Analyzing Dibels Scores – Reading

I mentioned the other day that I had finished giving all of my kids the requisite DIBELS tests. I’ve been analyzing the scores and rearranging my groups.

It’s interesting to see how the scores break the groups down. I still have a group of 6 kids who I would label “at risk”. Two extremely so, and the other four not so bad. Even the two have made significant progress, just not enough to be at grade level and we are running out of time. We have about seven weeks of school left. So they comprise a group of six who will continue to get extra interventions through the end of the year. According to my result page on the Voyager website, which groups by Struggling, Emerging, or On Track, I only have two in the Struggling category. However, the other four, while not as bad, are still weak in two areas of the three we tested.

What’s amazing is what happens when it clicks for some kids. I have two who went from Medium at-risk to my very top group. One little girl’s score is the second highest score in the class and she was in my intervention group in January. It’s funny, because we work with words and language all day, but don’t often get to sit down and read an actual book. The kids are learning more than they think. I’ve had a number of them tell me that they can’t read, and then when I get out one of the readers, they read it just fine.

There is a huge determining factor in their PERCEPTIONS of what they can or can’t do. If they THINK they can’t read, then you can have a hard time convincing them otherwise. Which is funny, but it probably has a lot to do with the way I am teaching reading. If we actually got the leveled readers out and read them more, they would probably see themselves more as readers. Most of them have the skills, they just don’t know it. Or they don’t have someone that can sit down with them and practice reading. And in class, we only have so many minutes in the day. As the year starts to wind down though, we should have more time to actually get to the leveled readers in small groups. In kindergarten, so much time is spent in getting them where they can work independently so that you CAN do small groups.


17 thoughts on “Analyzing Dibels Scores – Reading

  1. Hi. I’m wondering if you can help me understand a little more about DIBELS. I have a Kindergartener in public school and recently received his DIBELS Report. But the report hardly gives any information about what his score actually means. I can see from the little chart that he’s on the high end, but is there somewhere where I can find a more specific breakdown of how his numbers translate into what he actually knows?

    • First off, Dibels scores aren’t really a measure of what they know specifically, they are “dynamic indicators of basic early literacy skills”. Benchmarks are set for where a child could reasonably be expected to perform at that time of the year, so if your child is scoring on the high end, that pretty much means he is ar or above where he should be for the time of the year the test was given. This time of the year, (beginning) we give the LNF (letter naming fluency) and the INF (initial sound fluency). Here are explanations from the Dibels Instructional Guide for teachers:

      The administration and scoring guide for DIBELS describes the Letter Naming Fluency Assessment this way:

      Letter Naming Fluency (LNF) is intended for most children from fall of kindergarten through fall of first grade. A benchmark goal is not provided for LNF because it does not
      correspond to a big idea of early literacy skills, phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, and accuracy and fluency with connected text) and does not appear to be essential to achieve reading outcomes. However, students in the lowest 20 percent of a school district using local norms should be considered at risk for poor reading outcomes, and those between the 20th percentile and 40th percentile should be considered at some risk. For students at risk, the primary instructional goals should be in phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, and accuracy and fluency with connected text.
      DIBELS Letter Naming Fluency (LNF) is a standardized, individually administered test that provides a measure of risk. Students are presented with a page of upper- and lower-case letters arranged in a random order and are asked to name as many letters as they can. LNF is based on research by Marston and Magnusson (1988). Students are told if they do not know a letter they will be told the letter. The student is allowed 1 minute to produce as many letter names as he/she can, and the score is the number of letters named correctly in 1 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. That is, below the 20th percentile using local district norms. Students are considered at some risk if they perform between the 20th and 40th percentile using local norms. Students are considered at low risk if they perform above the 40th percentile using local norms. (Good & Kaminski, 2002, p.6)

      The administration and scoring guide for DIBELS describes the Initial Sound Fluency Assessment this way:

      Initial Sound Fluency is intended for most children from the last year of preschool through the middle of kindergarten. It may be appropriate for monitoring the progress of older children with very low skills in phonological awareness.
      DIBELS (TM) Initial Sound Fluency (ISF) 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 (Kaminski & Good, 1998; Laimon, 1994). The examiner presents four pictures to the child, names each picture, and then asks the child to identify (i.e., point to or say) the picture that begins with the sound produced orally by the examiner. For example, the examiner says, “This is sink, cat, gloves, and hat. Which picture begins with /s/?” and the student points to the correct picture. 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 amount of time taken to identify/produce the correct sound and converts the score into the number of onsets correct in a minute. The ISF measure takes about 3 minutes to administer and has over 20 alternate forms to monitor progress. The ISF measure is a revision of the Onset Recognition Fluency (OnRF) measure incorporating minimal revisions. Alternate-form reliability of the OnRF measure is .72 in January of kindergarten (Good, Kaminski, Shinn, Bratten, Shinn, & Laimon, in preparation). By repeating the assessment four times, the resulting average is estimated to have a reliability of .91 (Nunnally, 1978).” (Good & Kaminski, 2002, p.10)

      • The DIBELS says the assessment results whow how your child’s skills compare with the skills exhibited by other students in the same grade across the country.(kindergarten)But, for the life of me I can’t see that. There is a graph that shows three sections “Most support” “Some Support” and “Goal” between most support and some support there is a 4 and between some support and goal there is an 8 and then it shows my daughter at the end of goal with a 32(in ISF) Where is there anything about comparison to national data, like a percentile?

