Yesterday our students completed their first major test: Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). One of the “pros” of early testing is that the results give us a baseline for future testing. Another is that the test indicates areas of need that must to be addressed right now, before our work becomes more complex and challenging. I have the scores and I can analyze them and prepare a “plan of action” for each child’s lowest skill.
The “cons” of this test, and any other given in kindergarten, are a little less obvious to most people. Our testing is done by a group of teachers from several grades. They are all trained and experienced in giving the test. I welcome them with open arms because if they are testing, I am not- I’m in my class teaching. I like it that way. Also, having someone else do the testing alleviates any doubts anyone might have about testing bias.
However, having a “stranger” do the testing also brings up the dilemma of trust and confidence. Some kindergarten students are so shy that they simply will not speak to another person other than a family member or their teacher. Some will respond to one tester, but not another. Perhaps one of them reminds them of someone they know and trust and the other doesn’t. So the results may be skewed by the personality of the child rather than their knowledge base.
Another con of this test and any other is that it is timed. Kindergarten children respond at their own pace, and believe me, even those who know their stuff are often slow in revealing it! Many like to really “think” and make sure they are correct before responding to a question from an adult. Our students are doubly hindered in oral timed tests by the fact that they speak “Southern” and can drag out one vowel into three syllables.
The most basic aspect of the test, the type font it was printed in, was a problem for a few years because the random alphabet displayed used the “g” from Times Roman, not the one our students were most familiar with from D’Nealian handwriting. (That problem has been addressed and changed.) Hard to believe that something so minor was important to the children, but I have given the test over 300 times and it used to stop at least 50% of the children while they pondered what alien letter that could possibly be. On a timed test every second counts! It takes a few months for children to be able to interpret several types of printing, especially if they do not have a lot of experience with books at home.
Test scores on a piece of paper do not reflect vision and hearing problems. They do not take into account the fact that one of my students performs better standing up rather than sitting. They do not indicate if a child understands and fluently uses the English language. I could go on and on. No test is perfect.
The best thing about testing is that we use several tests in conjunction with our own classroom observations and assessments. The complete package, plus the child’s daily work, gives us the most comprehensive measurement of the student’s knowledge and skills.