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Say No to Lexiles and Reading Levels

UPDATE: Because this post has gotten a lot of attention, and we receive a lot of emails about it, we thought we’d share a slightly different version with more updated Lexile scores here at the Washington Post. 

This is my anti-lexile, anti-reading level post. I get it. Well-intentioned parents want to challenge their children. Well-meaning teachers want to be sure that students are advancing in their reading levels. Maybe this is okay in first or second grade (although some commenters of this post argue that even this isn’t okay). Beyond these beginning grade levels, let’s stop this madness. We can do better. We cannot calculate the complexity of a text using a mathematical equation.

A few words from Mike Mullin, author of Ashfall: “Try taking this comment, and running it through the Lexile analyzer. Then replace every other period in this comment with ‘and,’ and run it again. The problem will be instantly apparent–the Lexile level will change by 400 – 600 points. You cannot accurately quantify something as complex as reading with simplistic sentence and word counts that fail to take into account the most important variable: the child” (Posted to http://mikemullin.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-lexiles-harm-students.html).

So why do we use Lexiles for older kids? Perhaps it is based on fear. We worry we aren’t challenging our students, so the Lexile numbers give us the confidence and assurance to move forward. It appeases the nagging worry that maybe we aren’t challenging our children enough. Because if the number/letter on the child’s book is higher than the number/letter on the last book the student read, I am doing my job as a parent, as an educator, as an administrator, right?

Even worse, some parents/teachers make students internalize levels. A child will tell me, “I am a G reader.” How does this G reader feel when the G reader is surrounded by J reader peers? What does this do for reader confidence? If we must use reading levels, let’s tell kids that they are reading G books and aren’t G readers. Reading levels shouldn’t define them.

Unshelved

(A great graphic from Unshelved)

I cringe when I hear about parents or teachers who strictly adhere to reading levels alone and won’t let children read books that are “too high/low in their Lexile number.” I watched a mother tell her son that he couldn’t get the train book that he wanted so badly because the number on the back cover was too high for him. He was disappointed, and he was even more disappointed when his mom selected a book that was not interesting to him. It really sucks the fun out of reading when you have to pick a book within your required sentence length instead of within your interests.

Unshelved 2(Another great graphic from Unshelved. They really nail this topic, don’t they?)

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Let’s take a look at the Lexile Bands by grade level:

Grade             Lexile Band – Text Demand Study 2009

6                        860L to 920L

7                        880L to 960L

8                        900L to 1010L

9                       960L to 1110L

10                    920L to 1120L

11 and 12       1070L to 1220L

(from the Common Core State Standards for English, Language Arts, Appendix A [Additional Information], NGA and CCSSO, 2012)

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When we look at the Lexile levels of books, many of the typical texts taught in these grades meet these standards. But so many don’t, and this is quite problematic. If we take Lexiles as fact, these are the grades we should be teaching the following texts (Lexiles are in parentheses):

2nd Grade

  • Night – Wiesel (570)

3rd Grade

  • The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway (610)
  • Twisted – Anderson (680)
  • Incarceron – Fisher (600)

4th Grade

  • Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck (680)
  • The Color Purple – Walker (670)

5th Grade

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway (840)
  • Kite Runner – Hosseini (840)
  • A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway (730)
  • Cat’s Cradle – Vonnegut (790)

6th Grade

  • As I Lay Dying – Faulkner (870)
  • The Sound and the Fury – Faulkner (870)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Lee (870)
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury (890)

7th Grade

  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Foer (940)

8th Grade

  • Les Miserables – Hugo (990)
  • Huck Finn – Twain (990)

9th Grade

  • Harry Potter Half-Blood Prince – Rowling (1030)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Kinney (1060)

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We cannot assign a number to a book. Further, we cannot assign a book to a number. But the Common Core says we should. No, actually, it doesn’t. Direct quote from the Common Core: “The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms. They expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list.” The CCSS actually remind us to look at quantitative, qualitative, and reader/task aspects. (See page 8, Appendix A of the CCSS for a gold mine of reasons we shouldn’t rely solely on these quantitative measures.) So why do so many people think that complexity and quality can only be measured with this quantitative measure? Perhaps this is due to the emphasis on numbers and standardized testing.

Many of the readers of this blog are avid readers themselves. They understand the problematic nature of Lexiles (or other quantitative measures). But others might react with, “Well, if I can’t use these numbers, what do I use?”

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How do we challenge readers?

To start, if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders. She uses reading ladders in ways that address complexity without numbers. She writes, “Reading levels and Lexiles are not the way to determine the rigor of a text. Instead, rigor should be determined by sophistication of thought, depth of character development, stylistic choices, and mastery of language on the part of the author. These are present in the best of YA literature” (p. 6). In her book, Lesesne shows us how we can be better and do better than reading levels.

The key to knowing how to challenge our students/children is to read, read, read. This allows us to make recommendations when they finish books. If you don’t have the time to read or this feels outside of your field of study, ask someone who does read widely. There are many bloggers, teachers, librarians, and parents who read widely and are very willing to give recommendations if you can provide reading background and interests of the student.

