With winter DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) benchmark tests right around the corner, let’s discuss the test in detail and what it may mean for your child. We’ll also look at effective reading tutoring for children who struggle to meet reading goals.

Today after school, I checked my kindergarten son’s backpack just like I always do. There was his lunchbox, complete with uneaten fruit but completely devoured cookies, homework packet, and his books from his teacher, just like normal. There was also something different, a DIBELS packet with activities to practice for the upcoming round of benchmark testing.

My phone almost immediately started buzzing with text messages and voicemails from some of my close mom friends who were wondering what this meant and what they were supposed to practice. They were also concerned about what the previous scores meant and how they could help their child improve.

DIBELS is one measure of reading ability that is standardized and used nationally in many schools kindergarten through 3rd grade (in some cases it may go further, but this is less common). The purpose of DIBELS is to measure a variety of reading skills and predict outcomes for students. When used correctly it can help teachers plan interventions and identify students who are at risk for reading difficulty.

DIBELS can also give parents some major anxiety. While it is not a perfect measure, it can be an accurate predictor of future reading outcomes, but in order to understand possible outcomes, you first must understand what is tested and what each score means.

Here are some of the areas included in the current DIBELS test. I am also including the common abbreviations you may see your child’s teacher use to refer to the individual sub-tests. Keep in mind these vary by grade level so your child may not take every test. Also, DIBELS is mostly oral, so students are tested one-on-one by a trained test proctor.

  • First Sound Fluency (FSF): This assessment is given only in kindergarten and only at the first and second benchmark period. It assesses students on phonemic awareness skills which are essential early literacy skills. Students are given a word like man and they are asked to identify that the first sound is /m/. Students who perform well on this test are less likely to have serious reading difficulties than those who do poorly.
  • Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PSF): This test is given in Kindergarten and the first testing period of first grade. Like FSF this assesses early phonemic awareness skills. Students are given a word like cat and asked to separate it into its individual sounds or phonemes /k/ /a/ /t/. Students must give sounds, not letter names. Like FSF this is a key predictor of how likely a child is to develop early literacy skills and students who perform poorly are more likely to experience reading difficulties.
  • Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF): Nonsense word fluency begins in kindergarten and is tested through second grade. It tests students understanding of phonics by having them read nonsense words like hig or nup. Using nonsense words ensures that decoding ability is tested as none of the words will be memorized by students (whereas real words like cat or dog could be memorized and would not indicate how well students understood letter sounds). When this test is scored, students receive a point for each individual sound as well as an extra point for reading the word without segmenting it. For example, if the word is hig, a student who read /h/ /i/ /g/ sound by sound would get 3 points. A student who did not have to sound the word out and simply read /hig/ would get 4 points. Since phonics and decoding is an essential early literacy skill, this assessment is a good indicator of early literacy development. Students who perform poorly are more likely to experience reading difficulties.
  • DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency (DORF): This assessment asks students to read a grade level passage for one minute. They are scored based on how many words they read correctly in one minute. They are also then asked to retell the passage which gives an indication of their comprehension. This assessment starts in first grade and, depending on the school, may be used until students are in the 6th Fluency is a key component of the reading process and students who are not fluent readers are likely to experience significant reading difficulties.

Now that we have discussed the sub-tests within DIBELS, it is also important to understand the scoring system. Teachers will likely give you a number score. It is crucial that you ask them to also tell you where your child stands compared to the benchmark. This means you need to know if your child is Well Below Benchmark, Below Benchmark, At Benchmark, or Above Benchmark. You can ask for this information for each individual test as well as your child’s composite score.

By now, your head may be spinning, and that is ok. Let’s break down exactly what each one of these scores means for you and your child.

  • Above Benchmark: If your child scores Above Benchmark it means your child is performing well above the average for their grade level. Given appropriate core classroom instruction, the chances that they will meet literacy goals is above 90%.
  • At Benchmark: If your child scores At Benchmark they are performing at an average level for their grade. Without intervention and with only effective core classroom instruction, the likelihood that they will reach early literacy goals is 70% to 85%. Students who score at the lower level of At Benchmark are likely to need some strategic intervention to reach reading goals.
  • Below Benchmark: If your child scores Below Benchmark, it is very likely that classroom support will not be enough for them to reach subsequent reading goals. In fact, with only core classroom instruction, the likelihood that students who score Below Benchmark will achieve reading goals is only about 40% to 60%. If your child scores in this area, it may be time to think about an effective reading program for them.
  • Well Below Benchmark: If your child scores Well Below Benchmark goals, it means they are significantly behind grade level norms. Without appropriate intervention, the likelihood that they will make reading progress is only about 10% to 20%. These students need intensive reading intervention.

Now that you have an idea of what each test is and what each score means, you have the ability to help your child. Children who are below benchmark are not likely to reach subsequent reading goals with only classroom instruction. They need reading remediation.

