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What Are Reading Levels?

Parents and teachers know children the same age don’t read at the same level. You probably know kindergarteners who are able to read chapter books, and fifth graders who struggle to read even the simplest beginning readers. Matching a child with the right book is not only important for them to improve as readers, but key to helping them find joy in reading.

A child who reads text that is too hard is reading at the frustration level. Children who struggle with text don’t learn much while reading. When a book is just a little difficult (or at the instructional level), children can learn new reading skills or concepts in a guided lesson. Simple books that are at a child’s independent reading level are good for practicing fluency, comprehension, and decoding skills.

Schools often use assessments throughout the year to find out reading level ranges for students. This can be done in many different ways, including using computerized testing. Teachers are then able to choose books within that range for instructional and independent reading opportunities at school and at home. Many schools purchase and organize books in reading level sets. Children often have a book box at school filled with books that match their reading level. Small group instruction in reading is often based on a child’s reading level.

A child’s reading level changes, so it is important to frequently reassess to make sure the current reading level matches books kids choose and are given for instructional and recreational reading. Quick, simple assessments, such as a running record or a timed check of how fluently a child reads a short passage at a certain level, can be done regularly.

Publishers assign levels to books to make it easier to decide whether a book is at a child’s independent, instructional, or frustrational levels. Finding the “just right” book is as important as signing a child up for the appropriate dance or martial arts belt level class. Too hard, and a child will want to quit!

There are many leveling systems. Here are some of the most common:

There are many other leveling systems, such as Accelerated Reader, basal reader levels, Reading Recovery, and individual publisher systems that you might see on the front of easy-reader books in a library or bookstore. Finding out a child’s reading level, and matching them with “just right” books, will boost confidence and skills, and help them experience reading as a relaxing, enjoyable activity.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Heidi Shelton Jenck. All rights reserved.
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