Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills


The DIBELS measures were specifically designed to assess the five early literacy components: Phonological Awareness, Alphabetic Principle, Vocabulary, Comprehension, and Fluency with Connected Text. The DIBELS measures link together to form an assessment system of early literacy development that allows educators to readily and reliably determine student progress. School personnel can utilize the DIBELS Data System reports to make instructional decisions about children's reading performance. The use of the DIBELS Data System allows customers to derive the maximum benefit from the DIBELS measures.


Important DIBELS Information:

Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills 

Kindergarten goals for each test date are just below this overview! 


First(Initial) Sound Fluency – FSF                              Timed – 1 minute           

Test Dates: August and December                                              

To take test -    name first sound of each word "student does not see the words read"


Letter Naming Fluency – LNF                                   Timed – 1 minute           

Test Dates: August, December, and April                                                                      

To take test -    point and name letters "student reads the list of words"


Phoneme Segmentation Fluency – PSF                          Timed – 1 minute           

Test Dates: December and April                                              

To take test -    say sounds heard in each word "student does not see the words read"


Nonsense Word Fluency – NWF                                Timed – 1 minute           

Test Dates: December and April                                              

To take test -    point and read/sound out make-believe words "student reads the list of words"


Word Use Fluency – WUF (optional for 2011-2012 school year)        Timed – 1 minute           

Test Dates: August, December, and April                                               

To take test -    use each given word in a separate sentence "student does not see the words read"


Three Assessment Periods Per Year

Kindergarten Benchmark Goals and Cut Points

Measure Score Level Need for Support                 Beginning of Year           Middle of Year        End of Year


DIBELS At or Above Benchmark Core Support     26 - 170                       122 - 394                119 - 334

Composite Below Benchmark Strategic Support           13 - 25                           85 - 121                 89 - 118

Score Well Below Benchmark Intensive Support              0 - 12                              0 - 84                      0 - 88


FSF At or Above Benchmark Core Support           10 - 60                               30 - 60

Below Benchmark Strategic Support                                5 - 9                                20 - 29

Well Below Benchmark Intensive Support                        0 - 4                                 0 - 19


PSF At or Above Benchmark Core Support                                                     20 - 81                   40 - 81

Below Benchmark Strategic Support                                                                        10 - 19                  25 - 39

Well Below Benchmark Intensive Support                                                                 0 - 9                        0 - 24


NWF-CLS At or Above Benchmark Core Support                                         17 - 143                   28 - 143

Below Benchmark Strategic Support                                                                         8 - 16                     15 - 27

Well Below Benchmark Intensive Support                                                                 0 - 7                        0 - 14


More detail is below - be aware, it is a lot to take in!

If there are concerns with this site, please email Mr. Santor at dsantor@jocombs.k12.az.us

Thank you!


1: Phonemic Awareness


A phoneme is a speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning. The word "sun" has three phonemes: /s/ /u/ /n/.

  • Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sound units, in the English language. (NOTE: the number of phonemes varies across sources.)
  • Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings. For example, the phoneme, or sound, /f/ can be spelled in several ways: ph, f, gh, ff.
  • The sound units (phonemes) are not inherently obvious and must be taught. The sounds that make up words are "coarticulated;" that is, they are not distinctly separate from each other.

Phonemic Awareness (PA) is:

  1. the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992; see References).
  2. essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.
  3. fundamental to mapping speech to print. If a child cannot hear that "man" and "moon" begin with the same sound or cannot blend the sounds /rrrrrruuuuuunnnnn/ into the word "run", he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.
  4. essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system.
  5. a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success.

