Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills

What are DIBELS?

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade. They are designed to be short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of early literacy and early reading skills.

The DIBELS measures were specifically designed to assess the Big Ideas in Reading:

Measure Measurement Area DIBELS Edition
6th Edition Next
LNF Risk Indicator
ISF Phonological Awareness
FSF Phonological Awareness
PSF Phonological Awareness
NWF Alphabetic Principle and Phonics
ORF Alphabetic Principle and Phonics
Accuracy and Fluency
RTF Comprehension
Daze Comprehension
WUF Vocabulary and Oral Language

These research-based measures are linked to one another and predictive of later reading proficiency. The measures are also consistent with many of the Common Core State Standards in Reading, especially the Foundational Skills. Combined, the measures form an assessment system of early literacy development that allows educators to readily and reliably determine student progress.

Read More about the Research Foundation of DIBELS.

Benchmark Screening

Benchmark testing is the systematic process of screening all students on essential skills predictive of later reading performance. Benchmark testing is one part of a comprehensive assessment system that includes universal screening, progress monitoring, summative assessments and other formal and informal assessments all designed to get the critical information needed to make informed instructional decisions. It is a foundational link between assessment, instruction and goal setting.

The DIBELS assessments have been researched and validated specifically for benchmark testing in kindergarten through sixth grade. We recommend screening all students three times per year with grade-level materials. Research indicates that early identification and early intervention are essential for helping students who are at risk for future reading difficulties, or are currently having reading difficulties. Screening all students, including those who met earlier benchmark goals, also provides a complete data set that is needed to determine if reading instruction is effective with all students at the school or district level. Benchmark data can help answer the following types of questions:

  • Is our reading program effective with all students at all grade levels?
  • Are there exemplar schools (or classes) in our district on which we can model successful reading instruction?
  • What are the strengths of our reading program?
  • What areas of our reading program need improvement?
  • Did we meet our literacy goals this year?

The testing materials consist of grade-level booklets for each student and a set of display materials. Most testing is done one on one with each student and takes approximately 5-10 minutes per student. Student scores are used to determine how each student is doing in relation to a benchmark goal that is predictive of later reading success. The benchmark goals are criterion-referenced. Each measure has an empirically established goal (or benchmark) that changes across time to ensure students’ skills are developing in a manner predictive of continued progress. The goals are the same for all students learning to read in English. Current research indicates that the goals are equally predictive for native English speakers and for English language learners. DIBELS 6th Edition Goals, DIBELS Next Recommended Goals and DIBELS Next Former Goals are available for download.

Progress Monitoring

Progress monitoring is a key component of providing differentiated and individualized reading instruction. Student performance and development of literacy skills should be monitored frequently for all students who are at risk of reading difficulty. The data gathered during progress monitoring can be used in the instructional decision making process.

Benchmark testing with DIBELS can help determine which students are at risk for later reading difficulties. Students who receive supplemental instructional support should be progress monitored. The assessment used to monitor progress should align with the instructional priorities of the supplemental reading instruction. For example, if a student’s area of weakness is identified as fluency with connected text then monitoring with Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) is the best option since ORF measures reading fluency. See our Big Ideas in Beginning Reading pages for information on targeting instruction and the relationship between assessment and instruction.

Read More about Progress Monitoring