Dibels Problems, (not specifically Dibels fault)

dibels2These are my DIBELS scores from the 4th day of school.  Look pretty good don’t they.  The biggest problem was that it was the 4th day of school.  The second biggest problem is that my school wanted me to use these scores to drive instruction.  They gave me a break too.  They said I didn’t have to progress monitor the strategic or benchmark kids until January.  So basically, the Intensive kids are the focus……..  Only one problem with that.  My TRUE intensive kids aren’t really in the intensive group as based on these scores.  Only one of them is, the second one down.  This child is a non-English speaking Hispanic child and consistently scores low.

FOUR other intensive kids are down in the middle of the strategic group.  How did they get there?  They made some good guesses or got lucky on maybe one or two questions on the Initial Sound Fluency test.  That test has 16 questions that go something like this.  (looking at 4 pictures ) Pointing to each one, “These are star, flower, letters, and goat.  Which one begins with /g/? ”  Three like that and one like this, “What sound does flowers begin with?”  This assessment is timed, and scored based on a formula that uses the amount of time and the number of correct responses to arrive at a score.  Shorter time = higher score.  I had one little boy who would point to ANY picture just as soon as you finished asking (which stops the clock until the next question)  but had NO IDEA about sound/word relationships.  He STILL has no phonemic awareness. Interestingly, almost all of the kids that scored zeros on the Letter Naming Fluency are my true Intensive kids.  But ONE test is not a reliable indicator.  The bottom kid in the intensive group (the one with 2 zeros) has benchmarked on his ISF and knows almost all of his letters, upper and lower case and almost all of his sounds.

I LIKE DIBELS,  I just think it’s not being used correctly at my school.  As a teacher, I need to be able to adjust my groups based on ON GOING assessments.  Subsequent  progress monitoring, not required by the school, but done by me, supports my assessment of the ability levels of these kids.  But my school and my district continue to ask about and require specific interventions for the original 4 kids, not the group that REALLY needs it.  I was told that I couldn’t adjust my groups, at least not that bottom one.


17 thoughts on “Dibels Problems, (not specifically Dibels fault)

  1. I’ve always struggled with math. In college our education group(juniors)took a test that was being considered by the administration as a graduation requirement. It had some serious math questions!! I decided that most were beyond my knowledge, skill, and experience, so I randomly answered a,b,c,a,b,c. The required passing grade on the math section was 60 and my score was 67. I’ve never put much faith in the relationship between standardized testing and ability! LOL I think tests can be used as indicators, but I still rely on observation and performance.

    One of my problems with DIBELS is the timing. I have children who recognize all of their letters, but not quickly. I have others who have such an Okie drawl that they use half their alloted time just pronouncing the letters.

    Are you using any other test? We also give GATES.

  2. OK, first, you’re on winter break, you’re NOT supposed to be thinking about DIBELS!!! But, since you are, let me just say, I completely agree with you about this crazy test!!! I can’t wait to see how my groupings change in January when we do the MOY assessments!

  3. Yeah, Mary, I have kids that are slow too. But it IS a fluency test, their thinking is that the automaticity needs to be there. And generally, if they KNOW them, they will get enough in the allotted time to score well. As the year progresses and they do the test more often, they get to hurrying because they know it improves their score. I’ve even told them to not even think about it, because they aren’t scored wrong for the ones they don’t know, just scored on the number they i.d.

    ChiTown, It’s BECAUSE I’m on break that I can even collect my thoughts about all this. Who has time OR energy after days with the little darlings?

  4. I was thinking about you today, and wishing I was still off 😦 I was progress monitoring today, and my mind wandered to this post, and then I remembered that you still have a few weeks off. Then I became insanely jealous 😉 I hope you’re enjoying your time away from your babies. I really did miss mine, and was happy to see them all this morning as I collected my hugs 🙂

  5. I like the kid hugs, but I went by my old school this morning before school started, and got my hugs there…..
    Don’t worry, I’ll be insanely jealous in July and August….

  6. As you know, we use DIBELS, too. But no one requires us to use the scores without the application of teacher judgment, as it appears your district does. In fact, quite the opposite. We are told to use DIBELS as only one indicator of many in making decisions about grouping students for instruction. The decision makers in your district seem to have too little trust in and respect for the intelligence and discernment of their teachers.

