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[Parent Tips] Making Sense of Reading Levels

[Parent Tips] Making Sense of Reading Levels

You’ve probably been at a parent-teacher conference where your child’s teacher started by sharing a series of data points that reflected his or her reading progress. Did these come in the form of a letter grade like Level H or maybe a number like 26 or 560L? Sorting through these different metrics can start to feel a little cumbersome without the proper context. Today, we’ll navigate through a few of the most common leveling systems and take a look at why these matter to you as a parent.

Basal Reading

When a teacher says that your child is reading below, on, or above grade level, she or he may be arriving at that conclusion via the basal reading system that has been adopted by the school district. While these terms of performance may be easily comprehended, you still may find yourself asking, how is this determined?

Depending on the curriculum your child’s school uses, it may include a basal reader. These readers are sequential, all-inclusive sets of instructional materials organized around a hierarchy of skills to teach students how to read. They often include a series of materials to be used in combination with the teacher manual to help identify reading performance. While instruction is systematic and provides a prescribed sequence for all students, the insights gained can provide a reading level estimation.

Developmental Reading Assessment®, 2nd Edition (DRA2)

If your child’s school subscribes to this system, then students began by completing a short reading assessment to benchmark their reading levels. During this assessment, students read a specific text aloud, while the teacher notes their progress on an accompanying recording sheet. The teacher then scores students on a range of skills, including reading engagement, oral reading fluency, and comprehension. Throughout the year, your child may engage in this short assessment several more times to track reading progress.

This system starts with level A, for the earliest stage, and then switches to numeric levels, running from 1 to 80. Students are determined to be below, at, or above grade level based on their performance.

Fountas & Pinnell’s F&P Text Level Gradient™

Often referred to as “F&P Levels” or “Guided Reading Levels,” the F&P Text Level Gradient is the leveling system by Fountas and Pinnell to identify the instructional and independent reading levels of students, and also document progress. A child’s guided reading level is determined through a short assessment in which the student reads a benchmark book he or she has never read before, while the teacher keeps a running record of mistakes that are made. Additional comprehension questions are asked following the reading.

This system analyzes books on an A to Z+ gradient, with level A beginning in pre-kindergarten and Z+ at high school level. Take a look at this Ladder of Progress by Fountas and Pinnell for grade-level equivalents.

Lexile® Measures

The Lexile® Framework for Reading is a scientific approach to measuring reading ability and the text demand of reading materials. As the Lexile Framework partners with more than 65 reading assessments and programs, your child may have taken a standardized reading test that then converted the results into a specific Lexile reader measure. This measure is intended to identify a target reading rate, which is the point at which a reader will comprehend enough to understand the text but will also face some productive struggle.

The Lexile measure is shown as a number with an "L" after it—600L is 600 Lexile. Take a look at this Lexile-to-Grade Correspondence from MetaMetrics® to see typical Lexile measures compared to grade-level performance. Keep in mind that when you’re looking to determine a student’s reading “sweet spot,” it is important to look at his or her Lexile reader measure as more of a range to correspond with Lexile text measures, from 100L below to 50L above his or her reported measure.

So you know your child’s reading level—now what?

When a child reads a book that provides just the right level of challenge, maximum learning takes place. Encouraging students to engage with texts at their independent reading level helps build confidence, comprehension, and a love of reading. It’s important to understand that reading abilities of children in the same grade can vary just as much as shoe size. Understanding your child’s individual level, rather than a distant goal or suggested average is an important place to start.

Talk to your child’s teacher or visit your local library to find books that are appropriately leveled to your child’s needs. Keep in mind that reading levels and your child’s age may sometimes be at odds. For example, very young students with advanced reading levels may be prepared for higher-level texts but aren’t ready for a more mature subject matter. For that reason, it’s important to keep both numbers in mind when helping your child select the right book.

Finally, when children have developed a love of reading, nothing should get in their way. You will be surprised at how students will read even beyond their level when they’re motivated by the topic. Keep students reading—whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or graphic novels. Every genre and type of text has its own way of inspiring, engaging, and expanding learning.

Regardless of your child’s reading level, one of the best ways to encourage successful academic outcomes is to simply provide your child with ample opportunities to read. Looking for some fresh ideas? Check out these tips to create a literacy-rich home!


MetaMetrics®, Lexile®, and Lexile® Framework are trademarks of MetaMetrics, Inc., and are registered in the United States and abroad. Copyright © 2016 MetaMetrics, Inc. All rights reserved.

madison.michell's picture

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.