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My thoughts on "reading levels" for kids

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Showing 1-18 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 19, 2012 6:04:49 PM PDT
Ms. P. says:
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."

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2012 6:19:07 PM PDT
cathyr says:
Thanks. Interesting thoughts.

"b.) There's no such thing as too easy."

My eldest's teacher would say the books she brought home to read as "homework" were her show pieces. She was being taught to read at school, we were supporting her in this endeavour at home. The books she then had for homework should be in the "capable of doing comfortably" group.

And this wasn't such A Bad Thing. By the time she got home after a full day of learning, and after I've had a full day of work, reading and struggling with a reader is not at the top of our list of Fun Things to Do. Instead she learnt about homework, ritual, reinforcing what is happening at school, a love for language, and getting quality time with a parent.

Of course, my second enjoys a challenge and is more willing to read a book for the achievement of doing something hard. Her teacher recognises this and sends her home with more difficult books.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2012 1:59:47 AM PDT
d.) There's are exceptions to the "too hard" rule

I am glad you posted this. My daughter REALLY wants to read Harry Potter and I told her it may be too difficult at her age and told her to go back to her Weird School series. Now I feel kind of bad for discouraging her. I think we will get the book out this weekend and sit together and read it.

Posted on Jun 20, 2012 4:14:21 AM PDT
As a teacher based in Australia I concur. I think that children should be reading for fun, excitement - that love of reading. In some ways the easiest test is to open the book to a random page and have the child read it - they really should not have many errors and should understand it. I use reading levels to ascertain their instructional reading level - the level where they are learning to decode the text - this is different from their 'fun' level - where they can independently read it. Basically though - if they want to have a go at it - let them - they will soon pick something different or it may be a good time to read it together - you read a page/chapter then they do - or they just read the character voices.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2012 6:49:05 AM PDT
Ms. P. says:
I'm not sure how old your daughter is, G. The first couple of Harry Potter books are definitely worthwhile challenges for a lot of kids.

The second year I was teaching fourth grade (this was a LONG time ago; only the first four Harry Potter books were out - the fourth one only in hardcover), I had a little girl in my class who was a struggling reader. I worked at a very academically strong charter school, and it was the child's first year there. She was on a literacy plan, and reading somewhere around a beginning of second grade level at the beginning of fourth grade.

As a school, we used Accelerated Reader to the absolute letter, including a full 60 uninterrupted minutes of independent reading time EVERY DAY, and the kids could only read books in "their level," period.

This child was DESPERATE to read Harry Potter. After several days of begging, I sent the first book home with her, telling her if she could get someone to help her with reading it at home, I would let her take the quiz at school. Three weeks later, she'd passed quizzes on both of the first two books, and I let her read the third at school, on her own. She passed the quizzes with flying colors on the third and the fourth books too, and within six weeks -- she was a reader. The real kind. In the corner with the kids who were fist-pumping each other when I got a little too busy with reading conferences and "forgot" that our daily sixty minutes were over.

She ended the school year close to a sixth grade reading level, which was on the low-average end for kids in my class. I still get book recommendations sometimes from kids who were in my fourth grade class that year (they're in college and getting married now).

There is definitely something to be said for "too hard" when it's handled with care, and it's directed by the child.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 21, 2012 10:58:12 AM PDT
Thanks Teacher. She just finished first grade, and we talked about it and we will find a quiet place and sit together and read it together. This one particular book is very important to her, but she also LOVES the Harry Potter character (games, movie). She was really happy about the prospect.

Your kidlets musts have loved you as their teacher! It's kind of wild that the one child you talk about, really worked through her reading troubles by taking home a book that was difficult for her. That's awesome.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 21, 2012 9:37:49 PM PDT
Ms. P. says:
That sounds like it will be some fun and special times with your daughter, G. I hope it's wonderful for the two of you.

My favorite part of teaching was always turning kids on to books and picking awesome ones that I just knew a particular kiddo would love. Lots of fun times. :)

Posted on Jun 27, 2012 6:23:36 AM PDT
Katya says:
I use Scholastic Book Wizard to double-check whether a book I am recommending for my son is going to be too hard for him to read (he's dyslexic so if he tries too many books in a row that are too hard he gets really frustrated):

Here's how I use it. My son is currently reading (and loving) the Warriors books. I was wondering if he might enjoy Redwall when he finishes the Warriors series so I checked the reading level of both books. Warriors is 'Grade Level Equivalent' of 5.2, Redwall 7.1 (I'll usually check a couple of books he has read recently to calibrate the 'level' he is reading at currently).
The jump in difficulty from one book to the would probably be too much for his so Redwall is going to be too hard (which is what I suspected).

I'll let him try harder books if he really wants to, but if he stalls out I will usually recommend an easier book as his next book to get him back into the flow of reading.

Sometimes if they are desperate to read a book they are not able to read (e.g., Harry Potter) I'll buy them the audiobook. It also makes it easier for them to read it once they are ready because they already know the words and story.

Posted on Jun 27, 2012 6:41:23 AM PDT
abbyshire says:
Teacher Mommy, this is very helpful--thank you. My son was reading books to his class in preschool and reading chapter books in Kindergarten.

I'm somewhat dissatisfied with his school in that the class sizes are large and his teachers don't have the time to do anything "special" with him to challenge him or to help him improve even more. Is there something I could be doing at home?

