Reading Levels

MeisterTask ToDo Item

In my early March newsletter, I promised that I would share more recent articles about reading levels.

As you can see from that image over there, it has been on my To Do List for (quite) a while.

The term “reading levels” can spur interesting conversation, so let’s chat in the comments! This post is for explaining the concepts and methodologies in a way that is relevant and helpful for parents and caregivers.

An editorial entitled We Have a National Reading Crisis (Education Week, March 8, 2019) is what has re-generated the most recent discussion.

Education Week is for teachers, so the article talks about leveling in a classroom setting.

HOWEVER, because so many of our kids come home speaking Lexile (and other languages) it is helpful for us as parents …

  • to understand the concept of reading levels and their purpose;
  • to know how to *use* them in other settings (e.g., local library); and
  • last but not least: better advocate for our child.

Let’s Start at the beginning.

What Are Reading Levels?

The short answer is: Reading levels are a scale used to make sense of the assessments in a standard way across reading populations, mostly in a classroom setting.

Starting with at least Kindergarten, a child’s reading level is assessed every school year, sometimes throughout the year. Your child’s teacher is looking not just at what words your child knows how to read or spell, but their ability to comprehend what they read.

Teachers use the results of those assessments to structure how to identify what your child needs vis-a-vis reading. Kids with similar assessments are often grouped together. It makes sense. For a classroom.

How do I (as a parent) use them?

Remember that a reading level is first and foremost, a tool. It can help you help you understand where your child is as a reader. I highly recommend Barb’s family-friendly descriptions of reading levels at A Book and a Hug.

Understanding reading levels can support your efforts to ensure that your child becomes a reader. As Barb’s chart shows, the level speaks to the readability: your child’s ability to find reading more successful than frustrating.

The first thing to do is to look at the types of books that are within a leveled grouping.

  • Get a sense of the layout: do these books have illustrations?
  • Look at the range vis-a-vis page counts. Are there chapters? Are thy long or short?
  • Read a couple of paragraphs yourself to see sentence pattern: Are they short or long? how many syllables do the words have? Were there lots of words you didn’t recognize?

A reading level should not limit your child’s interests, nor should it dictate what books they “can” read. Research shows us over and over again that book choice – allowing kids to select what they want to read – is crucial to their growth as readers.

So the next step – which I call the Goldilocks Test – is a way to use reading level data at home.

“This book is too hard.”

So your reader may not be able to handle a print version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That doesn’t mean he isn’t ready for the book. If you are comfortable with your child reading this story, then find an audiobook version of the book.

They’ll hear lots of wonderful, new words to expand their vocabulary and use their imagination to visualize the story.

“This book is too soft.”

Excellent! Personally, I’m not sure there is a book that is “too soft,” as in too easy. A reader’s motivation changes daily. Maybe, Sara’s goldfish died and she needs a dose of Sam I Am to feel better. Re-reading is still reading practice.

Notice them reading and share your enthusiasm. If it is a book that you used to read together, take the opportunity to start a conversation.


Hey, I remember when we read that book! My favorite part/event/character is …
What do you love about it?
“This book is just right!”

The secret of a “just right” book is that (a) it interests them; (b) it helps your reader feel successful; and (b) continues to encourage them to grow as readers.

  • Pique their curiosity and make them want to read more about a topic.
  • Expand their vocabulary with longer words or looking up meanings.
  • Improve their ability to recognize printed words.

We are also HUGE fans of the 5 Finger Rule. It is a very easy, non-threatening way for you or your child to decide if a book is “just right.”

This 14-minute video which is part of Leigh Hall’s Teaching Tuesday series is excellent. Like other sources, this is designed for educators. In this episode, Leigh talks with Rick Ginsberg, who talks about how Lexiles are used in the classroom and Lexile Pros and Cons in ways that are be helpful for parents.

Another resource for parents: What’s My Child’s Reading Level? at 3 Singing Pigs blog.

Reading Level Vocabulary

Sometimes reading level is measured by testing the student, sometimes it is measured by using formulas with the text. There are far more than in the list below. We selected those that are most commonly used in the US education system.

You may also find this Booksource Chart that shows correlations among these tools to be helpful.

Accelerated Reader – Also known as “AR” is a computer program schools for monitoring a student’s independent reading practice and progress. After reading a book, a student takes a short online quiz. Each book is given a points value, and students may also work toward reaching a “point goal,” as set by their teacher. Teachers can monitor progress through the AR Parent Portal.

DRA (Developmental Recovery Assessment) – An assessment tool used for students from Kindergarten to Grade 8. It is a numerical scale to measure reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.

Flesch-Kincaid Readability – This tool evaluates the text to determine how easy (or difficult) it is to understand. There are two types of scores: readability and grade level.

Example: a book with a score of 6.4 indicates that the text is understood by an average student in 6th grade.

Grade Level Equivalent – As its name suggests, Scholastic’s Grade Level Equivalent assesses a book’s readability by grade. Within each grade, there is a .1 to .9 system that breaks down each month of the school year.

In this system, an “on grade” second grader can independently read books at a 2.4 reading level circa December of their second grade year.

Guided Reading – Guided reading is a classroom strategy where a teacher works with a child or a small group to help students understand the meaning of a reading passage, book, or novel.

This is easily done at home during (often proscribed) home reading time. Sitting with your child as you take turns reading, asking questions about what they see, what is happening, what they like/don’t like creates conversations that support their reading growth.

Gunning Fog Index – This tool estimates the years of formal education needed to comprehend a passage of text on the first reading.

The principle behind the GFI formula is that short sentences written in plain English receive a better score than longer sentences written with complex language.

Lexile® Framework for Reading – Lexiles are numeric levels to categorize a student’s reading ability, as well as a book’s readability (ease or difficulty).

Reading Recovery – Reading Recovery is a short-term program for students in Kindergarten through Grade 2 who struggle with reading and writing. Reading Recovery and guided reading levels complement each other well.

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