 

However, not all reading programs are created equal. If your child needs intensive reading intervention, it is imperative that you find a high-quality program. A Structured Literacy program with a qualified reading clinician who can monitor progress and adjust instruction to meet your child’s needs will provide the best chance at success.

By helping your child get the reading tutoring they need, you can help increase their odds that they will be successful in reading. Don’t let your child struggle and have a 10% chance of meeting grade-level reading goals. Reading intervention will give them the best chance of success.

If you don’t live near a qualified, certified clinician or you have a tight schedule or budget, online tutoring can be a good option. RW&C offers individualized support with a Structured Literacy model. We incorporate all elements of effective reading instruction and have trained clinicians who can assess, monitor, and adjust instruction to fit your child’s needs.

Contact us today for more information or to get started with our online tutoring program.

If you want to know more about DIBELS scores, or want information specific to your child’s grade level, check out this scoring guide from the University of Oregon. All information regarding benchmarks scores was adapted from this source.

 

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com

 

Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading. Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. Becky has experience with early literacy skills like phonics and phonemic awareness development. She has used several structured literacy programs including Language! and Spalding phonics. She is also trained to administer DIBELS tests and has worked with the DIBELS Next reading remediation program.

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During my time as a classroom teacher, I taught a variety of different grade levels in a seven-year span. While this had its challenges, it also allowed me to experience first hand the ways that literacy instruction differed in primary and upper grades.

My initial teaching experiences were in the primary classroom. I have a strong background in early literacy development and I taught first and second grade for four years.

In the primary classroom, identifying reading difficulties is fairly straightforward. Maybe not why a child struggles or specific disabilities like dyslexia, but at least identifying that a child is struggling is simple for a classroom teacher. In kindergarten through about mid-third grade, students read aloud, all the time. Almost every literary activity is oral. They read to partners, read to stuffed animals, read to a teacher, segment sounds out loud. When students are learning to read, it is a noisy process.

When a student struggles, you can hear it. You hear that they mix up their b’s and d’s, or that they make the short i sound in the word hen. You ask them questions about what they are reading, and they answer out loud. You follow up to determine what specific comprehension skills they struggle with.

At home, students read out loud to their parents. If your child struggles with their reading, you know. You can identify if they are missing words or don’t understand the text. In short, the process of learning to read is a loud one. A beautiful, exciting, and noisy undertaking.

After my four years in the primary classroom, I moved up to 5th grade and then eventually to 7th and 8th grade reading. As I moved out of the primary classroom, I noticed a distinctive shift, reading became a silent, internal process. Students were very rarely asked to read out loud, and as a result, identifying reading difficulties became much more difficult.

Think about it, if you have a child in 4th grade or higher, when is the last time you had them read out loud to you? As students internalize the reading process, it becomes silent. While this is a natural progression, it can do a major disservice to older readers who struggle.

As I have moved on in my career to become an online reading clinician, I have noticed that many parents of older children don’t know why they struggle with reading or what their specific struggles are. Usually, I hear that they struggle with comprehension. However, when I have the student read a text out loud to me, I find that in reality, their reading level is low. They can comprehend texts at their instructional level, but their instructional level is below grade level.

When asked to read grade level text silently in class, they cannot answer comprehension questions correctly. In many cases, this may not be due to a comprehension issue necessarily but is due to the fact that they cannot accurately and fluently read the text. Without asking the student to read aloud, this can often go undetected for months or even years.

In order to serve the student and increase their reading skills, the correct diagnosis of the issue is essential. This is why the reading clinicians at RW&C give each student a variety of assessments to determine the underlying reading issue. Our online tutoring program is then adjusted to fit the needs of each student in order to ensure reading success.

Older students are given phonics assessments to determine if the issue is related to letter sounds. They are also given fluency and comprehension assessments as well as writing and phonemic awareness activities. Simply because a child is older does not mean that they have mastered all the basic skills necessary to become fluent and competent readers.

I have often heard that when it comes to reading, it is not the age, it’s the stage. This could not be more true. It does not matter how old a child is or even what their grade level in school is. If they have not mastered the basics of reading, they need direct instruction.

Coming from a classroom background, I know that often upper-grade teachers are not trained in early literacy and often do not have the resources that students need to master early reading skills. If your older child struggles with reading, they may not get the help they need in school.

With our one-on-one online tutoring program, we can help your child whatever their reading issue. Our clinicians are trained in all aspects of literacy instruction and can tailor their sessions to meet the needs of your child. Don’t wait and hope that they will catch up, get them the help they need today.

Contact us to get started and learn more about our online tutoring program.

 

Becky Welsch
RW&C, LLC
www.rwc4reading.com

 

Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading. Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. Becky has experience with early literacy skills like phonics and phonemic awareness development. She has used several structured literacy programs including Language! and Spalding phonics. She is also trained to administer DIBELS tests and has worked with the DIBELS Next reading remediation program.

