The VDOE requires the following English language arts assessments for students:
PALS Grades PreK-2
SOL Growth Assessments Grades 3-8
SOL Reading Assessments Grades 3-8; End of Course Assessment Grades 9-11
For more SOL information and active links, please visit the APS Assessment Parent Corner website.
APS uses the following universal screening assessments for students:
Grades K-2 : PALS Phonological Awareness Literacy Screener
Grades K-5 : DIBELS Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills
Grades 6-9 : RI Reading Inventory
PALS (K-2 universal screener)
The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screener (PALS) is an informal screening inventory required by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and is administered to all students in grades Kindergarten through second grade. All K-2 students take PALS at the beginning and end of the year. Those students who do not meet the established benchmark in the fall are administered PALS at midyear. PALS is designed to provide teachers with information for planning classroom instruction and for identifying students who may be at risk for reading difficulty. The screening consists of several tasks relating to sound and print knowledge. Each task has grade-level expectations, and scores from selected tasks are added together to create a summed score. Depending on the grade level, PALS screening tasks include:
|PALS Screening Task||Description of Task|
|Rhyme Awareness||Out of a set of three pictures, students are asked to identify the one that rhymes with the target picture.|
|Beginning Sound Awareness||Out of a set of three pictures, students are asked to identify the one that has the same beginning sound as the target picture.|
|Sound to Letter||Students listen to a word and identify the sound they hear at the beginning, middle, and end of the word.|
|Blending||Students blend individual sounds into words as they hear one letter sound presented at the time.|
|Letter Identification||Students are asked to name the 26 lower-case letters of the alphabet.|
|Letter Sound Identification||Students are asked to produce the sounds of 23 letters of the alphabet, as well as three digraphs (two letters that create one sound such as /sh/)|
|Word Recognition in Isolation||Students are asked to read words from grade level word lists. The capacity to obtain meaning from print depends strongly on accurate, automatic recognition of words typical at each grade level.|
|Spelling Inventory||Students are asked to spell words which include specific phonics features. Students earn points for correct spelling features as well as for entire words. This allows teachers to identify a student’s developmental spelling stage.|
|Oral Reading in Context||Students orally read leveled passages and answer comprehension questions about the passage. This subtest provides information on word recognition, fluency (the ability to read, accurately, and with expression), and comprehension.|
Overall benchmarks are designated in both fall and spring, as well as benchmarks for subtests. The overall benchmark, also referred to as the summed score, indicates that the student is at, below, or above grade level expectation. Subtest benchmarks refer to grade level performance on a specific skill. Teachers will use the information from the screening to provide appropriate reading and spelling instruction. Students not meeting the entry Level benchmark will receive additional instructional support on specific skills as indicated by PALS.
How does APS communicate with families about PALS?
PALS is administered at the beginning and end of the school year for all K-2 students and during a midyear testing window for students who did not meet the PALS benchmark in the fall. As with all district required English Language Arts assessments, families should receive a communication from schools that their student(s) will participate in the PALS assessment prior to the beginning of the assessment window. An example of a parent notification letter that was used for virtual administration during the beginning of the year window in 2020 can be seen here.
After students have taken PALS, schools communicate the results via the Student Summary Report and an accompanying Parent Report Letter. The Student Summary Report, generated by PALS, provides specific information related to student performance. It includes students’ scores on each of the PALS screening tasks administered at the student’s grade level.
To accompany the Student Summary Report generated by PALS, families should also receive a Parent Report Letter. This letter, generated by APS, provides families with information about the Student Summary Report, information about each screening measure, and information about how the results are used by the school. An example of the PALS Student Summary Parent Letter can be found here.
How do schools use PALS data?
Results from PALS are used to help determine individual student’s learning goals, support the planning of targeted instruction, monitor student progress, and identify students who may need additional support or instruction in foundational reading skills.
What does it mean if my child is “below the benchmark” in PALS?
