This is a new term for me this year. DIBELS is an assessment, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills or what our Elementary ELA Academic Specialists call “Foundational Skills”. This is a test that can be given to grades K-6, two or three times a year, and is a predictor of student’s reading, comprehension and fluency in reading. We give this test to our K-2 students. Having taught 9-12 mathematics, I wasn’t aware of this assessment previously, but this year it has become an “educational buzzword” for me. The teachers, principals and sites that I work with are all very involved and aware of this test, and often this is a priority and focus for them. I found it very frustrating at first for several reasons, the main one being I didn’t understand it at all. I wanted to focus on math instruction and learning, and indicators of student understanding and progress here. I really didn’t understand why so much focus was placed on this particular assessment until recently.
Our district level coaches meet weekly with our CCSS Coordinator, our Assessment Director and our Interventions Supervisor. We discuss all things data; teaching, learning, assessments, assessment analysis, support for sites in utilizing data to inform and adjust instruction, and the how, when and why of assessment. We are also involved in a district-wide process known as “DATA COM” where all principals share site data with the Teaching and Learning division at the district. (This is us: Superintendents, Academic Specialists, Instructional Directors, Assessment, Intervention and PBL Coordinators). We are a large district and a large department. At the elementary level, the main data point shared is DIBELS for K-2, and SRI, Scholastic Reading Inventory, for all levels.
This past Friday, our usual meeting days for data discussions, we looked at the recent DIBELS data and discussed the implications for all students who took the assessment, how to interpret and utilize the data, and how this can give us important information for ELD students. The one thing we didn’t discuss is how this can also be a very important indicator for mathematics success, but as we talked, I had an “AH HA” moment.
Students who are having difficulty with fluency, phonemic awareness, and the meanings that accompany these will also have difficulty in fluency and understanding of math academic language for the same reasons that they struggle with verbal language. Knowing these areas of struggle can be very important in creating a learning environment that supports these learners in all academic areas. This can also help us to predict where and when students will struggle with academic language and academic discourse which research has shown to be extremely important for learning.
This year is turning out to be quite a journey for me, but I am continually stretching and growing and am increasing my ability to be more cognizant of the learning occurring at the elementary level, and increasing my ability to truly be a support and asset to the teachers and staff at this level. I am truly blessed to have this opportunity to learn about and support elementary teaching and learning.