Sunday, September 20, 2009

DIBELS Delirium

Last Sunday night (actually, early Monday morning), at about 12:27am, I awoke to the sound of "clink, clink..... giggle, giggle.....clink.... giggle, giggle."   With a groan, my husband got up and walked my daughter back to her own room.  Apparently, it had been the third time that night that she had snuck over to her brothers' room with the purpose of throwing LEGOs at them while they slept.  Late night hilarity.

This is how I began my week, the first week of our school-wide assessments for reading, aka DIBELS week.  DIBELS is a standardized assessment that my district uses to screen all students.  It stands for "Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills."  The test consists of a variety of assessments, but its purpose is to determine whether students are reading at benchmark (grade level).  We do this 3 times a year, in the Fall, Winter, and Spring.  In the Fall, the "Blitz team," (as our Literacy Coaches have lovingly named us), test all of the students in our building, grades K-6.  There are 4 of us, give or take one depending on the day, who "DIBEL" our 540+ students, and we are given a window of seven days to do it.

On Monday, the first day of testing, the task seemed daunting.  At our faculty meeting that morning,  our principal announced that we would be having a fire drill at 1:15 that afternoon.  So, before we even started, we were behind schedule.  We did the best we could, but had to re-schedule 4th grade for other times during the week.

Here is my typical "DIBELS" day.  I sit at my u-shaped table, with my most reassuring smile, repeating directions that sound something like this:
"Hi! (Smile) What is your name?  (Even though it is written on their test booklet, it helps to ask.)   How do you like ____________ grade so far?  Wonderful!  (Smile)  My name is Mrs. Bispels, and I am a reading teacher here at our school.  We are going to be doing some work today in reading (or with letters and sounds for the Kindergarteners), and I'm sure you're going to do your best job! (Smile)  Ok, let's get started..."

On average, I can usually test about 22 or so students a day, depending on the grade level.  By the end of the day, my face usually hurts from smiling, and I can recite, word by word, the grade level passages that students have read to me repeatedly all day.  Ironically, though, I only know the first parts of the passages, because the test is designed to measure fluency for one minute, so students never finish them. On a few occasions, I've been geeky enough to read the whole passage myself, just to see how things turn out.  For example, there is one passage for grade 2 about a kitten that gets sick, and I just had to know if it would be OK in the end.  (It turns out that the kitten gets better after its family takes it to the vet.)

On Monday, after DIBELing all day, I had a 3 hour graduate course.  We spent the evening reviewing how to assess students in reading.  When I finally arrived home at 7:30pm, I had a colossal headache.

That is how my week began, and on Tuesday morning, after hearing "clink, clink.... giggle, giggle..." once again the night before, I had an epiphany.  I was going to have a horrible week, unless something changed.  Me.

The first thing I decided to do was find a new home for the LEGOs.  Then, I decided to switch my focus.  Instead of concentrating on DIBELS, I would concentrate on students.   I varied my intro "break the ice" routine, asking about favorite football teams and summer vacations instead of the same boring question about school.  I think that my new, varied approach also helped students feel more comfortable with the testing situation.  In fact, one of my former students was so comfortable, that she even gave me a hug when we were finished with the test. After she left the room, I scored her assessment and did a little cheer.  She made benchmark, and will not need to see me for reading support this year. 

My paradigm shift made a huge difference in the rest of my week.  Did it still get monotonous at times?   Yes, but by focusing on individuals instead of the assessment, I could find moments of humor and joy.  I shared my change in focus with our reading specialist, and she told me about a Kindergartener who sang to her during the test, because he said he knew his letters, "only when I sing the song." :)

Yesterday, my daughter discovered where I stashed the LEGOs.  I let her have a little fun. 
Clink, clink...giggle giggle...


  1. Just found your blog....i laughed the whole time...thank you i needed that! Rileigh must really be testing Her by the way...i am still a stay at home....and i hate my laundry basket everyday of my life....soooooo never you girl!

  2. Love the your blog!!! jeez....i bet our teachers love our put so much into perspective....and by the way....i love laundry as much as you do!!!!!

    love you


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