Phonemic Awareness Development Continuum

Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills

  • Sound and Word discrimination: What word doesn't belong with the others: "cat", "mat", "bat", "ran"? "ran"
  • Rhyming: What word rhymes with "cat"? bat
  • Syllable splitting: The onset of "cat" is /k/, the rime is /at/
  • Blending: What word is made up of the sounds /k/ /a/ /t/? "cat"
  • Phonemic segmentation: What are the sounds in "cat"? /k/ /a/ /t/
  • Phoneme deletion: What is "cat" without the /k/? "at"
  • Phoneme manipulation: What word would you have if you changed the /t/ in cat to an /n/? "can"

Teaching Tips: Blending

  1. When children are first learning to blend, use examples with continuous sounds, because the sounds can be stretched and held.

    Example: "Listen, my lion puppet likes to talk in a broken way. When he says /mmm/ - /ooo/ - /mmm/ he means mom."

    Non-example: "Listen, my lion puppet likes to talk in a broken way. When he says /b/ - /e/ - /d/ he means bed."

  2. When children are first learning the task, use short words in teaching and practice examples. Use pictures when possible.

    Example: Put down 3 pictures of CVC words and say: "My lion puppet wants one of these pictures. Listen to hear which picture he wants, /sss/ - /uuu/ - /nnn/. Which picture?"

    Non-example: ".../p/ - /e/ - /n/ - /c/ - /i/ - /l/. Which picture?" (This is a more advanced model that should be used later.)

  3. When children are first learning the task, use materials that reduce memory load and to represent sounds.

    Example: Use pictures to help children remember the words and to focus their attention. Use a 3-square strip or blocks to represent sounds in a word.

    Non-example: Provide only verbal activities.

  4. As children become successful during initial learning, remove scaffolds by using progressively more difficult examples. As children become successful with more difficult examples, use fewer scaffolds, such as pictures.

    Example: Move from syllable or onset-rime blending to blending with all sounds in a word (phoneme blending). Remove scaffolds, such as pictures.
    "Listen, /s/ - /t/ - /o/ - /p/. Which picture?"
    "Listen, /s/ - /t/ - /o/ - /p/. What word?"

    Non-example: Provide instruction and practice at only the easiest levels with all the scaffolds. 

2: Alphabetic Principle

The alphabetic principle is composed of two parts:

  • Alphabetic Understanding: Words are composed of letters that represent sounds.
  • Phonological Recoding: Using systematic relationships between letters and phonemes (letter-sound correspondence) to retrieve the pronunciation of an unknown printed string or to spell words. Phonological recoding consists of:

Regular Word Reading

A regular word is a word in which all the letters represent their most common sounds. Regular words are words that can be decoded (phonologically recoded).

Because our language is alphabetic, decoding is an essential and primary means of recognizing words. There are simply too many words in the English language to rely on memorization as a primary word identification strategy (Bay Area Reading Task Force, 1997, see References).

Beginning decoding ("phonological recoding") is the ability to:

  • read from left to right, simple, unfamiliar regular words.
  • generate the sounds for all letters.
  • blend sounds into recognizable words.


Progression of Regular Word Reading

 Sounding Out
(saying each individual sound out loud)
 Saying the Whole Word
(saying each individual sound and pronouncing the whole word)
 Sight Word Reading
(sounding out the word in your head, if necessary, and saying the whole word)
 Automatic Word Reading
(reading the word without sounding it out)

Irregular Word Reading

Although decoding is a highly reliable strategy for a majority of words, some irregular words in the English language do not conform to word-analysis instruction (e.g., the, was, night). Those words are referred to as irregular words.

Irregular Word: A word that cannot be decoded because either (a) the sounds of the letters are unique to that word or a few words, or (b) the student has not yet learned the letter-sound correspondences in the word (Carnine, Silbert & Kame'enui, 1997; see References).

  • In beginning reading there will be passages that contain words that are "decodable" yet the letter sound correspondences in those words may not yet be familiar to students. In this case, we also teach these words as irregular words.
  • To strengthen students' reliance on the decoding strategy and communicate the utility of that strategy, we recommend not introducing irregular words until students can reliably decode words at a rate of one letter-sound per second. At this point, irregular words may be introduced, but on a limited scale.
  • The key to irregular word recognition is not how to teach them. The teaching procedure is simple. The critical design considerations are how many to introduce and how many to review.