    I hope someone in your district reads your blog and reconsiders their policy.

    BTW I’m now in the throes of our winter benchmark assessments. In spite of all they say about how quick it is, I find it takes me about 10 minutes per child, or 280 minutes to do the assessment for the class.

    280 minutes is a lot of time to find, especially when you’ve got 27 other students who need close watching. To “DIBELS” a class means using 280 minutes times 3 (Fall, Winter, and Spring) or about 840 minutes of the year.

    And that’s not counting time spent progress monitoring.

  7. In our current school no child left behind, fiscal climate, they would probably only get mad at me. As you probably know we are a BIG district, to get big things to move in ANY direction is difficult. We are facing a 6% pay cut, a freeze in steps, and cancellation of longevity pay. We don’t have to like it, but I can understand the need. Back to school in one more week. I’m looking forward to it.

  8. Hope you have a great day Monday!! We have had the flu and strep going around for two weeks so it hasn’t been pleasant and I’ve had as many as eight absent at a time. I’m just hoping we are all well by Monday.

  9. It will be good to get back. Although, the Reading First people are scheduled to be back starting Monday morning and staying for 2 or 3 days. I wish they would at least give us a few days to get back into our routines.

  10. Loved seeing the actual scores from your class, along with your comments. Our district has started Dibels testing this year (we had it sporadically last year) and I’m seeing a bunch of counter-intuitive (for lack of a better word) results. I posted a summary at http://www.bellevueschooldistrictparent.com.

    I’m curious about your comment that you “like” Dibels… Given that you question its results, what is there to like.

    I also like the IDEA of Dibels (focus on phonics and fluency) but, by and large the results I’ve seen have been unreliable. Not sure that I have a better way but, this one seems flawed. Interested to hear your thoughts.

  11. These are my beginning of the year scores. And as I mentioned, they were taken on day 4 of school. The things that in my opinion invalidated the results or were problematic are: Kindergarteners need to be confortable with the test giver, that isn’t going to happen on the 4th day of school. They need to understand what is being asked of them and what the expected response will be. And finally, the best results are somewhat cummulative, I believe to a point, that after they have taken the tests a few times, the results are more valid. You should be able to make a judgement call and invalidate answers that are clearly guesses. The kids who respond before you are finished answering the question and just stab at a picture in the ISF test, and really don’t know, but make some lucky guesses, will get a better score than they deserve. In most cases, progress monitoring has shown a more accurate picture of where certain kids are. I’m not really complaining about Dibels, I’m complaining about what I’m expected to do FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR, based on those early results, I’m not allowed to adjust my groupings based on later scores. Clearly the results are being used incorrectly in my school. First off, the name of the test is indicative of it’s intented use. Dynamic INDICATORS of Basic Early Literacy Skills. No assessment is perfect, but this one is quick and dirty and gives fairly good results, once you get used to it and understand where the problems are or might be.

  12. I get it. It’s kind of like saying a gun isn’t bad, it’s shooting people with it that is bad. It’s all in the use! I’m not categorically against DIBELS, as I say in my article, I’m very much in favor of the emphasis it puts on Phonics and fluency but, you are right, administrators making decisions based on such a rough tool is not appropriate.


  13. I have waited to jump in until I had a chance to research a little more. I now have some questions:

    How do you define fluency? It seems that there are many folks who get fluency, proficiency and literacy confused and part of the problem is that SOOooo many states, districts and people on this blog are mistaking the DIBELS test for an indicator of fluency, when it does not, and was never designed to, indicate fluency. using it that way is like showing someone how to make a ham sandwich and then testing them to see what kind of cook they are.

    2. Why is it so difficult to accept a testing methodology without taking it so personally. Nobody is saying that you are incapable of recognizing when a test is not adequately and accurately measuring an outcome variable for student performance, but the minute you start messing with the way the test is administered, you screw up the ability for the test to measure anthing properly. Stop hating the test…It doesn’t have any emotions…it doesn’t care if you hate it. Hating the test is unproductive.

