Reading is arguably the most essential skill a student will learn in their education career, but how do you gauge a student’s performance, level, and improvement with respect to other students?
Leveled Reading scales are numbered or lettered reading systems, which inform teachers or parents of the student’s reading performance. Some books are labeled on or inside their covers according to various scales while some are not. Scholastic’s Book Wizard is a wonderful search tool teachers and parents can use to look up a book and learn it’s place on various scales. Alternatively, you can browse books by levels according to various scales. The Book Wizard is available online and you can also download an app to your smartphone.
Using these systems makes finding books and material appropriate for the student easier. Why is this important?
The significance of leveled reading systems
Regardless of which system one might be familiar with, making sure your student has reading material appropriate to their level is critical to the health of their reading learning curve. Students may feel discouraged, frustrated, or disheartened if they encounter material which is too advanced for them. In some cases, a student may push themselves harder to overcome the difficulty, but in worse cases, he or she may lose interest entirely. Additionally, introducing reading levels to students directly might only distract them.
On the other hand, if the material is too easy or simple, the student might not find as much improvement. Even worse, he or she might get the wrong idea and think their parents or teachers have low expectations of their performance.
Thus, the significance of leveled reading systems is that they help to match a student with material which best fits his or her ability. In this way, their reading experience is optimized.
The competitive nature of student reading
I’d like to preface here with this: comparing your child or student to others should only be done sparingly. Many children are naturally competitive and learn early on they have to be the best. That said, few things have a more negative impact on a student’s self-esteem than informing them of their lesser performance in anything compared to other – or worse, most of – students of the same grade as them.
When I teach reading, I avoid exposing the student to reading levels at all. Instead, it is information I keep between the teachers, parents, and myself. In this way, I avoid the negative implications, and I find, it helps the student focus less on performance and more on enjoying and absorbing the material. When I can, I explain leveled reading scales to parents who don’t already know, so they can make informed decisions when looking for reading material for their children.
Without further ado, let’s get through the confusion together. Whether you are familiar with a few of these scales or not at this point, here are the ones you are likely to encounter and use.
Grade Level Equivalent
Probably the most straightforward of systems, the Grade Level Equivalent scale simply indicates readability of a text by grade level. This system reflects the grade level at which a student could read the book or material independently. Not only does it indicate the grade year, but using a decimal scale from .1 to .9, this scale also informs the level within the year that a student might find the material appropriate. For instance, a student who is in the middle of second grade and reading “on-grade” would be well-matched with a Reading Level of 2.5.
This system is straightforward, though not as informative, and thus, is slowly falling to the wayside for some schools. Even among students of the same grade level, there are so many variables which make it difficult to categorize books for all students in a specific grade level.
Guided Reading Level
The Guided Reading Level system gives a more precise reading level for books. It was developed by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Fountas and Pinnell state, “In guided reading, you meet students where they are and lead them forward with intention and precision.” In guided reading, students of a similar point in reading development are put into small groups. The teacher guides a discussion of the text meaning and makes teaching points based on observation. To learn more, see Fountas and Pinnell’s page.
The Guided Reading Level is a detailed, alphabetic system and has several levels within each grade level. A GRL to Grade Level correlation can be found above. A 1st grade student might be matched to any books leveled C through I, depending on readiness and comprehension. By the time a student reaches 2nd grade, they should be comfortable in a J or above guided reading session.
Each book is carefully evaluated prior to being leveled, and teacher input is considered in the process. The F&P Leveled Books website includes a database of thousands of leveled books and various other resources, and subscription is only $25 per year, or two dollars per month.
Keep one thing in mind. A student may find it challenging to read a book of his or her Guided Reading Level independently. So, the best way to use this scale is to sit with your child or student occasionally and guide a discussion about the text.
The Lexile Framework® for Reading
The Lexile Framework is an even finer system, based on an algorithm which simultaneously measures vocabulary and sentence length. Developed by MetaMetrics targets books on the appropriate reading level for the child’s ability and matches reader ability with text difficulty based on the numeric Lexile scale. The Lexile system only includes prose. Poems, songs, or plays are rated as NP (non-prose). Read-aloud books are rated AD (adult directed). Books with a Lexile measure below zero are BR, or Beginner Readers. Finally, if a book is suitable for advanced readers who need age-appropriate material, it is rated NC, or nonconforming Text. This is usually the case when a book’s vocabulary and sentence length are complex compared to the subject matter.
Scholastic’s book wizard sometimes displays a book’s Lexile Measure, but the Lexile’s Find a Book database can specifically look up a book’s Lexile score, or show books of a specified level. There is also a Lexile range chart available on the website, reproduced below.
Developmental Reading Assessment
The Developmental Reading Assessment, or DRA, identifies the independent reading level for students in grades K-8. You can measure reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension using the DRA numerical scale. Students are said to be at, near, above, below, or significantly below grade level. You can match the DRA score with books in the appropriate level.
The same correlation chart displays DRA levels alongside the F&P Guided Reading Levels. The DRA is similar to the Grade Level Equivalent system, but is somehow more informative than the latter.
Scholastic’s Book Wizard does often display a book’s DRA level just like any other scale, and a few other sources can also search books by their DRA level.
Other leveled reading scales
Teachers and publishes may use other lesser known systems, including Interest Level, Grade Level, and Reading Recovery. Interest Level indicates the grade at which students are most likely to find a book’s content engaging. Grade Level is the most understandable and basic system. It is often used alongside a basal series to teaching reading. This system is best suited to searching science or social studies books for a unit of study. Reading Recovery is an intensive, one-on-one program designed to supplement reading lessons for students who are slow to read. This system by itself is intended to be compared with guided reading levels, but by itself, this system has limited usefulness.
Which Leveled Reading System should you use?
Once you understand these systems, you’re probably which leveled reading system you should use. The answer depends on several factors.
As I mentioned before, introducing leveling systems to younger readers is not meaningful and can be distracting. Meanwhile, older readers might feel offended or threatened. Feel free to vary reading books at a range of levels, rather than stressing a specific, rigid level for your student.
As a teacher, your reading methods and materials might suggest an appropriate leveling system based on your curriculum. If you teach guided reading, the Guided Reading levels are probably better suited to you. Meanwhile, if your curriculum or school uses a Lexile scale assessment program, you should use Lexile measurements, and et cetera.
Another consideration to make as a teacher is if your colleagues are on the same page. If other teachers are devoted to one system, it’s more beneficial to learn and use that one to facilitate communication and avoid confusion.
With parents, reading level discussions can be sensitive. I am sure to inform parents to avoid discussing reading levels around their children. Parents tend to compare their children to other classmates or to themselves when they were children. The safest option is to remain vague about grade levels. The DRA system – above grade level, on grade level, and below grade level – can inform parents about their student’s progress simply and easily.
Conclusion and Takeaway
Remember that these systems are important, but they are guides, not rules. It is essential and helpful to make use of them, but rigidity may harm a student’s progress. Each student is unique in their situation, and being flexible in your judgement is always best. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or a student, being well-informed and making appropriate use of the tools at hand will help you make wise choices about your child’s books.
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