A student’s score on PALS tasks provides information about whether or not the student is likely to perform on grade level with strong tier one instruction. The overall benchmark, or summed score, is used to identify students who are in need of additional instruction in foundational reading skills. Scores on individual screening measures (i.e. sound to letter, letter identification, etc.) provide specific information about a student’s performance on that particular skill. Both the summed score and the scores on individual screening measures are taken into consideration when planning instruction and/or intervention.If a student does not meet the PALS benchmark, additional diagnostic assessments will likely be administered to determine the specific area of concern and support the planning of targeted instruction and intervention. Parents will be notified by the school and an intervention plan, designed to support the specific needs of the student, will be created, implemented, and shared with families.
Are there resources available that align to the reading skills PALS measures that families can use to provide at-home support?
Each PALS screening task focuses on a specific or set of foundation reading skills necessary for proficient reading. The table below includes each measure, the corresponding reading skill(s), and information or resources for families. In addition, families may find the resources and recorded sessions from the APS Virtual 2020 Dyslexia Conference resources helpful.
|PALS Screening Task||Reading Skills(s)||Information/Resources|
|Rhyme Awareness||Phonological or Phonemic Awareness||Phonological and Phonemic Awareness|
|Beginning Sound Awareness|
|Sound to Letter|
|Concept of Word||Literacy Knowledge||Print AwarenessConcept of Print|
|Letter Identification||Alphabetic PrinciplePhonics||The Alphabetic PrinciplePhonics|
|Letter Sound Identification|
|Word Recognition in Isolation||Alphabetic PrinciplePhonicsAccuracy and Fluency||Accuracy and Fluency|
|Oral Reading in Context||Alphabetic PrinciplePhonicsAccuracy and FluencyComprehension||Comprehension|
Where can I learn more about PALS?
PALS has a public website that includes a section specifically for parents. Once on the PALS website, navigate to the tab in the horizontal menu bar at the top of the page and select “For Parents”. This section provides a brief overview of PALS, a section to support the interpretation of PALS scores, and supplemental resources and activities.
DIBELS 8th Edition (K-2 universal screener)
During the 2021-2022 school year, APS replaced PALS Plus with the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessments for all students in grades K-5 and selected students in grades 6-8. DIBELS is a more precise measure of reading achievement than PALS Plus and measures foundational reading skills that research indicates are essential for proficient reading. As APS shifts away from balanced literacy, it is important that we use assessments that effectively measure foundational reading skills and are aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning.
What are DIBELS?
DIBELS measures are designed to be short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of early literacy and early reading skills. These measures were developed to measure recognized and empirically validated skills related to reading outcomes. Each measure has been thoroughly researched and demonstrated to be reliable and valid indicators of early literacy development. When implemented as recommended, the results can be used to evaluate individual student development as well as provide grade-level feedback toward validated instructional objectives.
The research-based measures are linked to one another and predictive of later reading proficiency. Combined, the measures form an assessment system of early literacy development that allows educators to readily and reliably determine student progress. APS uses DIBELS as a universal literacy screening tool, benchmark assessment, and to monitor student progress.
What Measures are Administered?
The Parent Guide to DIBELS Assessment included in the table below describes the skills assessed by DIBELS and identifies the DIBELS measures that were administered to students based on grade level. It is important to note that grade level DIBELS measures screen for those reading skills that are most predictive of later reading proficiency and most reliable in identifying students who are at risk for reading difficulty.
Parent Guide to DIBELS Assessment
How does APS communicate with families/caregivers about DIBELS?
DIBELS is administered at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. As with all district required English Language Arts assessments, families should receive a communication from schools that their student(s) will participate in the DIBELS assessment prior to the beginning of the year assessment window. An example of a parent notification letter that was used for virtual administration during the beginning of the year window in 2020 can be seen here.
After students have taken DIBELS, schools communicate the results via the Parent Report and an accompanying Parent Report Letter. The Parent Report, generated by DIBELS, provides specific information related to student performance. It includes students’ scores on each of the DIBELS measures administered at the student’s grade level, a brief explanation of the scores, and an indication of risk related to reading proficiency. A sample of the parent report can be found here.
To accompany the Parent Report generated by DIBELS, families should also receive a DIBELS Score Report Parent Letter. This letter, generated by APS, provides families with information about the Parent Report, information about the risk categories, a color-coded scoring key, an explanation of how results are used by schools, and the Parent Guide to DIBELS Assessment that is included in the section above. An example of the DIBELS Score Report Parent Letter can be found here.
