What Do the DIBELS Scores Mean?

by Lori Furgerson

The ultimate goal for children is to be able to read books fluently and comprehend what they read. This is not accomplished until second, third or a later grade for some children. Teachers can't wait that long to see if a child will fail, so Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, helps to identify whether a child will struggle with reading later on. The program was developed at the University of Oregon and is used to help teachers identify struggling readers and provide early intervention. DIBELS scores help educators choose what interventions a child needs.

Phoneme Segmentation Fluency

Phoneme segmentation fluency is first assessed in kindergarten during the middle of the year. This assessment tests whether a child can break a word into its individual sounds. For example, the tester gives the child the word "cat" and he needs to say each individual sound in the word. This is an indicator for future reading success. By the end of kindergarten children should be able to segment 35 sounds in one minute. If they score lower than 35, the teacher should provide immediate, intensive intervention.

Letter Naming Fluency

At the beginning of first grade, children need to be able to identify 37 letter names in one minute. If they fall below that score, provide immediate, small group intervention. Children are not tested again on letter names because they are expected to have mastered it by the beginning of first grade. Provide intervention for students until they reach the goal.

Nonsense Word Fluency

Nonsense word fluency is an assessment made up of nonsense words. Children need to read as many as they can in one minute. They must meet the benchmark scores to be on track for reading. Nonsense word fluency begins in the winter of kindergarten. The goal for the child is 13 or more correct answers. If this goal is not reached, the child is placed in a small group with the teacher practicing letter sounds. By the end of kindergarten, the child's nonsense word fluency goal is 25. Again, the teacher provides interventions for the children who fall below this goal. They continue to be assessed until the beginning of second grade. In first grade, the goals for fall, winter and spring are 24, 50 and 50. At the beginning of second grade, students still need to be at or above 50. Provide intervention for children below that until they reach that goal.

Oral Reading Fluency

Oral reading fluency assessment tests children on how many words they can read in one minute from a grade-level passage. Children who meet the goal are on track for reading success and being able to comprehend text. Each grade has an oral reading fluency goal. The testing begins in the middle of first grade. At this time, a child reading below 20 words in a minute must receive immediate intervention. By the end of first grade they are at risk if they are reading below 40 words. Second grade is tested three times a year. At the beginning of the year, the goal is 44 words per minute, the mid-year goal is 68 and the end-of-year goal is 90 words per minute. Third grade goals are 77, 92 and 110. Scores below these are red flags and mean the child needs extra help.

About the Author

Lori Furgerson began writing for an educational company in 2005. She was a classroom teacher for 12 years and became a national literacy consultant, traveling the country to work with state departments, school districts and at the school level to improve literacy instruction. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from California State University at Northridge.

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