Making Sense of Reading Levels for Parents

Oct 19, 2023
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You’ve probably come across a series of data points reflecting your child’s reading level, whether through reports from an online learning program or in conversations with their teacher. Did these come in the form of a letter grade, such as Level H, or maybe a number like 26 or 560L? Sorting through these different metrics can feel a bit 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, especially as instruction continues to evolve this school year.

Basal Reading

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

Many school curricula 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 teacher manual, as well as supplementary materials, to help identify reading performance. Because instruction is tied to grade-level standards that students must meet to demonstrate proficiency, the insights gained can provide an estimated reading level that you can trust.

Developmental Reading Assessment™, Third Edition (DRA3™)

If your child’s school subscribes to this system, then students began this academic year by completing a short reading assessment administered in a one-on-one setting in just a few minutes 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 known as a running record.

The teacher then scores students on a range of skills according to the DRA rubric, including reading engagement, oral reading fluency, and comprehension. Throughout the school year, the teacher will reassess using the same process to see how students have improved.

This system starts with level A, for the earliest stage, and then switches to numeric levels, running from 1 to 80. In all cases, your child’s teacher will be able to describe how the DRA level relates back to the grade-level expectations and tell if students are pacing below, at, or above grade level.

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

Often referred to as “Fountas & Pinnell levels” or “Guided Reading Levels,” the F&P Text Level Gradient is the leveling system by Fountas and Pinnell, designed to identify the instructional and independent reading levels of students and also to document progress. A child’s guided reading level is determined through a short assessment administered in a one-on-one setting 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, and the combination of both areas is used to prescribe an F&P Text Level Gradient.

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 easy translations into a grade-level equivalent.

Lexile® Measures

The Lexile® Framework for Reading boils down to a scientific approach of matching a student’s reading ability with appropriate reading materials. Using this model, students are exposed to just the right level of texts in order to be successful. MetaMetrics, the organization behind the Lexile Framework, has determined that this targeted reading level occurs at 75 percent comprehension, where students are challenged just enough to stay engaged but not faced with too much difficulty such that it discourages them.

The Lexile measure is shown as a number with an "L" after it. For example, "600L” is 600 Lexile measure. Take a look at the Lexile-to-grade-level correspondence charts 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 the reported measure.

Edmentum’s Exact Path offers Lexile measures based on the individual student’s skill level in the program. If your learner is using this program, they are already receiving a Lexile measure that can be used to find just-right books.

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

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

Armed with your newfound reading-level guidance, talk to your child’s teacher or visit your local library to find books that are appropriately leveled to your child’s needs. It’s important to 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. Helping to foster excitement around reading will be an investment in your child’s growth, especially through the uncertainty this school year brings.

Regardless of your child’s reading level, there are many ways to facilitate growth as a parent. One of the best ways to encourage successful academic outcomes is to simply provide your child with ample opportunities to read.

Need help encouraging a reluctant reader? These tips can help. 

METAMETRICS®, LEXILE®, and LEXILE® FRAMEWORK are trademarks of MetaMetrics, Inc., and are registered in the United States and abroad. Copyright © 2020 MetaMetrics, Inc. All rights reserved.

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