Head to the library or bookstore. Have your child pick a book based on interest. Open the book and read the first page together. (This can be done online by opening up the preview/”look inside” pages of a book, too.) Ask the child if it feels too difficult to the point that it is frustrating. We want to challenge our children, but we don’t want them to dislike reading because it feels much too difficult. If the book is too easy for the child, ask yourself, “Will this be harmful?” I am a parent. My son is still in preschool and is a beginning reader, but often, I picture him in elementary school. If he reads thirty books below his “reading level,” is this a bad thing? If these books propel him to read thirty more books (some above and some below) his reading level, I think this is quite all right. I want to feed his hunger to read. And telling him that he is a level 320 reader or even that he is reading a level 320 book is going to do nothing but make reading feel foreign, scientific, and boring. Let’s teach kids to read critically and be critical of these levels.

RickiSig

Update: I want to highlight the words within Carlos’ comment on this thread (below).

“Im a 6th grader and when i took a lexile test for my grade, i got stuck with books i hate so much. We had to search for books in my lexile. I as so bored of those books. I want to read whatever i want to.”

Carlos, we hear you, and we will try harder.

 

110 Responses to This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post.

  1. Janie says:

    Amen!! I couldn’t agree with you more. Great post!! If only people would realize – it seems like common sense. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    I took my grandson (a few years ago) to his book fair to purchase some books with him. He chose a few, & then we went back to his classroom to get his things, where I met his teacher. She took a look at the books he had chosen, and was excited about, and said, “Oh, I think these are too hard for you. You need to choose ones more at your level.” She didn’t know that I was a teacher, and I didn’t tell her. I almost hit her, but I didn’t do that either. She was the one who pretty much stopped his excitement about reading. This was 4th grade. I love what you’ve said here, Ricki, wish that teachers would just help students love to read. Enough said, I’m still upset about it obviously.

  3. Juanita Brewer says:

    I believe everyone should read. It should start with parent reading to their unborn children i the womb. Reading is essential to overall success in life. However, not children have parents or adults who will read to them. I like the number system. We all need a place to begin. I remember family stories, see spot run and Anne frank in high school. But my favorite story was about a boy who participates in the Revolutionary War of Independence for the USA. He looses an arm and the Disney movie of the story does not do it justice. More importartly I had two parents- one with a six grade education and the other who got her GED 25 years after my birth- who encouraged. So I read by the number system with advice of my parents and teachers.

  4. We had an interesting issue with my son a few years ago – the school didn’t have any books in the library at his lexile level!! His score was too high and the teacher didn’t know what to give him to read… so we just went to the local library and let him read whatever he wanted 😉

    • This makes sense. I would probably let him read whatever he wanted (low lexile or not) in the school, too! 🙂 A book flood with books of all levels is a great thing!

    • Ted says:

      I’m an eighth grader, and today I saw the recommended books for my Lexile score. My recommended books were called things like, “Psychoendocrinology of human sexual behavior”, and “Autobiographical memory and the construction of a narrative self”. I don’t know about everyone else, but medical textbooks don’t appeal to me. I want this system gone, quite frankly. The above comment is exactly what happens to me every time I take one of those DARNED Lexile tests

      • Sam says:

        I’m a freshman and once again in the same boat as Ted. I can remember back in 2nd grade, my lexile was 900 and all of my friends were around 500. Now I have once again taken this dreaded test as a requirement for my English class, we were told that we could write our book reports on “books of our choice” as long as they were within 200 points of our lexile. This is an issue for me because not a single book I would ever be interested in has fallen into that range. Not looking forward to being forced to read books that my parents haven’t even considered reading. I wish this system would be discontinued.

        • Becca says:

          I’m a twelfth grader about to finally leave this frustrating public school system, and I can also relate. I have so many stories about the terrors of Lexile, but the most prominent one is when no one in my sixth grade honours English could find a book in the library in their Lexile for a report either, so we all ended up reading various Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (which were still way too low). In high school though, no one cares about Lexile (there is a different, still annoying, but better, standardized test). Hang in there folks!

  5. Brenda says:

    This is an area that makes me very sad. So much of what children read in school are things that they wouldn’t pick to read themselves, although I know it’s often necessary. But, I’m all about giving them choices in what they get to read for leisure. I’d also love to due away with reading logs, I think it sucks the fun of reading just for fun.

    • I am not sure it is entirely necessary. I think we can find good books that are challenging and interesting to kids! I know some people would disagree with me.

      I was just talking about reading logs with teachers today! We agreed that they can be used to casually track reading progress, but the signing off on reading logs needs to go away. It just forces kids and parents to lie! There are better ways to track progress, I think. 🙂

      • Heather says:

        I realized the negative power of reading logs when I taught 3rd grade and one of my students (a teacher’s kid) stopped reading as much at night because my homework requirements had been to read 20 minutes each evening. Whereas she had been reading for hours, the homework reading log made it work, and she changed to only reading for 20 minutes. Sometimes our need for control as teachers can put barriers up and fence kids in when all they need to do is run…

        • This makes complete sense. I battled with this internally when I taught. I think we also need to respect that we all get in reading ruts. There are some days I don’t feel like reading. Having an assigned twenty minutes on those days wouldn’t respect the natural highs and lows of reading identities.

