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DIBELS Reading Assessment Pros and Cons

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 1/20/2012

The DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) reading assessment is used in many schools to assess students reading ability and to drive reading instruction. Some teachers love the test; others are against it. Here are some of the pros and cons.

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    Introduction to DIBELS

    The DIBELS reading assessment is a test that teachers give to K-6 students to assess their literacy skills. It measures phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, and fluency with connected text. These are three of the five "Big Ideas in Beginning Reading." Teachers are assessing early literacy development in this quick, three part, one-on-one test. The DIBELS test was first created by the Institute for Research and Learning Disabilities at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Official DIBELS website run by the University of Oregon.

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    Pros

    As with any reading assessment, there are pros and cons of DIBELS. However, there seem to be more pros of DIBELS. Pros and cons may depend upon your need for your students or for your school's population. In general, here is a list of pros:

    • DIBELS assessment is designed to measure three of the five areas in early literacy. (The five areas are: phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The only two not tested are vocabulary and comprehension.) All five areas should be used by teachers to teach reading. Students use each of these areas to read and understand what is being read. Therefore, this test will show teachers what areas students have mastered in early literacy skills, and what areas teachers need to focus for instruction time.
    • The assessment is free. Teachers can sign up for a free account and download the materials for no cost.
    • Because the DIBELS assessment tests areas separately, teachers can quickly see if students are struggling in a certain area of reading. The test could point out that a student is having trouble with comprehension or he needs more instruction in phonics.
    • The DIBELS test is quick. It takes less than 10 minutes per child to administer.

    When you are looking at the DIBELS pros and cons, it is easy to see that there are more pros to the assessment than cons. Besides the reasons listed above, DIBELS is also very user-friendly. There's an entire website about the assessment where you can download the test for free as well as different articles to read to make the test useful and meaningful. The DIBELS test can be used by classroom teachers, reading teachers, and literacy coaches.

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    Cons

    The DIBELS assessment is often the center of controversy. People see the pros and cons, but many teachers focus only on the cons they've heard. There are a few drawbacks to the DIBELS. Each perspective needs to be weighed by each school district and teacher.

    Here are some of the cons of the DIBELS:

    • The DIBELS is supposed to be given three times a year to see if a child is improving in each area. Although it takes less than 10 minutes to administer DIBELS to a child, teachers still may not want to spend classroom time three different times throughout the year on this one test, especially if they have to give other assessments.
    • Some teachers do not like that DIBELS includes nonsense words as part of the assessment. The test is assessing whether or not students can decode words--would they know how to pronounce "swot" or "blund" based on their phonics knowledge? Some teachers and districts believe that assessments should only include real words.
    • The test is given individually to each student; so if a teacher has a large classroom, this could be a con. Giving the test may take up a large amount of classroom time. Anytime assessments have to be given, that's less instruction time that students are receiving. That's why it is extremely important to use assessments to guide instruction and not just for a grade.

    After looking at the DIBELS pros and cons, you may still have to use the test for yourself and your students to see how well you like it.

DIBELS information

These articles provide information about the DIBELS reading assessment from the University of Oregon.
  1. DIBELS Progress Monitoring and Assessment
  2. DIBELS Reading Assessment Pros and Cons