letter grades coupled with individual specific, constructive feedback, the impact of the feedback is negated by the student focus on the numerical or letter grade. Thus, calling DIBELS "summative" appears to be a serious misnomer
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