About the DIBELS--A Code Emphasis Approach Assessment

Teachers who feel that reading should be taught through a code-emphasis approach may use the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) as a measurement tool in their classrooms. DIBELS are a set on one-minute standardized measures of skills, individually administered, which Good and Kaminski (2003) feel underlie early reading success. They claim that these assessments will predict how well children will do in reading comprehension by the end of third grade, yet they do not include one subtest to assess comprehension.

Good, Simmons and Smith (1998) feel that the DIBELS is a useful tool in ascertaining which students are having difficulty in what they believe are the components of effective early reading instruction: phonological awareness, alphabetic understanding, phonological recoding, and accuracy and fluency with connected text. At each grade level, K-1, there are three or four short subtests to help teachers locate, monitor, and intervene with at-risk students. At grade 2 there are two subtests and at grade 3 there is one subtest.

Good and Kaminski (2003) believe the definition of reading is fluency in assessment tasks. In kindergarten these fluency tasks are: initial sound fluency, letter naming fluency, phoneme segmentation fluency, and nonsense word fluency. The fluency tasks for first grade are: letter naming fluency, phoneme segmentation fluency, nonsense word fluency and oral reading fluency. The fluency tasks for second grade are nonsense word fluency and oral reading fluency, and in third grade, the fluency task is oral reading fluency. There is a retelling fluency component that is not valid or reliable since it is not standardized at the present time.

Elliott (1997) investigated the reliability and validity of selected DIBELS measures in identifying kindergartners who are at risk for reading failure. The study provided a partial replication of Good et al.'s reliability and validity studies. The data from this partial replication provides corroborative support for the DIBELS Letter Naming Fluency (LNF), Phonemic Segmentation Fluency (PSF), and Initial Sound Fluency(ISF). Bishop (2003) found that letter identification and phonological awareness correlate to first-grade reading achievement along with rapid automatized naming and phonological memory in examining oral reading fluency.

A study by Hintze, Ryan and Stoner (2002), found a moderate to strong correlation between the DIBELS and the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP), providing evidence that these two instruments are measuring a similar construct, phonological awareness. However, the results of this study suggest the DIBELS “benchmark” or cut-scores may be set too high, from a diagnostic accuracy point of view. As a result, Hintze, Ryan and Stoner (2002) suggest the use of the DIBELS as a classification tool in practice should be undertaken with caution. Using DIBELS and these cut-scores could lead to school districts: 1.) inaccurately identifying children as “at-risk” for early reading problems and, as a result, children’s self-esteem could plummet, and 2.) unnecessarily allocating resources, leading to costly mistakes for school districts. Further research on benchmark or cut-scores is warranted due to these problems.

(Back to Findings)