Help! My Child Failed the DIBELS Test!


When children fail tests, parents often panic.  And when children fail tests like DIBELS that parents have never even heard of and don’t understand, the feeling intensifies!  I have received two emails in the past week from worried parents that found my name online while they were searching for information after being told that their child failed the DIBELS test.  So, since this seems to be “testing time” in so many places, I thought I would post the questions (anonymously!) and the answers.   I hope that this is helpful to you!



I also just found this document via one of the comments left by a reader. It’s really a pdf version of an entire book, called The Truth About DIBELS, What It Is-What It Does by Ken Goodman. I just downloaded a portion of the book myself, free!


You can download a free sample of this at the link above.

Here’s another link for those of you that want to do more investigating: I found it on this website called The article is called, DIBELS: Pedagogy of the Absurd. I can’t remember who sent it to me, sorry about that!


I just found out my kindergartner failed the DIBELS test. Her teacher overheard the testing and knows it isn’t that my daughter didn’t know the work but instead her shyness got the best of her. She freezes up under pressure but she is also a naturally quiet and shy person so not knowing the lady testing her just made this test more impossible for her to pass.

I was told there was a lot of “you need to speak up, I can’t hear you” and “you can’t just stop, you have to keep going” being said. She knows the work. We go over her words every night and she is able to read to me by sounding out the words in her stories(with some assistance since not everything sounds just as it’s

Your post from September gave me a lot of insight on what this test is about since I had never even heard of it before, but have you encountered a child that just didn’t do well in a timed test or is shy? Her teacher is sending home a practice test for me since she doesn’t want my daughter to have to be put below grade level when she knows she isn’t below. Unfortunately even when I time her, she freezes up. I don’t know how to make this easier for her and I don’t want her held back in any way when she is doing so well in the class she is in every other day out of the year.

Thank you so much for your informative post and any advice you may have,


Well, I have seen this sort of thing happen lots of times with children that freeze up on timed tests, and also on tests given by strangers. Unfortunately, your daughter is a victim of the system that penalizes shy kids like this.

What I usually tell parents to do is to try to “desensitize” their child to the timer.
Use a timer at home for other things so she can get used to it. Use it for fun things and easy things, such as playing with dolls for twenty minutes until the timer goes off, or coloring in a coloring book until the timer goes off, etc. See if you can find out what kind of timer they use for the DIBELS test and see if you can get the very same kind so that it looks and sounds the same.

Once your child gets used to the timer under “friendly and fun” circumstances, then try using it with homework. Just make sure that the amount of time you set is plenty of time for her to finish, at least to start off with. After a bit, then you can play “beat the clock” and try to finish certain tasks before the bell goes off. There should just be no penalty when the bell goes off, that’s all. Reinforce the fact that nothing bad is going to happen when the timer goes off.

Request That the Classroom Teacher Be Your Child’s DIBELS Tester

Reach out to your principal or admin, and tell them that your child is being pressured and stressed out by the DIBELS testing process. Tell them you would like to request that your child be tested only by the classroom teacher, or not at all.  Your child may be uncomfortable with strangers that they haven’t met pulling them out to do the test, even if it is only for a couple of minutes.  I suggest telling the admin that if the classroom teacher can’t be trusted to give your child the DIBELS test, then you would like your child to be excluded from the test. Students can’t fail a test that they don’t take, so the school will have to use their overall achievement to place them for next year.

Another option would be to request to be present when your child is pulled out for the testing, so that you can encourage your child to speak up and answer the questions.  You won’t be able to intervene during the test, or give your child any “cues,” but you should be able to at least be sitting on the other side of the room.  At least then if you can watch the testing process and you can see what happens for yourself, you won’t have to sit and wonder what happened during that time.  If your child sat there and said absolutely nothing, then you’ll know it.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Here’s another alternative: there are other “Progress Monitoring” DIBELS tests that your child can be given in the classroom that mirror those same benchmark tests that the testers give.  (I have to give them to my lowest students every two and a half weeks.)  The children get used to them, and get reasonably good at them, simply because they become familiar, and become a part of the routine.

THAT’s probably what would help your daughter the most.  She needs her teacher to give her these Progress Monitoring (practice tests) every couple of weeks so that she can get used to them.  Maybe the principal will allow you to use those scores in place of the “official tester” scores?

When I do the Progress Monitoring tests with my low testing kids, I show the group of kids the test, and we do several of the questions together and talk about them.  Then I pull the kids one at a time and have them do one timed test, and then another one.  The first one is just a practice “warm up” test, and the second one is the “real one.”  They always do better on the real one.  (Sometimes they don’t really need the “real one!”)  If you would like to know more about what is on those tests, please see my blog post here.

Good luck!

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