The Benchmark Assessment System

The Benchmark Assessment System: Why Aren’t We Using It?

The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System will no longer be routinely used to evaluate a student’s reading. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Leveling inconsistencies: The levels of the books are not consistent at a given level nor are they progressively difficult across levels
  • The leveling system used to evaluate the text complexity is not transparent nor noted in the Common Core Standards 
  • The Common Core recommends the following for evaluating text complexity:




  • Variability in the leveling results in inaccurate determinations of grade level or below grade level performance
  • Limited materials: There are only two books for each reading level
  • The three cueing practice (meaning, syntax, visual) is a disproven theory
  • Loss of instructional time as the assessment is time-consuming
  • Children read books on a wide variety of levels

Fountas and Pinnell have stated the following regarding the use of labeling a student a certain level of reader: 

We certainly never intended that children focus on a label for themselves in choosing books in classroom libraries. Classroom libraries need to be inviting places where children are drawn to topics and genres and authors and illustrators that they love. And while students are choosing books that interest them, the teacher is there to help them learn how to make good choices so the books they select are ones that they can read and enjoy. If a child chooses a book that is too hard for them to read, they may stretch themselves and enjoy that book for a period of time.” 

Additionally, they state:

“Organizing books by level does not help students engage with books and pursue their own interests.”

We are using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (Dibels) in grades K-8. The Dibels is a curriculum-based measurement approach to assessing reading. It is intended for assessing reading skills from the beginning of kindergarten through the end of eighth grade. Dibels subtests are designed as brief, easily administered measures of reading. Five of the subtests are 60-second measures designed to be administered individually in a quiet setting. The sixth subtest is a 3-minute measure designed to be administered as a group.

University of Oregon (2021). 8th Edition of Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS): Administration and Scoring Guide, 2021 Edition. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon.

Reading Rockets (2021).