      • I think I addressed most of this in an email reply, but your daughter only needed a score of 8 on ISF to benchmark or reach goal for this time in the school year, with a 32, she is doing great. The goal of 8 is set based on national data.

  2. I believe that normal variations in development for this age is the primary factor. That’s why a child can go from the intervention group to the top group. The pressure that is placed on kids to come up on plane to these DIBELS goals is in my opinion detrimental to their learning and self-esteem.

    I am a parent of a Kindergartner who happens to have tested very high and is in the top reading group, so I’m not a disgruntled parent. I just see with heartbreak the stress that his fellow students, and even my son before the testing, were placed under.

    We recognize that so much of physical and psychosocial development varies with age and gender. Why is it that we can’t recognize that with brain development, and instead label our children at such a young age?

    • I agree. Developmentally, there can be such a HUGE change with some kids in just a few months. I put the blame for much of this stress we put on them on to No Child Left Behind. The pressure to show growth and success has just been pushed down from the upper grades and much of what they want us to do flies in the face of developmental research. So we try to make it a game in my class, if it’s a game, then the challenge is there for them to do well, but hopefully not as much pressure. The problem is that the kids who are struggling, for whatever reason, KNOW they aren’t getting it, and very early on it affects their self-esteem. So some of them give up and think they are stupid, even when it’s just a develomental thing and they just need a little time.

  3. Hi. My kindergartener came home today with only a composite DIBELS score of 264. Can you offer any other information that may help me decipher where he is in terms of his level? THanks for your help.

    • I’m not sure where that score is coming from if it is a dibels score. Your best bet would be to talk to the teacher or school and ask for an explanation. Sorry.

    • It looks like you son is doing great. For mid year on the PSF (Phoneme Segmentation Fluency) anything over 18 is considered Low Risk. On the NWF (Nonsense Word Fluency) anything over 13 is considered Low Risk. Your son is scoring well above that on both tests. These are indicators of reading literacy, readiness and predictors of success, they are not intended to show reading levels. For a reading level they would need to give him some kind of test that shows his level. Dibels doesn’t do that. It just gives the teacher a quick snapshot of indicators of success.

    • Your best bet is to talk to your child’s teacher. I teach kindergarten, some of the dibels in second grade aren’t. Even the same ones we give in kinder. In my grade, this trimester, I gave four different dibels assessment. That number doesn’t mean anything to me.

  4. My son is in Kindergarten and he placed 8th out of 20 kids on the DIBELS. What can I do to help raise his test scores? We read with him everynight and work with him in a workbook. Is there a website that we can go to to get some ideas to help him with his learning? Thank you ; )

    • Read to and with him nightly. Dibels isn’t something that you “practice” to get better at. It stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic of Early Literacy of something like that. The scores are indicators. It sounds like you are doing what you need to do. Talk to his teacher.

  5. I plan on speaking with the counselor at my sons school, but I happened upon your blog as I googled about Dibel. My son scored a 32 (funny that child above did too). I realize that means he’s doing well, but I still feel baffled. My friend was able to go to the meeting about this (I had no child care so couldn’t go.) She said that means he knows 32 letters/sounds. My son knows far more then that. I’m pretty sure he’s reading at a second grade (at the very least first grade) reading level. He should have a much higher number then 32 if that’s how they are testing it.

    I’m wondering if he was bored during the testing. He gets bored very quickly if his focus isn’t kept. We’re actually having a hard first year because he’s so smart, but his social skills/listening skills are poor. Every week they are learning a new letter/sound/color/writing. How can he not be bored if he knows that? He’s pronouncing, on his own, words like “exciting, thought, bethlehem, examining, etc.” He’s sharp as a whip with a photographic memory, but hates listening and focusing for a long stretch of time.

    I feel silly for my frustration over such a positive number.

    • DIBELS stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or something close to that. The MAIN part of that being the word “INDICATORS”. The test was never intended to be something that children were “graded on”. It’s simply a very quick (one minute) snapshot of some skill development that generally indicate whether or not a child will be successful or not. The probes will also narrow down areas where children might be deficit. All of the probes are timed. Some kids don’t respond well to timed tests, especially one minute ones. Sometimes they don’t do well until they have taken the test a few times and get comfortable with it. If he scored in a good range I wouldn’t worry too much.

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