    • Isabella W says:

      I’m currently in eighth grade, with a Lexile of 1620 (college level). I absolutely loath reading logs because I usually read 1 book a day. Most days I re-read books, which would look weird on a reading log. I remember one time in 4th grade we had a reading contest, at tge end of the year the person with the most books on their book log got a prize. I had read at least 75 books that year, but I only wrote down 30 of them because it became a chore to remember the pages, the authors full name, the date I started and the date I ended. My teacher knew I had read a ton of books, but she never thought to question why I was only in the silver league for my book logs. Every book log i have encountered was littered with unnecessary requirements that do essentially nothing to ensure students actually read the book. I can easily look up the amount of pages and author of any book I want. If teachers want students to read more or track their reading, they should talk to their students about what they are reading to figure out their interests and create a reading list or plan around that. I understand this takes time, which teachers don’t have, but a generic Google forms every week to track student teading progress wouldn’t take any longer than filling out a reading log. My teachers stopped benchmarking me in third or fourth grade. They essentially stopped my customized one on one reading education because they ran out of standardized books to test me on. I can name at least four others who had this happen to them. Accelerated kids are basically left on their own to continue reading and learning. This is absolute bull. If teachers wouldn’t spend so much time on how much kids were reading, or the amount of pages they were reading, and instead focused on interest level or if they need more personalized instruction (everyone does, its just about how much) kids would be better prepared for college and the working world.

  6. Ali says:

    I do agree with this. But would also like to say that finding a book “in their level” may result in finding a new interest. My granddaughter would never have read a Harry Potter book if her teacher hadn’t made her. Now she’s read them all and will read fantasy along with the animal stories. One consideration though is that she was in the third grade, not the ninth as the Lexile level suggests.

    • I completely understand your argument, but I don’t think the Lexile played a role in that recommendation, due to its rank at the 9th grade. I suspect the teacher recommended it to your granddaughter because she thought that it might be a new interest for her. Like you, I believe in encouraging students to read outside of their typical interests, and book levels seem to be a separate factor. It sounds like she is an avid reader, which is wonderful!

  7. I really loved this post. It totally rings true. I returned to the classroom after 11 years of a district literacy coach. I have enjoyed seeing my student go bonkers over reading. I can’t keep up with them.They choose what they want to read. In my district, DRA reigns supreme. There is so much more to reading and readers than these levels and timing their oral reading. Reading this confirmed what I see everyday in my classroom. Just let them read and discover their interests. I can’t keep a book in my hand where they won’t ask to borrow. Thanks for this post.

  8. Julie says:

    LOVE what you said! I could not agree more. I am a ‘free range’ librarian…my kids are free to explore any range of books! Thank you for your words.

  9. Glenda says:

    As a librarian, I have fought for years against leveling books. I was supported my District years ago against AR, but my job as a librarian was shifted to support classroom curriculum instead of supporting reading enjoyment, reference process, and library skills. Now a new deputy superintendent, whose old District used a Lexile based reading program, is spending money on a program that is lexile leveled. While library books are hardly given any budget money, tens of thousands is being spent on lexile leveled ereader titles for this program. Young teachers have been data driven right into relying upon numbers to establish appropriate reading materials for students. Administrators have joined the reformers to distrust teacher’ acquired skill at fitting books to each student and instead force them to quantify and qualify by numbers instead of by a combination of decoding ability AND interest. Vendors are glad to build preview boxes, selections, and lists created by simple leveled formulas. The skills that teachers built by learning how to “fit” a book to a student and teaching students to self-select challenging and intetesting reading material is being prostituted to paying publishers for poorly written formulaic books dressed up with attractive level numbers. It is a disservice to our students that ultimately destroys their confidence in becoming independant readers.

  10. Stephen Scott says:

    LOVE this!! As a teacher, it pains me to use this system, and have kids read within their lexile range. It makes me much more aware of what the kids are reading. INTEREST should be a guiding factor, and then students and teachers can narrow down books from there. Someone wrote that it might be a good starting point, and I can agree with that, but it should not be the only factor. Quantifying “reading levels” is something I’ve always struggled with.

    To make an analogy, I use dance moves. I’m not a dancer, nor dance instructor, and am quite bad at dancing. Nonetheless, I think students just need certain instructions on the “dance” of reading, and they don’t have all of the “moves” down– some might, but most fall in between. We need to give kids books that allow them to find the right “dance” that works for themselves, but is also emotionally, academically, and cognitively engaging.

    • This is a wonderful analogy—one that I might borrow (but credit you!). This is a broken system, and the more we can direct folks to be critical of it, the more they won’t rely on it, as you said. Thanks for sharing your analogy!

