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DIBELS: A Quick Guide for Parents and New Teachers

Updated on April 2, 2010

Administration of the Initial Sound Fluency Measure

DIBELS stands for "Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills" and is a set of measures which educators can use to help track their students’ progress toward full literacy. DIBELS measures are used in elementary schools across the United States. Designed by education researchers and experts at the University of Oregon, these tests are accurate predictors of student progress.

Origin of DIBELS

DIBELS is based on another set of progress measurement techniques, Curriculum-Based Measurement, developed at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and 1980s. Specific work on DIBELS was centered at the University of Oregon in the late 1980s. The reliability of these measures has since been validated many times by continuing studies. Experts at the Dynamic Measurements Group as well as researchers around the world continue empirical work to hone DIBELS’ already reliable outcomes.


DIBELS is comprised of a series of one-minute tests that indicate students' progress toward competence and chances for success in all areas of basic early literacy skills in kindergarten through grade six. Using these measures, teachers can discover students’ long-term reading and literacy progress. Through seven one-minute tests, DIBELS can predict student literacy schoolwide, enabling teachers and administrators to better address gaps and deficits as necessary.

The Seven DIBELS Measures

A DIBELS test has seven branches that measure a student’s skills in each of the major components of basic early literacy

  1. phonological awareness
  2. alphabetic principle (or phonics)
  3. fluency
  4. vocabulary
  5. comprehension.

Initial sounds fluency and phonemic segmentation fluency are measures which assess phonological awareness, or a student’s ability to connect sounds with words or letters. Nonsense word fluency and oral reading fluency assess how well a student can blend, or sound out, words both in a list and in a paragraph. Oral reading fluency tests a student’s ability to read a grade-level paragraph, while retell fluency determines how well a student can understand and synthesize a text. Word use fluency assesses a student's ability to use a given word in an accurate context. These assessments are designed to take approximately 10 minutes per student.

The Value of DIBELS

While there are many assessment tools that educators can draw upon to reflect students’ ability and learning, DIBELS is unique in that it predicts student literacy rather than indicating present mastery of a subject. Unlike end-of-unit tests, quizzes, or assignments, DIBELS is based on scientific research and, when properly administered, gauges students against empirically-established benchmarks that can be compared across time, a school population and the national population.

While DIBELS can predict student literacy, it is not a guarantee of improvement. It is, however, an excellent tool to guide an educator in how she can best serve the literacy needs of her class.

Administration of DIBELS Tests

To reap the predictive benefits of DIBELS, the measures must be accurately administered. This means that each student must be tested and scored in the same way. This standardization of administration methods allows both individual and school-wide achievement to be accurately compared to the research-based benchmarks, as well as the progress of the individual student and the school population over time. DIBELS is best administered three times during the academic year—at the beginning, middle, and end, with some flexibility to account for different schools and districts as needed. DIBELS can be administered by any adult, but in-depth training in this powerful assessment is available from the Dynamic Measurement Group.

Sample Phoneme Segmentation Fluency Measure

The reader must correctly identify all the sounds in each word (University of Oregon)
The reader must correctly identify all the sounds in each word (University of Oregon)

All writing copyright of Beth Morey, 2010. Reproduction/reprinting is prohibited, although linking to this hub as an information source is permitted.

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