  14. I don’t know Darren, fluency, literacy and proficiency might not be exactly the same thing, but in reading, they often overlap if they aren’t sometimes used interchangably and don’t always mean exactly the same thing. I would say that fluency has to do with the flow of reading and to some degree an outgrowth of that would be the automaticity of the reading. The less fluid, the less automatic, the more difficult to follow and the more difficult to understand what has been read both for the listener and the reader. I would submit that the way that DIBELS times, and places weight on the time factor of it’s components, that it is an “Indicator” of fluency.
    I teach on a kindergarten level, the DIBELS assessments for kindergarten aren’t the same ones given in higher grades. Maybe they measure different things higher up, I know that our third grade teachers don’t seem to get a lot of value out of the tests proscribed for them when their kids are reading on much lower levels. For kindergarten we are looking for how automatic they recognise the letters, whether or not they can isolate the beginning sounds of a word or label applied to a picture, and whether or not they can take the sounds letters make and put them together to create the sounds of groups of letters.
    Personally, I don’t care how my data correlates with someone elses data, I care if that data can help me help my kids. Complaining here (at least on my part, and it IS my blog after all)hasn’t been so much about Dibels itself so much as what and how “they” want me to DO things. I firmly believe that there are too many people who have either never been in a classroom, or it’s been too long since they were in a classroom, who are dictating what and how classroom teachers are supposed to do things.
    I will freely admit that when I get on a rant about something, like this, it could just as easily be because of some other fool thing somebody is trying to make me do. When it all comes to a head, steam has to go somewhere, and this is a pretty good outlet.
    I don’t hate the test, I hate people trying to dictate what and how I do things based on erroneous assumptions about the results of the test.

  15. I would submit that the assumptions about the results of the test are probably not erroneous; the problem is that DIBELS is being used as an instrument to test for things it was not designed to measure, so, in that way, it matters a great deal whether one expects an assessment (and its corresponding intervention mechanisms) to determine fluency or literacy. In fact the semantic difference, combined with your perception that it is an “indicator of fluency,” might be the exact problem.

    DIBELS stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. The problem lies with THEIR definition of what Fluency is and the lack of understanding that an indicator is not the same as proof. What they are calling fluency is probably closer to the middle of a scale between adequacy and proficiency. Fluency would be further up the scale, above proficiency. This, by the way, is 100% the fault of the creators of the test. they don’t seem to be able to adequately describe what they are testing for.

    A much better example of how this same base methodology is applied is the IGDIs tests. (http://ggg.umn.edu/get/index.html) which are growth and development indicators for monitoring the progress of individual young children.

    If DIBELS were used the way IGDIs is used; merely as a tool to measure individual growth on a timeline, rather than acting as a wall between you and your student and your ability to do your job as a professional educator, then I am betting you would have a different perception of the test and its merits.

    I don’t have anything to do with DIBELS, professionally, but I spend a great deal of time researching and investigating tools like it, as part of my job. With that said, I can tell you that while there are some serious and compelling arguments against DIBELS and its methodology, I still think that the bigger problem is that the folks who buy it and administer it should shoulder a far great proportion of blame for the misuse of the test. Essentially, most of the time when I read someone railing against the test, it is because they don’t understand it.

    I am not saying that is the case with you, but, in general terms, I have noticed glaring weaknesses in the Socratic method of the arguments against DIBELS.

  16. No problems with what you are saying. If you look at my last paragraph on the post, my complaint isn’t with Dibels specifically, it’s with what my district and school are requiring me to do with data.

    I NEED something, preferably quick and dirty, like Dibels, to do frequent progress monitoring on my students, and with 25-30 of them, it needs to be fast. As an indicator Dibels is just fine for me. Again, it has more to do with literacy specialists, administrators, administrator’s administrators, and their responses to NCLB that seem to create most of the problems for classroom teachers. A nice stiff overhaul of NCLB would do for openers.

  17. Darren,

    Thanks for the clarifications… I agree with your position that testing, in and of itself is not the problem, the problem is the conclusions that are forced upon teachers, parents and students after these tests are delivered. The conclusions drawn can be truly incredible.

    Here in Washington, we’ve had an extreme example of this in the WASL for the last few years. The scoring rubric for the math portion of this test actually, at one point, gave more points for incorrect answers that were well-explained than for correct answers that were poorly explained. In a math test???

    On the basis of this ridiculous test, 1,000 of students faced the possibility of not graduating each of the last few years. Luckily the legislature stepped and delayed implementation each year but…. jeez…

    I talk about our attempts to replace this loser in this article: WASL Changes

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