  11. Ricki – Great post. Another example I typically use is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel coming in at 1060 Lexile or a 9th grade level. Sadly, I think some teachers want something easy – just tell me a number or letter so I can match kids and not actually have to read books. I am tabbing this post to come back to. Thank you.

  12. Readability formulas are used to sell books to schools and give a false sense of control. The work by John Bormouth has shown that there are so many variables in readbaility, that these simplistic formulas are silly.

    We know that sentence length is a variable. However, sentence clause structure provides a confound. For example, a simple sentence, such as “I like pumpkin pie” should be easiest to make meaning of, if the reader has prior knowledge of the utterance.

    A compound sentence is composed of at least two independent clauses. It does not require a dependent clause. The clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction (with or without a comma:

    “I started on time, but I arrived late.”

    this is also fairly easy with background knowledge.

    A Complex sentence has one or more Dependent clauses (also called subordinate clauses). Since a dependent clause cannot stand on its own as a sentence, complex sentences must also have at least one independent clause.

    “Let him who has been deceived complain.”

    what makes this more difficult, even though the compound sentence is longer is that the restrictive relative clause who has been deceived specifies or defines the meaning of him in the independent clause, Let him complain. There is more difficulty in resolving the clause structure for meaning. So sentence length, or word length is not a good metric for readability.

    Try this one:

    To be, or not to be.

    short, but maybe the hardest idea in the English language.

    Readability formulas simplify the reading experience, but they are not reliable. They don’t measure what they say they measure. Don’t even get me started on time shifts and anaphor resolution.

    Readability is snake oil.

  13. I found this article via Buffy Hamilton’s wall and I must say you are 100% RIGHT! Former librarian here and now writer (kids lit and romance). Good for you and THANK YOU, ma’am. I shared it on Linked-In, my writer pages, and you rock!

    Have a great weekend! I dedicate the song REBEL REBEL to you! Love it!

    • Thank you for this lovely, encouraging comment! I am very appreciative that you shared the post! I love the song dedication, too. I try to rebel only when it is important. This makes it more meaningful, right? 🙂

      Enjoy your day!

  14. Sally Gould says:

    Great post. My mom was a librarian in a large public library downtown. When I was a little girl in elementary and middle school, if I was all caught up in school work,she would let me skip school and go to work with her. I could spend all day reading any book I wanted. There were never restrictions on books that were ‘beyond’ my grade level. My father was a physician. When we asked questions about the body or medicine, he would bring home primary research articles. My mother would often read young adult novels (Madeline L’Engle, E.L. Konigsburg,Scott O’Dell, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula LeGuin, and more!) and we would have wonderful talks about our shared reads. Those days were some of the most treasured memories I have. Reading exploration should have no boundaries.

  15. Lisa says:

    Thanks for your very thoughtful post! As a second grade teacher, this leveling madness is not ok for first and second grade readers either. As we strive to develop ultimate book love in our youngest readers, the danger in attaching a letter or number to a student or book sends a strong message. Why are second graders taking the SRI?

    • I am very glad for your comment. I agree with you, but because first and second grade is outside of my expertise, I try not to speak for this crowd. I am actually glad to read your comment because it makes good sense to me. I adjusted the post to reflect your comments!

  16. language arts teacher says:

    You cringe when you hear about teachers who adhere to reading levels. I cringe when I hear about teachers/parents/media specialists who say reading levels don’t matter.

    • I wish you’d leave your name, so I could address you properly. I approved your comment to prove that I certainly respect other opinions, but I wish you’d written more. In the article, I actually don’t say they don’t matter at all–I say that they are one of many, many factors that need to be considered. I think other factors are much more significant when we consider how important it is to build reader confidence and foster a love of reading. My argument within this post is that we can be MORE than reading levels. I recommend trying it. You might be surprised at how well it turns out!

  17. Thanks so much for this post. I am guilty of wanting younger readers to take out at least one book that they can read, or become a reader with. I have trained my library monitors to help the K’s and 1’s to find interesting titles that fit this criteria. They do a pretty good job of selling kids these kinds of books, because they often refer to their own favorites. But if a K wants to take out another text (like a minecraft book – these are very popular with nearly all ages) then that is ok too. What bothers me as much as this is when teachers claim a book is too easy for a reader, or as one teacher in our school does, bans graphic novels from her classroom.

    • It sounds like you use levels thoughtfully. Even though others in the comments section have argued that First and second grade don’t need levels either, I don’t pretend to specialize in those age levels. I think the trouble is the strong adherence to reading levels.

  18. Hi there, Ricki. I read this post with avid interest mainly because we have the same mind on so many things. I have actually written something very very similar a few years back on Accelerated Reader (the AR program). Here is the link, just in case you might be interested to check it out:
    http://gatheringbooks.org/2013/10/12/does-the-accelerated-reader-program-help-develop-lifelong-readers/

  19. Francesca says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! I’m a PK-8 school librarian and, aside with the concerns that have already been raised about leveled reading programs, I’d like to add that many of the text sets that are packaged and promoted by publishers fall short from a multicultural/inclusivity vantage point. If school systems are solely purchasing these products, and teachers are not looking beyond them, there are many voices missing from students’ reading experiences.