Advanced Word Analysis

Advanced word analysis involves being skilled at phonological processing (recognizing and producing the speech sounds in words) and having an awareness of letter-sound correspondences in words.

Advanced word analysis skills include:

  • Knowledge of common letter combinations and the sounds they make
  • Identification of VCe pattern words and their derivatives
  • Knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and roots, and how to use them to "chunk" word parts within a larger word to gain access to meaning.

Alphabetic Principle Instruction

Examples of Tasks Illustrating Alphabetic Understanding

  • Letter-sound associations: What is the sound of this letter?
  • Soundblending: Blend the sounds of these letters to make a word /mmm aaa nnn/.
  • Segmenting: What sounds do you hear in this word?
  • Manipulating letter-sound correspondences in words: What word would you have if you change the /n/ in /nap/ to /l/?
  • Reading pseudowords: What is this word, mip?
  • Word identification: What is this word, map?

Teaching Tips: Letter-Sound Correspondence

Conspicuous Strategies

  • Teacher actions should make the task explicit. Use consistent and brief wording.

Mediated Scaffolding

  • Separate auditorily and visually similar letters.
  • Introduce some continuous sounds early.
  • Introduce letters that can be used to build many words.
  • Introduce lower case letters first unless upper case letters are similar in configuration.

Strategic Integration - Simple Before Complex

  1. Once students can identify the sound of the letter on two successive trials, include the new letter-sound correspondence with 6-8 other letter sounds.
  2. When students can identify 4-6 letter-sound correspondences in 2 seconds each, include these letters in single-syllable, CVC, decodable words.

Review Cumulatively and Judiciously

Use a distributed review cycle to build retention:

N = new sound; K = known sound
Example (r = new sound; m, s, t, i, f, a = known sounds): r m r s t r r i f a m r

3: Accuracy and Fluency

Fluency (automaticity) is reading words with no noticeable cognitive or mental effort. It is having mastered word recognition skills to the point of overlearning. Fundamental skills are so "automatic" that they do not require conscious attention.

Examples of automaticity:

  • shifting gears on a car
  • playing a musical instrument
  • playing a sport (serving a tennis ball)


Point to Remember:

Fluency is not an end in itself but a critical gateway to comprehension. Fluent reading frees resources to process meaning.

For students to develop fluency, they must:

  • perform the task or demonstrate the skill accurately, and
  • perform the preskills of the task quickly and effortlessly.


Once accurate, fluency develops through plentiful opportunities for practice in which the task can be performed with a high rate of success.

Fluency Instruction

Irregular Word Fluency Building Example: The 1-Minute Dash

  1. Identify a set of irregular words students can correctly identify.
  2. Include multiple cards of each word in the set.
  3. Set a goal (i.e., 30 correct words per minute).
  4. Do a 1-minute small-group practice. Position cards so that all students can see.
  5. Start the stop watch.
  6. Present the first word card so that all students answer.
  7. Provide quick corrective feedback on errors.
  8. Continue presenting words.
  9. Words correctly identified go in one pile; place errors in second pile.
  10. At the end of 1 minute, tally the number of words correct.
  11. Review errors and repeat activity for 1 more minute.

Examples of Irregular Word Reading Fluency Activities

  1. Paired peer practice. Pair a higher performer with a child who needs fluency practice. Use similar procedures as in 1-Minute Dash. Each child may use his/her set of known but not fluent irregular words.
  2. Word recognition grid. Prepare a 5x5 grid of 5 irregular words. One word per row, randomly ordered. Include a short review of words. Then, do a timed recall of words.

