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Reading Levels at a Glance

What is Levelled Reading?

Learn how teachers are helping kids become better readers by matching them to the right books at the right time.

By Deborah A. Wilburn

Levelled reading removes the “one size fits all” approach to reading, giving each child the opportunity to develop essential skills at his own pace. With levelled reading, your child is usually placed in a group with other children who read at roughly the same level of ability. Rather than having the entire class read the same book (which some students might find too hard and some too easy), levelled reading allows teachers to use a more personalized and precise approach to monitor a child's progress and help him learn to read.

In a nutshell, levelled reading uses various assessment tools to determine how well your child reads, and then matches her to books that are challenging enough for her to make progress, but not so hard that she will become frustrated, according to Joe Yukish, senior reading advisor to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University in New York City. Books are categorized into levels of difficulty, which is how a perfect match, based on ability, can be made. There are a number of levelled reading systems utilized in schools, typically beginning in kindergarten; it is up to school districts or individual schools to determine which, if any, are in place. The primary difference between the systems lies in how children are evaluated, and each program has its own way of labelling books. Here are three of the most common:

Guided Reading Level
At the beginning of the school year, your child will sit one-on-one with his teacher and read from a benchmark book (one considered standard for the grade). He may also be asked to answer questions about the text or retell the story. His teacher may use a Reading Record to calculate any oral reading mistakes and to help her determine a suitable guided reading level and books for your child. “The teacher is looking for the highest level book the child can read with 90% to 95% accuracy and with at least 70% comprehension,” says Yukish. Practically speaking, that means your child doesn’t miss more than 10 out of every 100 words. For comprehension, it means he doesn’t miss more than 7 out of 10 questions. After determining your child’s level (under GRL, books run from A to Z, with A being easiest) the teacher will place him in a group with other children who are at the same level. The teacher then provides instruction based on her observations and teaches reading strategies geared to take students to the next level of difficulty — but children move at their own pace. “Particularly in grades 1 through 3, the level of book the child reads when he enters and leaves the grade will be very different,” notes Yukish.

How can I find the “just right” books for my child?
Tammy Ledenko, a reading specialist with Scholastic, recommends that you ask your child’s teacher what level she is at, and request a list of appropriate books. However, when reading at home, educators say that children should read a level or two below the one they read at in school, when they are receiving instruction from the teacher. “This will help your child gain confidence and give her a chance to practice the strategies she was taught in school,” says Ledenko.

How can I help my child become a better reader?
Continue to read to him everyday and expose him to the language of books. Have him read to you. If he makes a mistake, simply tell him the correct word and let him move on. This increases enjoyment and fluency. To increase comprehension, talk about the story after you’ve read it.

Shouldn’t my child be challenged with more difficult books?
The levelled reading system is designed to match your child to a book that isn’t too easy or too hard. When children are given books to read that are too far beyond their ability, they can become frustrated, discouraged, or worse, turned off to reading. If your child wants to read a story that is above her reading level or if you'd like to share a classic that's more advanced, read it together! Even after she is reading independently, your child will get a lot out of having you read to her, including exposure to new vocabulary words and a chance to share an enjoyable story with you.

Is it possible for my child to skip a level?
Children progress linearly through the levels without skipping. “If a child goes from a level A book to a level D, it means she was put in the wrong level to begin with,” notes Ledenko.

How does a teacher bring my child to the next level?
Teachers help students progress, says Yukish, “by identifying the characteristics of each level, and then teaching strategies the child will need to read words and comprehend text at that next level." This is done, of course, in the context of teaching word recognition (phonics, cueing strategies, sight words, etc.) and comprehension of more complex sentence patterns and stories. Naturally, the lessons will change as your child progresses.

What level should my child be reading at in each grade?
Again, there is a range of levels within each grade. Your child’s teacher can address your child's current level, and the goals she is working on with your child, notes Ledenko. To see how levels generally correspond to each grade, see our Leveling Resource Guide.

My 4th grader is reading at the same Lexile level as my friend’s 3rd grader. Should I be worried?
It’s hard not to worry, but rest assured that with good instruction, your child will become a better reader, even if he is one or two levels behind peers. “We know that one way he’ll improve his reading skills is if we give him something to read that he can handle,” adds Joe Yukish. As always, it’s important to encourage your child and give him lots of positive feedback for the progress he makes, but try to avoid pressuring him or comparing his reading skills to others, as it may only make him feel anxious.

How are levelled reading assessments different from standardized tests?
Levelled reading assessments are highly individualized. They are intended to give teachers specific information about how well each child is able to read and comprehend the text, and where the child needs help. Standardized tests are geared to assess general achievement and to compare one child’s performance with others at the same age or grade.

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