It’s that time of the year when I begin rummaging through my desk looking for my stopwatch. Unfortunately, it is not to see how fast the student can run, but to see how fast the student can read. It’s Dibels testing time to measure reading fluency. In six grade the target is 120 words per minute. The research indicates that if you read fluently you comprehend the text better. However, many students have been ingrained to read as fast as they can when they are being assessed for fluency. They may reach a reading rate of 174 to 201 words per minute, but they cannot recall the passage they have just read.
One of my concerns is that Dibels reading creates fast inaccurate readers. I stress to my students that they must learn to slow down and read for understanding. I further explain that in their later years they will need to read job applications, credit applications, bank contracts, and etc. and that they would not want someone to lay out a stopwatch and say you have one minute to read your application or contract. I explain that these documents need to be read carefully and several times.
On the other hand, students with low Dibels scores are considered struggling readers who are then targeted for intervention. Although in practice, intervention seems like the right way to go, but not all students who receive low Dibels scores are struggling readers. For example, I’ve been monitoring the progress of a supposedly struggling reader for the past two years, and if you look at the Dibels indicators you would agree that the student is in fact a struggling reader.
In observing this student I have found that no matter what reading fluency strategies are used, the student cannot read faster than 98 words per minute well below the six grade goal. However, if a reading assignment is given to the student, any subject, the student will take longer than the rest of the class to complete the assignment and the assignment is free from errors. In addition, the student is becoming frustrated due to not being able to reach the target goal and the student questions, “Why am I labeled a struggling reader.” I offer words of encouragement to the student, but the student admits that reading is becoming a least favorite subject due to being in an intervention program for two years. I have voiced my concerns on behalf of the student that the student does not belong in an intervention program and that intervention is doing more harm than good.
But alas, perhaps I don’t “speak fast enough” to be heard.
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