I posted this in a different thread, but cathyr asked me to split it off in a new one, and why not? I like to talk. :)
There are several dozen "commonly used" scales for determining "grade level" in reading, and it is practically impossible for someone who doesn't use a particular scale to figure it out. Outside of the commonly used scales, different school districts sometimes have their own systems, or use multiple ones. Often, a number with a decimal DOES mean the grade level and the month, but even then, depending on where that number CAME from, it can mean different things.
Even with eleven years of teaching experience, and working as both a literacy coach and a reading specialist, AND having a Master's degree in Education with an emphasis in Literacy, if you just throw a number at me for a child's "reading level," it's mostly meaningless, unless you can tell me what scale was used to come up with that number.
Sometimes, publishers will put a number like 1.8 or GL 3 on the back of a book, but those are hugely unreliable, and are often just made up by the publisher for marketing purposes.
As a parent, it's best not to worry about "reading levels" at all, and follow a few rules of thumb.
a.) As close to 100% as possible of non-school reading should be completely enjoyable, and most of it should be self-selected by the child (sometimes with assistance, of course).
b.) There's no such thing as too easy. If it is a book the child has selected for reading at home, there is no such thing as too easy. When their own little brain finds it boring, the interest will turn off all by itself. Until then "too easy" builds fluency and repetition, and satisfies an innate need a child's brain has for patterning and order and a multitude of other things.
c.) "Too hard" is not as hard as you think it is. In order to build reading fluency and to move to the "next level" of reading, children should be reading at 95-100% accuracy. This means that no more than ONCE every twenty words or so, should a child have to stop to sound out a word, or deal with a word they don't understand the meaning of (even if they can pronounce it).
Put it in adult terms - if you had to stop reading a novel THREE times EVERY page to figure out either the pronunciation or the meaning of a word, your brain would frustrate out, too. Too hard slows down reading growth. Too easy speeds it up.
d.) There's are exceptions to the "too hard" rule. If it's a book where interest is over-the-top high -- as in you have to fight them to get them to put it down, then let them go for it, offering assistance when needed, and intervening before a frustration point. And, of course, if it's a read aloud where they're snuggled in your lap or listening to a well-narrated audiobook -- by all means go for "too hard."
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