Opinion
Curriculum Letter to the Editor

Reading Experts Question Efficacy of DIBELS Test

October 11, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Your front-page story (“National Clout of DIBELS Test Draws Scrutiny,” Sept. 28, 2005) gives the impression that the argument is whether the right reading test to give young children is the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills or some other skills assessment, such as the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening tests. Missing, except for a brief quote from P. David Pearson, is a discussion of what I think is the real problem.

If reading researchers Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman are right, and I think they are, the “skills” children need to pass DIBELS and similar tests are the result of reading. The use of DIBELS and its cousins encourages test preparation in the form of skills training, which is a confusion of cause and effect.

In other words, practicing reading nonsense words quickly, in preparation for the DIBELS test, will not contribute very much to helping children learn to read. But the experience of reading comprehensible and interesting texts will result in the ability to read, as well as develop the capacity to read nonsense words quickly. Good readers can easily read the boxed list of nonsense words presented with the story, whether they have had extensive skills training or not.

The correlation between DIBELS scores and subsequent reading-test performance is spurious. Both are the result of the experience of real reading.

Stephen Krashen

Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

Thanks for your article on DIBELS. There are a couple of issues that bear further treatment.

One is that the whole test can be downloaded by anybody, even a computer-smart kid. So abuses are possible, and, as I hear from teachers, quite common. The stakes are high for all concerned to raise DIBELS scores. And that’s not hard to do with the test accessible on the Internet.

A second concern is the misuse of the statistical terms “validity” and “reliability.” Those were thrown around a lot in the quotes by the promoters of DIBELS, yet the test producers have no data that meet the statistical criteria for uses of the terms.

And perhaps the key point is that the very fact that the test is “quick and easy” means that life decisions about millions of kids are being made on the basis of inadequate, minimal information about performance on bits and pieces of nonreading tasks. Throw in that there is no consistency in how the tests are scored—it all happens fast, and so how benevolent or not the tester is greatly affects the scores kids achieve. The tester scores on-the-fly, during the minute each subtest takes, and has to watch a stop watch at the same time. So the test lacks “inter-rater reliability,” one preferred use of the term “reliability.”

DIBELS is so flawed and weak a test that, without the coercion being applied for its use by the No Child Left Behind Act enforcers in Washington, it would never pass review for adoption for the uses being made of it on any level by competent reviewers.

Kenneth Goodman

Professor Emeritus

Language, Reading, and Culture

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz.

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as Reading Experts Question Efficacy of DIBELS Test

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Seamless Integrations for Engagement in the Classroom
Learn how to seamlessly integrate new technologies into your classroom to support student engagement. 
Content provided by GoGuardian
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Many Adults Did Not Learn Media Literacy Skills in High School. What Schools Can Do Now
Eighty-four percent of adults say they are on board with requiring media literacy in schools, according to a survey by Media Literacy Now.
4 min read
Image of someone reading news on their phone.
oatawa/iStock/Getty
Curriculum Is Your School Facing a Book Challenge? These Online Resources May Help
Book challenges are popping up with more frequency. Here are supports for teachers fighting censorship.
5 min read
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Amanda Darrow, the director of youth, family, and education programs at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Curriculum Q&A These Teachers' Book List Was Going to Be Restricted. Their Students Fought Back
The Central York district planned to restrict use of some materials last year. Here's how teachers and their students turned the tide.
8 min read
Deb Lambert, director of collection management for the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library for the past three years, looks over the books at the Library Services Center on Sept. 25, 2015. When a flap occurs at the library, the matter becomes the responsibility of Lambert.
More districts are seeking to restrict access to some books or remove them from classrooms and libraries altogether.
Charlie Nye/The Indianapolis Star via AP
Curriculum Sex Education: 4 Questions and Answers About the Latest Controversy
Why the touchy issue of sex education has erupted again, and what it means for schools.
4 min read
Image of condoms.
iStock/Getty