DIBELS Testing


DIBELS testing explained! How reading fluency passages evaluate and drive instruction and indicate a need for academic interventions.

was developed by Dr. Roland Good from the Dynamic Measurement Group. It is a standardized, individually administered measure of early literacy development that is given 3 times (Benchmark Periods) throughout the academic year. Progress monitoring is used between DIBELS testing to ensure interventions are working.

We know from research that 1 out of 8 children not reading at grade level by the end of first grade will never read on grade level (Juel, 1994).

dibels next reading skills

The US Literacy Rate is at number 27 in the world, out of 205 rated countries and the NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy) estimates that 14% of US residents have extreme difficulty with reading.

The assessment is now called DIBELS Next, and it provides educators insights as to WHY errors are happening and then points to specific literacy lesson plans and RTI information that can be used.

Our literacy lesson plans need to be targeted and systematically delivered, and these type of assessments give us the background information to begin making strategic plans to help kids.

Remember though, DIBELS tesing is not diagnostic. It is a screening measure but can clearly point to possible roadblocks for literacy development. DIBELS Next is a tool to help us identify and strategically intervene before students become part of the low US literacy rate statistic.

Without specific academic interventions, these students will continue to be at risk readers.

Five Big Ideas of Literacy Skills

These are the skills identified by DIBELS Next as essential for beginning readers to master:

1. Phonemic Awareness (Identification and manipulation of parts of words)
2. Alphabetic Principle
3. Accuracy and Fluency
4. Vocabulary
5. Comprehension

How does DIBELS testing relate to the Five Big Ideas?

The first two are tests of emergent literacy activities and skills.

1. Phonemic Awareness = DIBELS Next First Sound Fluency, DIBELS Next Phoneme Segmentation Fluency
2. Phonics = DIBELS Next Nonsense Word Fluency test
3. Accuracy and Fluency = DIBELS Next Oral Reading Fluency test
4. Vocabulary = No measure but a key component of teaching reading to children
5. Comprehension = DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency test and DAZE test

Fluency Leads to Comprehension

Word recognition, or fluency, is essential to excellent comprehension. Although being able to identify words and read them quickly is not the goal of reading (making meaning is), it is only once words are decoded automatically that reading can become an easy and enjoyable process.

DIBELS Testing Explained

The components described here are part of the changes in the DIBELS Next measures.

These changes do not impact the use of DIBELS for screeners, benchmarking and progress monitoring. What they do, however, is improve the readability levels, incorporate new validity and reliability data, are more user friendly, utilize response patterns, and have an improved font for primary readers.

First Sound Fluency

  • Intended for most children from fall of kindergarten to fall of first grade
  • Replaced Initial Sound Fluency
  • Provides a measure of risk
  • Is one of three major predictors of reading success
  • Phonemic Awareness

Phoneme Segmentation Fluency

  • Intended for children from last year of preschool to middle of kindergarten
  • May be appropriate for monitoring progress of older children with low skills in phonological awareness
  • Takes about 3 minutes

Letter Naming Fluency

  • No benchmark goals because it is an indicator of risk and should not be an instructional target.
  • Intended for children from end of kindergarten through spring of first grade
  • Highly recommended for early intervention strategies and planning

Nonsense Word Fluency

  • Intended for children from mid to end of kindergarten to beginning of second grade
  • Used for testing knowledge of alphabetic principle
  • May be appropriate for monitoring progress of older children with low skills in phonics (letter-sound correspondence)
  • Common response patterns
  • Includes a new score of Whole Words Read

DORF: DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency

  • Retell is now a required part of DORF
  • Ties to the "big idea" of vocabulary
  • Required in order to get a Composite Score (new to DIBELS Next)
  • This addition gives teachers the knowledge about a student's reading behaviors


  • Recommended for grades 3-6
  • Prevents emphasis on speed-reading without attention to meaning
  • Identifies children whose comprehension is not consistent with their fluency
  • Corresponds directly to the "big idea" of comprehension
  • Increases face validity of DORF (Oral Reading Fluency)

Data from both of these should be used to gain RTI information, plan appropriate interventions and develop progress monitoring.

You can find more information about using DIBELS Next at DIBELS.org.

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