Teaching Tips: Selecting Materials to Build Fluency

What you should look for in materials to build fluency:

  • Are passages within the learner's decoding range? (95% accuracy or higher)
  • Is there an explicit strategy for teaching students to transition from accuracy to fluency?
  • Is there daily opportunity for fluency building?
  • Is there overlap in words (i.e., words show up multiple times in different text)?
  • Are target rates identified?

How to Determine Appropriate Level Text

Select text that students read with 95% accuracy:   


  80% accuracy would NOT be appropriate for fluency building.

Level of ChallengePercent Accuracy
Independent Reading Level97% or greater
*Instructional Level94-97%
Frustration Level93% or lower

*For fluency building, materials should be at instructional level or above.  

4: Vocabulary

"Learning, as a language based activity, is fundamentally and profoundly dependent on vocabulary knowledge. Learners must have access to the meanings of words that teachers, or their surrogates (e.g., other adults, books, films, etc.), use to guide them into contemplating known concepts in novel ways (i.e. to learn something new)."

(Baker, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998) See References.

Expressive Vocabulary: Requires a speaker or writer to produce a specific label for a particular meaning.

Receptive Vocabulary: Requires a reader to associate a specific meaning with a given label as in reading or listening.

Hart & Risley, 1995 (see References)

Children enter school with "meaningful differences" in vocabulary knowledge.

  • What doesn't matter: race/ethnicity, gender, birth order.
  • What does matter: relative economic advantage.
  1. Emergence of the Problem

    In a typical hour, the average child hears:

    Family StatusActual Differences in Quantity of Words HeardActual Differences in Quality of Words Heard
    Welfare616 words5 affirmations, 11 prohibitions
    Working Class1,251 words12 affirmations, 7 prohibitions
    Professional2,153 words32 affirmations, 5 prohibitions

  2. Cumulative Vocabulary Experiences
    Family StatusWords heard per hourWords heard in a 100-hour weekWords heard in a 5,200 hour yearWords heard in 4 years
    Welfare61662,0003 million13 million
    Working Class1,251125,0006 million26 million
    Professional2,153215,00011 million45 million

  3. Meaningful Differences

    By the time the children were 3 years old, parents in less economically favored circumstances had said fewer different words in their cumulative monthly vocabularies than the children in the most economically advantaged families in the same period of time.

    Cumulative Vocabulary
    Children from welfare families:500 words
    Children from working class families:700 words
    Children from professional families:1,100 words

Simplifying Direct Vocabulary Instruction: Matching Instruction to Your Goal

  • There are a limited number of ways to teach vocabulary directly!
  • The way you teach depends on learner knowledge and what you want students to be able to do.
  • Three Prominent Oral Vocabulary Teaching Strategies:
  • Modeling (Examples):
    When it is impossible to use language to explain the meaning of a word (e.g., between, in).
    When a student knows a word(s) that can explain the meaning of a new, unknown word (e.g., damp means a little wet).
    When students have adequate language to understand a longer explanation and when the concept is too complicated to be explained through a synonym (e.g., service station is a place where gasoline is sold and cars are repaired).



  1. Model positive and negative examples of the new concept. (e.g., "This is a mitten." or "This is not a mitten.").
  2. Test student on their mastery of the examples (e.g., "Is this a mitten or not a mitten?").
  3. Present different examples of the new word along with examples of other previously taught words. Ask for names (e.g., "What is this?", "What color is this?" or "Tell me how I'm writing.").


  1. Teacher equates a new word (sturdy) with a known word(s) (strong). (e.g., "Here is a new word. Sturdy. Sturdy means strong.").
  2. Teacher tests a set of positive and negative examples for the new word. (e.g., "Tell me sturdy or not sturdy.").
  3. Teacher provides practice in applying several recently taught synonyms. (e.g., "Is that sturdy? Is it tidy? Is it mild?").

When Teaching Synonyms

  • Use words students know
  • Test on a range of positive and negative examples
  • Huge means very big.
  • What does huge mean?
  • Tom put his pet in his pocket. Was his pet huge?
  • The animal wouldn't fit through the door. Was the animal huge?



