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United High States Testing: Thy Name is DIBELS

Parents, please feel free to use this letter written by Morna McDermott McNulty, administrator for United Opt Out National. Morna is opting her children out of DIBELS. Read to find out why. This is also our action for the week of August 26, 2012 â share this letter far and wide. Email it to all of your friends with young children. Send it to your childâs teacher. We must continue to educate and encourage others to take actions which will place the focus where it belongs â on high quality teaching and learning for all children.

Dear ______,

(Childâs name) will not be participating in the DIBELS assessments this year. The teachers at ______ are experienced, knowledgeable and caring educators. It is my firm belief that they can identify more effective and meaningful ways to assess my childrenâs reading abilities and needs. While I understand that Baltimore County states that it requires DIBELS to be completed by every child, I am aware that it is my Constitutional right to request their nonparticipation in practices which I believe to be harmful. My concerns over the harmful nature of DIBELS is grounded in decades of research conducted by the most respected and nationally recognized scholars in the field of literacy.

Here is what they have to say about DIBELS:

The âskillsâ children need to pass DIBELS and similar tests are the result of reading. The use of DIBELS and its cousins encourages test preparation in the form of skills training, which is a confusion of cause and effect.

Practicing reading nonsense words quickly, in preparation for the DIBELS test, will not contribute very much to helping children learn to read. In other words, practicing reading nonsense words quickly, in preparation for the DIBELS test, will not contribute very much to helping children learn to read. But the experience of reading comprehensible and interesting texts will result in the ability to read, as well as develop the capacity to read nonsense words quickly. Good readers can easily read the boxed list of nonsense words presented with the story, whether they have had extensive skills training or not.

The correlation between DIBELS scores and subsequent reading-test performance is spurious. Both are the result of the experience of real reading.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
Los Angeles, Calif.


The whole test can be downloaded by anybody, even a computer-smart kid. So abuses are possible, and, as I hear from teachers, quite common. The stakes are high for all concerned to raise DIBELS scores. And thatâs not hard to do with the test accessible on the Internet.

A second concern is the misuse of the statistical terms âvalidityâ and âreliability.â Those were thrown around a lot in the quotes by the promoters of DIBELS, yet the test producers have no data that meet the statistical criteria for uses of the terms.

The fact that the test is âquick and easyâ means that life decisions about millions of kids are being made on the basis of inadequate, minimal information about performance on bits and pieces of nonreading tasks. Throw in that there is no consistency in how the tests are scoredâit all happens fast, and so how benevolent or not the tester is greatly affects the scores kids achieve. The tester scores on-the-fly, during the minute each subtest takes, and has to watch a stop watch at the same time. So the test lacks âinter-rater reliability,â one preferred use of the term âreliability.â

DIBELS is so flawed and weak a test that, without the coercion being applied for its use by the No Child Left Behind Act enforcers in Washington, it would never pass review for adoption for the uses being made of it on any level by competent reviewers.

Kenneth Goodman
Professor Emeritus
Language, Reading, and Culture
University of Arizona
Tucson, Ariz.


Our research on second graders demonstrates that performance on DIBELS (including âfluency rateâ and comprehension) does not correlate with the oral reading and retelling of authentic texts. Therefore, any use of DIBELS results for the purposes of placement, leveling, or instructional planning is based on spurious information that can impact the literacy outcome for students. Our research revealed cases in which readers who read grade appropriate literature successfully, at expected rates and with comprehension, would be considered âat high riskâ based upon their DIBELS results. Conversely, there were cases in which children who performed on DIBELS at the level of âlow riskâ were not successful at reading and comprehending grade level literature. Not only does DIBELS lead to possible misplacement of children in reading levels and materials, but by subjecting students to timed assessments, schools are conveying to children that speed of reading is more important than reading for meaning and enjoyment.

Bess Altwerger and Nancy Shelton
Authors of âRereading Fluencyâ


âBased on available data, the fairest conclusion is that DIBELS mis-predicts reading performance on other assessments much of the time, and at best is a measure of who reads quickly without regard to whether the reader comprehends what is read.â (Pressley, Hilden & Shankland, 2006)

âOne criticism I have of the DIBELS tests is that, despite their labels, they are not valid tests of the construct of fluency as it is widely understood and defined.â (Samuels, 2007)

These two quotes aptly summarize what we know about the DIBELS assessment. The first quote is from the editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology and the second from the former editor of Reading Research Quarterly who was also a member of the National Reading Panel.

The point Iâll try to make is that DIBELS measures something but that something is largely unrelated to reading development or reading with understanding. If a school wants to waste potential instructional time on DIBELS assessments I guess that is their right. But as a parent and grandparent myself, I argue that I will not have them wasting my grandchildâs time on such nonsense. Instead, allow my grandchild to spend that DIBELS time engaged in a useful activity such as self-selected reading.

If and when the DIBELS folks do a study demonstrating that when schools use DIBELS the instruction improves and the children read better than they did before DIBELS use began, then and only then will I reconsider opting my children and grandchildren out of DIBELS testing.

Dick Allington
University of Tennessee
A209 Claxton

I am well aware that the adoption of DIBELS as a form of reading assessment is grounded in political and economic dealings at the highest levels of policy making, rather than being selected because of its pedagogical soundness. In fact, most research suggests that DIBELS in UNSOUND reading practice. Why would I willingly participate in that for my child? Simply because something is required as educational âpolicyâ does not make it right. There was a time when corporal punishment and racial segregation were considered âsoundâ and legal educational policies as well. Sometimes we need to speak out against policies which we know to be harmful and wrong for our own children.

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, I am protected by my rights to religious/spiritual freedom and this federal law supersedes state in regard to parental control over oneâs child. Under the law, you cannot deny my request.

Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the âfundamental rightâ to âdirect the upbringing and education of their children.â Furthermore, the Court declared that âthe child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligationsâ (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35).

In Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402, the Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere âwith the power of parents to control the education of their own.â In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten âlibertiesâ protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (262 U.S. 399).

In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their childrenâs education, the Court has stated, âIt is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinderâ (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).

I believe in the high quality of teaching and learning that occur in my childâs school. I have the greatest faith in its teachers and administration. I hope my efforts will be understood in the context in which they are intended: to support the quality of instruction promoted by the school, and to advocate for what is best for all children.


— Morna McDermott McNulty
United Opt Out





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