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A Florida State University Center


The “benchmark” is a critical target that occurs for each reading skill at some point in development. At this time, the level of performance is predictive of overall grade-level reading development. These benchmark levels were derived from longitudinal studies of reading growth in large numbers of students. A student who reaches or exceeds the target at a Benchmark Period is judged to be making “adequate progress” in learning to read at that point. The “benchmarks” are special in that the most complete predictive analysis of student performance has been conducted at those specific assessment points. Students who regularly achieve “benchmark” performance in grades K-3 are likely to achieve grade-level reading skills by the end of third grade. The “benchmarks” at the end of one year can also help predict the likelihood that a student will be reading at grade level at the end of the following year. For all of the skills measured by DIBELS® except Oral Reading Fluency, the performance target does not increase after the Benchmark Period. The “benchmark periods” for each DIBELS® test are:

Initial Sound Fluency – Mid-year of kindergarten
Letter Sound Fluency – End of year in kindergarten
Phoneme Segmentation Fluency – End of year in kindergarten
Nonsense Word Fluency – Mid-year of first grade
Oral Reading Fluency – There is not a single Benchmark Period for Oral Reading Fluency. The end of year targets from grades 1 to 3 can be considered “benchmark” goals

It is important for teachers to understand that in terms of predicting adequate progress in learning to read, students should reach the target level of performance at each Benchmark Period. For example, on the Nonsense Word Fluency test, students should reach the benchmark level by the middle of first grade. The performance target on this test does not increase after that, and achieving the target level by the end of first grade does not mean that the student is actually performing at grade level. In fact, the performance target for Nonsense Word Fluency at the end of first grade corresponds to performance only at the 29th percentile, based on DIBELS® norms. Similarly, the performance target for Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (whose Benchmark Period is the end of kindergarten) at the end of first grade corresponds to performance at only the 13th percentile. Although the DIBELS® assessment system continues to track the performance of students on tests like Nonsense Word Fluency and Phoneme Segmentation Fluency after the Benchmark Period, our real goal is to have them reach the target by the “benchmark” assessment point.