Read for Speed, 0 to 120

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.


Manuel Chavez

Manuel Chavez

San Manuel, AZ

My name is Manuel Michael Chavez Jr. My greatest contribution to education is being able to relate my 20 years of work experience to my students, which I obtained while working for Magma/BHP Copper, one of the largest underground copper mines in the world. My intentions had been to work for Magma Copper Company for the summer and return to school the following fall to pursue my dream of becoming an educator. Twenty years later, I was still employed with Magma Copper and had held various underground mining positions with the last position being a heavy equipment mechanic. In 1999, the mine announced complete closure and I had been forced and given a second opportunity to pursue my dream. What a bittersweet life-changing event in my life. I obtained my Bachelor’s of Science degree in education from NAU and have been teaching for the Mammoth-San Manuel Unified School District in Southwest Arizona for nine years and am pursuing National Board Certification. In 2009, I was selected as an Ambassador for Excellence for the Arizona Educational Foundation and currently sit on the Board of Directors for Sun Life Family Health Care Clinics and the WestEd organization. It is my belief that by intertwining my classroom lessons with my own life experiences and providing my students real world life scenarios, students become engaged in the lessons and develop a desire to learn.

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