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girl-277719__340, CC0_pixabayIn previous blogs, we’ve discussed the importance of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary (morphology), and fluency. Today, we’re going to examine how these components work together to develop the most important reading skill of all, comprehension. The ability to read words and sentences is a critical step to comprehension. However, years of research have demonstrated that accurately reading words and sentences does not automatically transfer to understanding the material read.

Reading comprehension, simply put, is the ability to understand and gain information from what you read. It is an important step in the reading process as children move beyond learning to read and start the invaluable skill of reading to learn.

As children reach about the third grade, they should have a solid reading foundation. The focus of their instruction will no longer be on sounding out words but rather on gaining meaning from text. Putting the pieces together to develop a deeper understanding of literature and non-fiction text. Some key elements for strong reading comprehension involve vocabulary development, both oral and written, inference, and text structure. These higher order thinking skills along with decoding are imperative in order to gain meaning from reading the text.

favicon_starfishAs a side note, but a very important one, if your child is still struggling with phonological awareness, phonics, or fluency in the third grade, it is essential that you get them help from trained reading clinicians. Without these skills, it is unlikely that they will be successful and will fall further behind in school.

Although comprehension becomes the main focus of reading instruction in the third grade, it is an important component beginning in preschool. Comprehension difficulties usually fall in one of two categories. The first category of inaccurate word decoding skills will limit a student’s ability to understand the meaning of what was read. The second category for poor comprehension is demonstrated by weak language skills, understanding our spoken language and its subtleties. A student may encounter challenges with word reading, understanding the vocabulary and subtleties of our spoken language, or a combination of both.

Here are a few ways that you can help support and enhance your child’s reading comprehension skills.

  1. Always ask your child about what they are reading. Ask who the characters are, what the setting is, what problem the characters face, and what the solution is in fiction text. If your child is reading nonfiction, ask them what the topic of the text is, what the main idea is, and have them prove it to you by showing you examples in the text. These skills are perhaps the simplest and most foundational reading comprehension skills. If your child struggles with these even as young as kindergarten and first grade, it is not too early to get them online reading tutoring. Intervention from a trained reading clinician can help them stay on track and ensure they do not struggle later. If your child is older, say second grade or higher and cannot answer these types of questions, you should absolutely contact a reading clinician to have their comprehension assessed.

  1. Help your child create mental images, when appropriate. One of the most important comprehension skills is the ability to create pictures while you read. When you read with your child, ask them about what they are picturing in their mind as you read. Always ground their mental images in the text by asking why they picture what they do. Have them point out specific words or lines of text that informed their mental imaging.

  1. Encourage your child to ask questions. Before, during, and after reading you can encourage your child to ask questions about the text. For example, if they are reading a fiction text, you could ask what they think will happen, why a character is behaving the way they are, or what the characters could have done differently. In nonfiction text, you can ask them what they may know about the topic, what information is the author focusing on, or about any unanswered questions they have about the topic. This can be a great way to encourage further research on a topic that interests them.

bef6b-mosaic2bbooks2bto2bideasAs your child gets older and moves into upper elementary and middle school, you can encourage them to use post it notes as they read to ask questions, record unknown vocabulary words, and note any surprising information. This can be a great way for them to interact with the text and for you to monitor their understanding. Plus almost all kids love getting to use post it notes so it may even motivate them to read more.

These are a few ways that you can encourage your child to use comprehension strategies before, during, and after reading. They are essential for helping students understand what they read and gain information from text.

As students get older, this is the most important and most emphasized skill in school. Nearly all standardized text reading questions directly related to reading comprehension. It is also the most important skill that adults use regularly to function in society.

dictionary-390055__340, CC0_pixabayOur online tutoring program at RW&C incorporates reading comprehension as soon as our students are reading. Each and every lesson includes a time for reading a passage and applying a clinician selected and modeled reading strategy. Students who need comprehension instruction are given explicit instruction in that strategy, and their practice is monitored.

We also employ comprehension strategies at the sentence level if students are not developmentally ready to read an entire passage. When your child works with one of our reading clinicians, they will get the comprehension instruction that they need.

Unlike a box program or pre-recorded program, our clinicians respond to your child in real time, clearing up any misunderstandings and ensuring that your child understands their passage as they are reading it. We also work with you to practice these skills at home in a meaningful way.

If your child struggles with reading comprehension, get them the help they need today. Contact us for a screening to determine if your child needs intervention.

Becky Welsch

RW&C, LLC

www.rwc4reading.com



Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading. Becky has worked with struggling readers in the primary as well as secondary grades. Her experience also includes intensive reading intervention both in person as well as with online teletherapy. Becky has experience with early literacy skills like phonics and phonemic awareness development. She has used several structured literacy programs including Language! and Spalding phonics. She is also trained to administer DIBELS tests and has worked with the DIBELS Next reading remediation program.

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