  1. Teacher tells the students the definition and has them repeat it. (e.g., "An exit is a door that leads out of a building. What is an exit?").
  2. Teacher tests the students on positive and negative examples to ensure that the students understand the definition and that they are not just memorizing a series of words. ("Is this an exit or not an exit? How do you know?").
  3. Teacher provides a review of previous words. ("What is this? How do you know?").

5: Comprehension

Comprehension is...

  • the essence of reading
  • active and intentional thinking in which the meaning is constructed through interactions between the test and the reader (Durkin, 1973, see References).

Comprehension: the complex cognitive process involving the intentional interaction between reader and text to extract meaning.

Factors that Impact Reading Comprehension

Reader Based FactorsText Based Factors
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Alphabetic Understanding
  • Fluency with the Code
  • Vocabulary knowledge
  • Prior knowledge
  • Engagement and interest
  • Narrative v. Expository
  • Genre considerations
  • Quality of text
  • Density and difficulty of concepts

Comprehension Strategies for Proficient Readers Consist of:

  • an awareness and understanding of one's own cognitive processes
  • recognition of when one doesn't understand
  • coordination and shifting the use of strategies as needed


Comprehension instruction should:

  • Begin in early childhood with storytelling and discussions
  • Consist of question answering and lessons on simple story structure in kindergarten and first grade with accessible texts
  • Include comprehension strategy instruction in second and third grade in narrative and expository texts

Teaching Comprehension Before, During, and After Reading

Before Reading

  1. Set comprehension objectives
    • Refer to instructional priorities on grade-level curriculum maps to set objectives
    • Examples:
      • Accurately answer literal and inferential questions
      • Identify the main character and setting
  2. Preteach difficult to read words
    • Identify words that will be barriers to students' independent reading.
    • Use familiar procedures to teach or review difficult-to-decode words:
      • Sounding Out
      • Structural Analysis
  3. Preview text and prime background knowledge
    • Teach students to preview the text and predict what the text is going to be about before reading a passage.
    • After previewing, teach students to think about what they already know and what they'd like to learn about the story or topic.
  4. Chunk text into manageable segments. Considerations include:
    • Appropriate stopping points for asking questions
    • Specific vocabulary that might need to be reviewed
    • Appropriate points for identifying text structure elements
    • Opportunities to summarize the main ideas in the passage



During Reading

  1. Identify text structure elements
    • Narrative Text
      • Texts that usually follow a familiar story structure and include the following structural elements:
        • Characters
        • Setting
        • Problems
        • Solutions
        • Theme
    • Expository Text
      • Informational books
      • Contain structures that can differ from one text to another and within a single passage (e.g., compare-contrast, description).
      • Help students understand content area textbooks.
  2. Answer literal, inferential, and evaluative questions
    • Literal questions have responses that are directly stated in the text.
    • Inferential questions have responses that are indirectly stated, induced, or require other information.
    • Evaluative questions require the reader to formulate a response based on their opinion.
    • TextQuestions: Literal, Inferential, or Evaluative?
      Puppies are very small when they are born. They cannot see until they are about two weeks old. During this time, they stay very close to their mothers.
      • What are puppies like when they are born?
      • Are puppies born blind?
      • Why do they stay close to their mothers?
      • Would you like to have a puppy?
  3. Retell stories or main ideas of informational text
    • Proficient readers periodically summarize text as they read, monitoring their understanding of the passage.
    • Teaching children to retell occurrences in a story or the main ideas of informational text helps them become more accurate in summarizing and monitoring their understanding.


Informal Assessment: Monitoring Students' Progress After Reading

  • Have discussions and conversations about texts that include open-ended, more complex questions.
  • Observe students as they read and respond.
  • Have students retell stories and monitor for accuracy and completeness of responses.


If there are concerns with this site, please email Mr. Santor at dsantor@jocombs.k12.az.us

Thank you!