  20. Ashley P. says:

    I cannot agree strongly enough! There is so much to be said for children having the opportunity to passionately pursue reading, and their interest cannot and should not be defined by a number or formula.

  21. Kitrona says:

    I actually just encountered this the other day. I took my son to the library, and was trying to find a place to start helping him find books he’d read. (He loves reading, which is good, but I don’t want him to be bored.) The librarian, who was super helpful, showed me how to look up books by reading level… but my son just picked out books that were interesting to him, regardless of reading level. I’m perfectly ok with that. I’d rather have him reading things that interest him, regardless of reading level, than not have him reading because the books at his reading level aren’t interesting to him. We ended up with about 18 books between us!

  22. Pam Orrill says:

    This is so interesting. I think children should read anything & everything they can get their hands on, of course age appropriate. Thanks from a concerned Gma.

  23. […] Ginsberg explains what’s wrong with Lexiles and reading levels in a powerfully persuasive post (comments are interesting […]

  24. Michelle Edrington says:

    My ESE students in 4th and 5th grades do NOT want to read about Fluffy the Dog, even if it is at their lexile level. They want to be challenged and excited, and actually learn while reading. Historical fiction has them mesmerized, so much background information included with all the vocabulary and comprehension pieces that go along with fiction!

  25. […] need libraries. We need diverse books. We need to look beyond reading levels and lexiles and strive to connect young readers with books that speak to them, motivate them, and […]

  26. Nicky says:

    Very interested in this. My son’s teacher won’t change his “level” – sorry to use that word!!! So he has to read tedious books with simple sentences. His ability is about 6 levels higher (again sorry to use that word). And he has no control over choices of book at school. I am now trying to take him to the library as often as I can and let him choose books he likes the look of. I think you have given me a wake up call though as last time I did tell him that some books might be a bit tricky and encourage him to select another. In future, I am going to let him run with what excites him :). I can read with him, help him or read to him if the book is a bit tricky for him to read himself. But I want to foster a love of books and for him to follow what sparks his interest – even if that is a Star Wars book – arghhh!

    • Ricki says:

      Nicky, I hear you about the Star Wars books. My kid will only read superhero books! But gosh, he sleeps with them under his pillow, so how can I be mad at that?

      Thanks so much for your comments here. It was really nice to read your story.

  27. Karen says:

    Thanks for this article! I have recently been introduced to these lexile levels via my 6th grader who stated he must read books at his level in his Literature Block Class. I see two problems here, forcing a child to read only certain books of which they may have no interest and the rating system itself. I mean come on, Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a higher lexile than To Kill a Mockingbird or Harry Potter? One has cartoon drawings throughout the book! A love for reading cannot be manufactured and pushed but rather nurtured through a child’s interests. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on the subject.

    • Ricki says:

      Karen, I agree. I’ll say that I absolutely love Diary of a Wimpy Kid! My placement of it on the list was intentional. It was to show that many kids adore that book, and they are not in 9th grade! Preventing them from reading it would be foolish!

  28. Jamie Purtteman says:

    My 5th grade son loves to read, always has. No surprise then that his AR level is 9th grade, he is punished for not testing enough. He had no interest in the books they say he should read ergo reading has become a chore. The AR system is in some cases killing the joy of reading. Thank you for understanding the hell that is a system bent on destroying what your child holds dear.

    • Ricki says:

      Bah! I am with you. I think if we can foster good reading habits at home, it may not take away from perceived negative experiences that some students describe in school. I am not sure about this, but I think it would make for a great research study!

  29. […] the blog Unleashing Readers, Ricki Goldberg says that students internalize reading levels. For better or worse, students begin […]

  30. […] can probably find even more members of my cohort who would subscribe to the Ricki Ginsburg club of “Anti-Lexile Anti-Reading Level” devotees. Goodman’s post references an article by Paula J. Schwanenflugel and Nancy Flanagan […]

  31. Ariel says:

    I love this blog post! When my son was in kindergarten and we went to the library together, he told me that he couldn’t borrow one of the books because it was above his level. I took a deep breath, counted to 10, and then calmly explained that he could read any book that he wanted. His teacher was great, but my son had quickly internalized his reading level and thought that it applied to every book that he was supposed to read. Thankfully, his teacher and I corrected this line of thinking and reinforced that my son could and should be reading any book that interests him.

    As an elementary school librarian, it drives me crazy when students are told by their classroom teachers that the students are only allowed to read books that are “on their level.” Just let the kids read!

  32. Tom says:

    Wonderful. We just had a lot of discussions about this at our school. I believe that the problem stems from teachers wanting to use software (Reading Counts, AR etc) to track independent reading,and the false belief that the Lexile level etc. will help them score high on quizzes. Since their scores are shared with parents, teachers get freaked out that low scores on quizzes etc. will reflect on their teaching. So, it’s a vicious circle with the kids suffering from the insanity.

