There are 3 elements on the CIELAB color scale - a scale that is used to quantify color:
L - a single value that represents lightness
a - a single value that represents red/green
b - a single value that represents blue/yellow
These 3 values are visualized (plotted) in a 3D space on an x (green/red),y (blue/yellow), and z (light/dark) axis to provide a quantitative measure of color. These measures are then compared against a standard for color accuracy.
The delta E value is single parameter statement of the total color difference for all 3 of those parameters from a known standard. Higher numbers represent worse color accuracy in relation to the standard.