Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Three Myths About “Reading Levels” :: And Why You Shouldn’t Fall for Them…

Three Myths About “Reading Levels”
And why you shouldn’t fall for them…

Psychologists love to measure things, and perhaps nothing has been measured as much by psychologists as reading—both texts and readers. Multiple different instruments measuring text readability have been devised and used over the past century, as have multiple standardized tests of readers’ abilities. Though their results are often first presented as numerical scores whose interpretation is difficult without a key, most instruments also translate these into more generally understood grade-level reading scores. These are typically reported as year-and-month scores; thus a book scoring at reading level 8.1 is said to be written at the early eighth-grade level, while a student scoring at reading level 4.6 is judged to be reading at the level of the average student in the sixth month of fourth grade. Two common reading level systems are exceptions to this: Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading program uses letters, from A to Z, while the increasingly popular Lexile leveling scheme rates both texts and readers from 0L to approximately 2000L (there is actually no upper limit).  Both of these do, however, offer rough grade level conversion charts on their websites, here (link is external) and here (link is external) respectively.

However measured, reading levels can be a generally useful guide to whether a particular text is going to be far too difficult for a particular reader. For example, the student who scored at 4.6 on a recent, valid reading test will probably have significant difficulty reading and understanding that text at an 8.1 reading level.

Unfortunately, though, the ubiquity and precision with which these reading levels are now being tested and reported has led to their increasingly inappropriate use, especially in schools. For example, professional development materials accompanying the Common Core initiative instruct teachers to “match” texts to readers based on Lexile level, staying within a narrow range of only 50L above to 100L below each student’s tested Lexile level. Most school reading incentive programs require students to read texts within a restricted range of their measured reading skill levels, either within the Lexile range just mentioned, or, if using another rating system, within five months of their measured reading levels. For example, that student who tested at 4.6 might only receive credit for reading books leveled from 4.1 to 5.1. Many schools now even restrict the books students can check out from the school library to those at such “appropriate” levels, and in some cases, parents are even being told to concentrate on material within his or her Lexile range when offering books to their children at home.

Myth #1: Each text has a discrete, accurately measurable reading level.
Myth #2: Each reader has a discrete, accurately measurable level of reading skill.
Myth #3: Readers should (almost always) read texts very near their reading level.

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