  33. Pamela says:

    Amen! My daughter recently checked out a book, read it , and then was told she couldn’t take an AR test because it was above her level! I was livid. I have contacted the teacher, but have not yet received a response.

  34. Brooke says:

    My daughter is in 3rd grade and her school has decided that her reading lexile is between 740-890. Apparently that makes the “Just Grace” books (which seem fairly easy IMO) out of the question as they won’t let her test above her level and “A Wrinkle in Time” (much more complex) below her level?? This makes zero sense. Zero. I’m not sure who assigns lexile numbers but the simple fact that “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” has a much higher level than “The Grapes of Wrath” tells me there is a serious problem and if we, as parents/educators, don’t question this then our children are in real trouble.
    Unfotunately her school rewards children for earning points (but only if it’s in their lexile). I do not want her to be focused on lexile numbers that, quite frankly, do not make sense.
    I want her to choose books that transport her. I want her to have a lifelong love affair with reading. Isn’t that the true goal?

    • Ricki says:

      Brooke, your story reminds me of Donalyn Miller’s recent posts that show the problematic nature of external rewards (like points) for reading. These are also detrimental for lifelong reading habits. Bah!

  35. Celeste says:

    As a high school English teacher of students who struggle with comprehension and decoding, and often are indicated as between 3rd and 6th grade independent reading levels, I use and love reading levels. They don’t limit as much as they provide a point of origin in the tracking of a student’s journey to improved interaction with text. As we are a small school, I am the librarian as well. Students know their independent reading level, but not as a tool for limiting their choices. Their awareness of reading level simply helps them feel less overwhelmed when browsing our small but mighty collection!
    If course, a pitfall of this honesty is that students can become discouraged if reading level information is presented as ONE mode of measurement. I’ve had a lot of success using the following analogy with high schoolers:
    You think you’re stupid, but let me ask you this…I can’t speak Spanish. Does that make me stupid? Or does it mean I haven’t learned it yet? You have my pledge that I will teach you what you want to know if I know it myself. If I don’t know it, we’ll learn together.

    • Ricki says:

      Celeste, I really appreciate your comments. I think there are a lot of advocates out there who promote it as just one tool. The fact that their choices aren’t limited is fantastic. My only fear is–when students are defined or labeled at levels, they tend to become those levels. For example, if a student has a very low reading level, they may feel as if they are a poor reader and not feel the same emotions that a perceived excellent reader feels. I love your perspective and energy, so feel free to push back. This blog post, perhaps, doesn’t allow for some valuable gray area in the discussion, and you excellently point this out!

  36. Bill Dunham says:

    My son is 13 and has a pretty high lexile level. It seems like he spends more time trying to find a book that interest him that is in his lexile level than he spends reading. To me….this is a problem.

  37. Melodie says:

    Ahhhhh. You articulated how I feel!

  38. I started my daughter reading at 10 months of age. I left board books in a basket on the floor with all of her other toys. I treated the books as favorite toys and she continually brought me books to “play” with. I continued to model reading to my child by reading books that I liked – and allowing her to look at my books and also allowing her to “play” with my books…to touch them and look at the words on the page. At four and five years, She loved to just carry them around and pretend that she was reading them. Now (she is nine and in 4th grade) we read together. We just finished The Secret Garden and have started on the Nancy Drew series. We share reading either by trading paragraphs or assuming characters. This makes it fun and it is “our” activity and special time together each night after the pajamas are on and we are winding down for sleep. She tests well above her grade Lexile level and it is because books are ‘lovely things’ to her – not work or…’homework.’ However, I don’t rely on Lexile levels for her to pick books from and, thankfully, neither does her teacher! She can read whatever she wants to read. Sometimes this means picking a ‘fun’ book from a 2nd grade Lexile level … and that is O.K! As long as she is reading, she is working on her reading skills. As long as she is choosing to read something new and adventurous through a story in a book – her mind is being engaged in imagination and curiosity – and that can be measured in “good” learning habits and reading success. 🙂

  39. Heath says:

    My school is just now starting its delve into lexiles – a new co-ordinator is obsessed with them, and many sycophants (Sorry, but that is what they are)are pushing forward regardless of real research. It is very discouraging to those of us who have been teaching for 20+ years to see our schools address reading this way. They are basing new selections on lexile and if the books are written by non-white writers. Nothing else. The saddest thing is that people are afraid to loose their jobs, and those of us who are not fawning over “The Emperor’s New Clothes” are chastised for not being intelligent enough to see the value of the “new” approach. Any advice?

    • Ricki says:

      I think it’s important to educate about the dangers of these reading measures. Understanding reader growth is more complex than a number. Studies have shown the inaccuracies that exist in these measurements. Flooding readers with books that are highly interesting to them is going to be much more effective on their reader growth than reducing a student (and a book!) to a number. I would argue that increasing the diversity of texts available is very important, so I do like their initiative to seek out multicultural texts. That said, we shouldn’t just select texts that fill check boxes. There are plenty of highly literary, highly engaging multicultural texts being published that this shouldn’t be a difficult task.