How do schools use DIBELS data?
Results from DIBELS are used to help determine individual student’s learning goals, support the planning of targeted instruction, monitor student progress, and raise awareness of students who need additional support or instruction in foundational reading skills.
After administration, teacher teams analyze student DIBELS data, determine whether additional diagnostic assessment is necessary, and plan instructional next steps. This analysis typically occurs during a Collaborative Learning Team (CLT) meeting which includes teams of teachers, reading specialists, and at times, an administrator. The ELA and Arlington Tiered Systems of Support (ATSS) offices have provided schools with an agenda and supporting DIBELS guidance documents to guide the planning and implementation CLT meetings that are designated for DIBELS data analysis These meetings often include the following topics:
- Identify the likely root cause of reading difficulty for students
- Determine what additional diagnostic assessments would be helpful for determining the specific area of weakness.
- Plan for tier one and intervention instruction that is tightly aligned to student data
- Plan for how instructional progress will be monitored
What should I do if my child is below the benchmark on a DIBELS measure?
A student’s score on the DIBELS measures provides information about whether or not the student is on track for grade-level reading success. A student receives individual measure scores and a composite score (combination of scores on multiple DIBELS measures). A student’s individual Parent Report includes these scores and how those scores compare to the benchmarks set for the student’s grade level . The composite score is the most robust predictor of overall risk related to reading proficiency. Risk categories are color coded on the Parent Report and the following chart correlates the color coding with the risk categories.
If a student does not meet the DIBELS benchmark, additional diagnostic assessments will be administered to determine the specific area of concern and support the planning of targeted instruction and intervention. Parents will be notified by the school and an intervention plan, designed to support the specific needs of the student, will be created, implemented, and shared with families.
Are there resources available that align to the reading skills DIBELS measures that families can use to provide at-home support?
Each DIBELS measure focuses on a specific or set of foundation reading skills necessary for proficient reading. The table below includes each measure, the corresponding reading skill(s), and information or resources for families. In addition, families may find the resources and recorded sessions from the APS Virtual 2020 Dyslexia Conference resources helpful.
|DIBELS Measure||Reading Skills(s)||Information/Resources|
|Phoneme Segmentation Fluency||Phonological Awareness|
|Nonsense Word Fluency||
|Oral Reading Fluency||
Accuracy and Fluency
|Word Reading Fluency||
Accuracy and Fluency
In the past, my child had a reading level. How do I know if my child is reading on grade level if I don’t know their reading level?
For many years, APS relied on reading levels to determine and communicate a student’s level of reading achievement. It was an attractive way to measure growth and to determine whether a student was below, on, or above grade level. Using reading levels as a measure of reading achievement is a practice more closely aligned with balanced literacy than structured literacy.
While reading levels provide a general sense of where (on a leveled continuum) a student might be reading, they do not provide details about the specific skills (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) research indicates are necessary for grade level proficiency in reading. As APS shifts away from balanced literacy, assessments that provide more reliable and accurate ways to measure these reading skills will be used. As a result, families can expect more specific information about how their student is performing in reading than a reading level can provide. This information should include specific information about foundational reading skills as well as how students are performing in relation to the Virginia Standards of Learning aligned with that reading skill.
While families may be accustomed to correlating a reading level with grade level performance, there are more precise ways for APS to communicate a student’s reading performance level to families using a variety of literacy screeners and diagnostic assessments that measure foundational reading skills. APS teachers will still be able to inform parents whether their student is reading below, on, or above grade level. Similarly, teachers will be able to tell families whether students are meeting or not meeting the Virginia Standards of Learning that are aligned with foundational reading skills.The assessments used should measure the following foundational reading skills that research indicates are essential for proficient reading: phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The chart below includes a sampling of assessments that APS uses to measure foundational reading skills.
Where can I learn more about DIBELS 8th Edition?
DIBELS has a public website that includes an overview of the DIBELS 8th Edition, information about specific DIBELS measures, and other helpful resources related to the assessment of foundational reading skills.
Reading Inventory (6-9 universal screener)