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Identifying Kindergartners At-Risk for Learning Problems: Screening with the DIBELS and Components of the NEPSY-II

23 July 2010


Early identification of children “at-risk” for learning problems is vital to future academic success; thus, it is critical that educators and psychologists implement the most efficient and thorough assessment strategies with young children. In Oregon, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) is currently being administered to Kindergarten children as a universal assessment measure assessing for problems with reading ability, most specifically, phonological processing skills. Although the DIBELS has shown some merit in this capacity, it has rarely been compared to other standard measures that are frequently used to diagnose learning disorders. Additionally, little is known about the DIBELS’ ability to detect learning problems in children who have underlying deficits in other cognitive skills, such as executive functioning. In order address the gaps in the literature, this study investigated the DIBELS relation to other measures of phonological processing and executive functioning, namely, the Phonological Processing, Speeded Naming, and Inhibition subtests of the Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment-Second Edition (NEPSY-II), and compared risk identification rates between these measures in a classroom of Kindergarteners. Results indicated that although the DIBELS does seem to relate well to a measure of executive functioning, it also appears that the DIBELS subtests may not be capturing all forms of learning problems that could eventually lead to learning disabilities. Thus, it appears as though administration procedures for identifying children “at-risk” for learning problems should also include measures that assess for other cognitive skill deficits. The NEPSY-II subtest of Inhibition appears to contribute well to the early identification of risk because of its ability to assess for executive functioning skill deficits, and therefore, it is suggested that measures of executive functioning be administered alongside the DIBELS subtests in order to most effectively screen for learning problems.


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