      Research shows that the vast majority of students leave schools with little to no desire to read for pleasure. Is that because we are chastising others for not reading these texts with high lexile levels? Are we making reading a chore? A practice that only the elite understand? A book is more complex than its readability number.

  40. Carlos says:

    Im a 6th grader and when i took a lexile test for my grade, i got stuck with books i hate so much. We had to search for books in my lexile. I as so bored of those books. I want to read whatever i want to.

    • Ricki says:

      Carlos, your post makes me feel so many emotions. Thank you for sharing this with us. I am going to include your comment in the original post. I hear your words. While you may be stuck with books in school, please remember to keep reading the books that make you feel fulfilled. This was my strategy in elementary school!

  41. […] text is defined as any text where you are having students critically think. It DOES NOT mean only Lexile. Even Common Core who started this specific terminology states that you need to look at different […]

  42. Linda says:

    I’m semi-retired from teaching including many years as a learning assistance / literacy specialist. In my district years, I observed a class where the grade six-seven teacher was fed up with the many follow-up activities designed to beef up kids’ reading — he had ditched them as they were so time-consuming. He had for some months just been checking out dozens of books from the public library (some were adult books) and his kids could read anything they chose — for one hour each morning, first thing. I observed this period in the last week of school in June. Despite the sunny day and that some kids were allowed to be outside on the grass, *All* the kids were completely absorbed in that ‘lost in book’ way we hope to inspire. Each period he’d have reading conferences with several kids about the book they’d just finished. Example: of one kid’s conference that I observed, he said afterward he’d been pretty sure the book was over the student’s head (level!) and in fact the boy had missed the symbolism in the title. (It was a questing youth type story.) But he had got very much of it; he could tell the teacher some of the tough words (found in text just then) and the gist of story and characters. The boy raved about the book, said it was “the best book he’d ever read”. No surprise, when I gave a workshop later and I was describing this teacher’s approach — it was a grade eight teacher complaining about him. Why? she’d had some of his kids later, and any chance they had, they had a book out from their desk and were reading.

  43. Claudia Flores says:

    Hi! Thank you for the wonderful article! I needed to hear all of this today. As a parent, I worry when I review my child’s Lexile test results because they don’t seem to reflect what I see at home. I see her capabilities and limitations. Most importantly I see shes engaged and enjoys reading, at the end of the day that what’s most important to me.

    • Ricki says:

      This is also a product of test-taking, in general. A lot of kids don’t test well under pressure. Just keep pushing that love of books–you are doing an amazing job!

  44. Rowan says:

    I am in seventh grade and I have a Lexile that is high above 12th grade level. I am constantly pushed read harder books when I am already reading high school level books. This article reasured me that there was not somthing wrong with me.

    • Ricki says:

      Oof. And that probably destroys the love of reading, right? Read what you want to read, and find books that you love. This is coming from someone who does research in reading. 🙂

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  46. Susan Brummett says:

    Actually, I like lexiles, simply because I teach high school students who have very poor reading skills and lexiles give me a place to start. I’m not going to claim a grade level that they read at since a lexile cannot equate a grade level. I think that is why I like them- because they overlap grade levels.
    Also, I appreciate the fact readability can actually be determined by by a mathematical formula. It adds to their credibility.
    I also appreciate other’s opinions of leveled reading- I wish I worked in a district who understood the need for good reading material in a high school reading improvement class.

    • Ricki says:

      I don’t intend to be argumentative, but lexiles are actually matched with grade levels. I also believe that good books can be found and purchased in any school in the USA–with some good pushing, convincing, and/or fundraising.
      Who is the mathematical formula serving? Again, I am not being combative, but I’ve seen how it destroys the love of reading for kids repeatedly in the hundreds of schools that I’ve visited. The classrooms that are build upon a love of reading with no leveling show a different level of success that is quite immeasurable.

  47. balcuthra says:

    I agree, “you cannot accurately quantify something as complex as reading with simplistic sentence and word counts”. Lexile is another buzz word from a marketing ploy to sell a service. Look for a free online test and you won’t find one. There is no correlation between the scores their exams provide followed by “L” to a child’s ability to do well in a class. My kid is in the 5 grade and has a Lexile score equal to a 3 grader, yet she is an A student and has been since the 1st grade, and reads very well. Go figure! My wife and I are teachers.

  48. Roberta Leal says:

    I wish that I could love this 50 times over. I can not believe what has happened to education. Thank you for writing.

  49. Michelle says:

    I was so happy to come across this post as my 3rd grader reading at a 6th grade lexile level is subjected to yet another book he dislikes with subject matter I’m not sure is truly age appropriate. Because for the class book club that is the requirement. Assigned genre at lexile level. The kid reads all of the time and self-selects books that are age appropriate. And does like a variety of genres – when books are age appropriate. As a note, when I searched on his lexile for a book at his level for one of the genres one of the suggestions was a Stephen King novel. Stephen King. It’s been a real struggle and that is so sad when you have a kiddo who really does like to read.

