Ask some primary teachers what they'll be doing in language arts from now to the end of the year and you'll probably hear, "Dibeling." It's not a teaching method, it's another test taking up valuable teaching time.
The Scoop on DIBELS
What makes DIBELS the perfect literacy test is that it takes total control of the academic futures and school lives of the children it reaches from the first day they enter kindergarten when they are barely five years old. It keeps control of their literacy development and indeed their whole school experience for four years from kindergarten through third grade.. And the more poorly the children respond to DIBELS the more they experience it. Norm referenced tests usually are not given until third grade and then only once a year. Diagnostic tests are usually used selectively with pupils to provide teachers with information on what strengths and weaknesses learners may have. DIBELS, once it gains a foothold, is administered a minimum of three times a year at the beginning, middle and end of each grade from kindergarten to third.
There are many things wrong with DIBELS. It turns reading into a set of abstract decontextualized tasks that can be measured in one minute. It makes little children race with a stop watch. It values speed over thoughtful responses. It takes over the curriculum leaving no time for science, social studies, writing, not to mention art music and play. It ignores and even penalizes children for the knowledge and reading ability they may have already achieved.
From DIBELS, the perfect literacy test, just like Katrina was the perfect storm: Entire article here.
The Truth About DIBELS: What it is, What it does is a 70 page report lambasting the DIBELS process.
DIBELS shapes instruction in ways that are bad for students (they end up engaging in curricular activities that do not promote their progress as readers) and bad for teachers (it requires them to judge student progress and shape instruction based on criteria that are not consistent with our best knowledge about the nature of reading development).
But it is Scientifically valid, right?
I haven’t even tried to touch on the larger issues, such as whether state reading tests are a good measure of reading competence, let alone what kind of instruction best benefits struggling readers. But DIBELS fails on the most basic grounds of validity; that is, whether it measures what it claims to be measuring. As Kenneth Goodman stated earlier in this volume, scores on reading tests tend to correlate highly with each other no matter what. But the DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency subtest claims to do something more: to strongly predict whether individual children are likely to fail to learn to read. It just doesn’t.
The DIBELS is being used in thousands of schools, often "chosen" under duress from the U.S. Department of Education, as revealed in the fiscal corruption investigation. The consequences of its use include drilling to nonsense words; focusing on narrow slices of what reading is; reducing if not eliminating the reading, writing and discussion of real stories; confusing students; and demeaning if not deskilling teachers.
As Tierney and Thome conclude, "DIBELS may be perpetuating the (race and class) literacy gap it has promised to eliminate… [The] definition of literacy has been narrowed for the most vulnerable students… Once again, the rich get richer and the poor are left only with the most basic of basics."
More at Dibels Hurts Children at http://www.fairtest.org/
So, Why are We DIBELING?
The Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Education has found numerous legal and ethical violations in how the department steered funds toward favored programs, particularly Direct Instruction, makers of the DIBELS test (see "DIBELS," this issue).
More at Reading First Financial Corruption
A final note: from the perspective of an art teacher who also substituted in Kindergarten and had to DIBEL
Yesterday, as a sub, I helped some really cute little Kindergarteners practice for DIBELS testing. I had to set a timer for 1 minute and kids had to read a list of nonsense words and I had to record how many correct letter sounds they got in a minute. Some kids had to pause to figure out if it was a d sound or a b sound (this confused some kids) so their score was low, and this test is about speed, not much else.
It is crazy that teachers are required to put these little children through this. I joked and talked with the kids for a little while to make it fun. I told them I'll be coming in to teach them art next month, and they were real excited about that. This has got to be the most ridiculous test ever, and developmentally inappropriate, but teachers told me "it's the law of the land" and they have to do it. Also, there's a huge bulletin board about testing and measuring reading progress outside in the hallway, and I watched the reading consultant spend the afternoon working on this elaborate board, which used to display student work. These are 5 and 6 year olds!!!!!