    • Ricki says:

      This is incredibly frustrating. You are doing a great job. I think following our guts is the most important thing here, and you are doing precisely that.

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  51. Elizabeth Mitchell says:

    I just found this post while looking for Lexile Levels. How do you feel about high school students who are lower-level readers? I am searching for books with their interest level, but also at their comprehension level. I see too many kids carrying around big fat books that I know they can’t read. They are at just carting the book around for show. Exact opposite of Michelle’s problem. (above) Advice?

    • Ricki says:

      For high school students, I let them self-select their books, and then I conference with them regularly to ask them questions that evaluate comprehension. Knowing this and knowing my library, I am able to offer other suggestions of texts within their interests. I also find that offering them time to chat about books allows them to navigate the confusions they have with books. If everyone in the book group, for instance, loves and wants to read a book, they figure it out together (with my support when they need it).

  52. DeJean Melton says:

    Amen from this corner as well! For my eighth birthday my grandmother gave me a copy of David Copperfield, probably because it had the picture of a young boy on the cover. Laid up in 1963 with a broken arm in a rural area with few TV options, I picked it up and somehow I read it cover to cover. It may have been far beyond my Lexile level,but it taught me how to read complex lengthy sentences, to understand the use of semicolons, and also motivated me to want a dictionary, as I kept having to find my mom to ask what certain words meant. It also taught me a level of empathy for people in unfortunate circumstances. From that point, I did quite well on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The “right fit” of a book depends on many aspects of it, not least of which is the child’s interest and the amount of free time available for reading. Sometimes a big leap is the right leap for a certain child. I try to remember this as I teach reading.

  53. Juli G. says:

    Thank you for your insight. I have a struggling 6th-grade reader at home who absolutely detests reading. She has difficulty with working memory and other challenges, including phonological awareness, despite being ridiculously clever. Reading mentally exhausts her and for years it has affected her learning in other subjects as well because she is unable to read the content for other classes. I would love to share a perspective that perhaps differs from many of your audience members who have avid readers who have been told that they must read within their level (for shame!). The leveling systems are all poor, and one need only to look at the differences within each book to see this. (I’ve leveled my considerable library at home with all of the systems). Taken individually, this maybe isn’t as readily apparent. Looking across several books, the discrepancies are clear, as you’ve pointed out. There’s a Boy in the Girls Bathroom (3.4, Q, 490L, 40) compared to The Hundred Dresses (5.4, P, 870L, 40). So, the Hundred Dresses is both two grade levels more advanced but two guided reading levels less advanced? That’s just one example from books she read this school year. If the systems do not reflect the actual difficulty, what is their purpose? How can you match text to readers if the system you are using to match is inaccurate? Second, the system with which readers are evaluated are equally as broken. I’m assuming some of the same principles used to level books are used to level readers. It is incomplete. A child can read and comprehend a more difficult text if they have subject matter familiarity. Motivation is also key (and I know this all too well). Next, don’t knock external rewards. There is NO–or very rare–internal reward for the struggling reader. There is no joy. Only suffering. The school requiring a specific number of reading minutes has saved me many battles and for that I am thankful. For the child who is an avid reader, it likely stifles any additional reading they would do on their own. The only books my daughter was ever longing to read were the Who Was books. She was told for years they were too difficult and wasn’t allowed to read them, and instead brought home Puppy Place (ugh) books. Her reading level is clearly below her interest level. What’s the solution? I know not. The schools require AR tests after every book. So clearly she can’t read a book that is too difficult. She will fail the test (which is part of her letter grade). But does that mean there is no value in her reading a book that is too difficult for her? Doubt it. The school also won’t let the kids stop a book once they’ve started. I can’t tell you how many nights this has caused both my daughter and me stress that rises to a level that I cannot accurately convey here as she fought back against reading a book she was wholly uninterested in. I admit my own part in telling my daughter that she cannot read a book because it is too difficult, parroting the school’s philosophy. But I know more now (unfortunately years too late). My daughter’s reading has improved this year by leaps and bounds as I find new ways to lessen her frustration, keep her interested, most of all, encourage her (and order her whatever the heck book she wants). In the end, I do use the levels to kind of get in the right ballpark–and I do keep track of the books she’s read. But I only look at all the leveling systems in totality, not one specific system. The new rule in my house is, if you like it, you can read it. In the end, I’ll say on a broader note that the school system is failing kids who don’t fit into the middle band. Teachers can’t speed up to cater to the advanced student, and can’t slow down to help the slower-paced student. There just aren’t enough man-hours in the day. On the one hand, the leveling system beats the old system (I think) of assuming all kids could read the same material. But with this come even more challenges of how public the reading levels are–a source of angst for any kid who isn’t in part of that mainstream. My daughter can tell me all her classmates’ levels. How horrible. The school closings this year are the best thing that could have happened to my daughter. Thank you for confirming what I kinda already knew: leveling is being used to determine things it can’t possibly determine, and the more precise the leveling system, the more harm it can do. Unfortunately, we live in a world that wants everything to be quantified and measured. There must be a balance somewhere.

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