Also, even though his teachers raved about his reading skills, he's still marked "at reading level" on his report cards. Why is that?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 7:11:28 AM PDT
Ms. P. says:
abbyshire -- I'm not sure what district your son is in. Is there an option for "above level"? I know that in the district where I taught, there was a crazy amount of politics surrounding assessing kids' reading levels, and what could and couldn't be marked on a report card.

Some schools follow a policy where you're not allowed to test the kids more than a certain amount "above" their grade level, because -- well, you don't want to hear about the eight million non-sensical reasons.

Some teachers will mark kids as above level if they are -- others are not at all sure when they're "allowed" to do that. If they ask six people, they'll get six different answers. And the teacher could probably get in trouble with SOMEONE regardless of which way they mark it. And if they mark a kid as above level, and the next year's teacher doesn't agree, then all heck breaks loose -- or something. (Because then the parents might, heaven forbid, want them to do something to meet that kid's needs.)

Have I ever mentioned that I left teaching not because of the kids, but because of the politics? And that I'll be homeschooling? :)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 7:21:14 AM PDT
Katya says:
I homeschooled my kids for 3.5 years. :-) For many of those same reasons.

It was so hard to get services for a bright, dyslexic kid because they are not 'failing', just not living up to expectations... which is every bit as demoralizing for them.

Posted on Jun 27, 2012 7:33:46 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 27, 2012 7:40:17 AM PDT
abbyshire says:
Yes, there is a place to mark him as above grade level. I used to volunteer in his classroom, so I saw the reading capabilities of his peers--he was and still is ahead of his grade level. At least with reading.

Katya, I totally agree. Since my son has been in elementary school, the budget cuts at his school just keep getting worse and class sizes larger. (TM, I'm in Adams 12.) 26-28 students per 1 teacher and a *shared* part-time teacher's aide is not good for the teachers or the students.

They also cut the librarian's hours to half-time last school year, and I have a feeling she'll be gone next year.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 8:18:29 AM PDT
Ms. P. says:
Wow, Abby -- We really are neighbors. I taught in Adams 12 up until last year, and graduated from there, too. The budget cuts are brutal. I don't know if they are cutting librarians altogether next year, but it is getting worse.

You're right, there is a place to mark above grade level on the report card, but there are no clear-cut guidelines for marking it on a report card. None. The information that comes down to teachers changes every year, and somehow gets disseminated differently at every building (and I say that as someone who worked for a year as a Literacy Coach, and it was my job that year to try to share the information with my building -- that job no longer exists at all, of course, so now it's every principal for himself).

In general, teachers are discouraged from marking a child as above grade level unless they know they could prove, beyond doubt, that the child can exceed every possible benchmark for every reading standard. And teachers are also discouraged from testing more than two grade levels above where the child "should" be. Now that the state assessments have switched to a more growth-oriented score (schools are rewarded more for a child beginning at a low point, and growing to a higher one), there's a social burden -- you don't want a child to assess so high that it will be impossible for the next year's teacher to show the same level of growth.

Marking a child as "At Grade Level" is the safe option. You've got test scores that prove it.

Yes, it's political. No, nobody inside wants to admit that or talk about it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 2:33:37 PM PDT
"Yes, it's political. No, nobody inside wants to admit that or talk about it"

I think you are SO right, on top of that, classes are too big. My daughter was rated as reading "above grade level", but the reading group that reflects this was full. The teacher (who we LOVE) let us know that there are only "so many slots in that group". But, she went out of her way to give my daughter some book recs that reflected/mimicked the full group, and we worked on things at home. Our school district has serious money issues, but in the last two years that my oldest two were in elementary school? Very impressed with my kids teachers. I can email one of the teachers and get a response by the next day, and really love the open communication and interest in my kids. So far, the public school experience (even with the monetary woes of the school district) has been made stellar by the efforts of my children's teachers. The prinicipal? Another story and I will say I am glad she is retiring. <-Wow that sounds awful, but she was "political" to the core and didn't seem to remember that she was once a "teacher". JMHO and rant.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 2:51:21 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2012 9:19:51 AM PDT
abbyshire says:
Wow, TM--what a small world, hahaha. I used to be a sub at a preschool where the ratio was 7 children per 1 teacher (so 14 kids and 2 teachers per classroom)--I loved that about it, and my oldest thrived there. My youngest will probably go there, too.

Granted, these were 3 to 5-year-olds, who need more individual attention, but how the heck can districts expect K-First ratios of 26 to 1? I feel so sorry for public school teachers right now. I totally get why you left it and I wish you the best.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 2:52:27 PM PDT
Ms. P. says:
It makes a huge difference, G. I worked for two different schools in the same district. At one, the principal was amazing. And in turn, the teachers loved being there, and built a great community for the kids. Needs were met, and it was wonderful. The politics existed, but she kept them away from our kids.

I would probably still be teaching if that was all I had ever seen.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2012 2:59:43 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 28, 2012 4:55:27 PM PDT
I think the ultimate rep of the school (or any organization), makes a huge difference in the general "happiness" of the work place. The school where my kids are? She has a doctorate, but has almost zero common sense or care about her teachers. The teachers are too professional and CAN'T come RIGHT OUT and complain, but I can read between the lines, and the reviews of our school tend to center around the principal and her poor leadership skills. We are at a brand spanking new school, and a lot of excellent teachers from other districts came to the school hoping for some support: this principal introduced my 1st grader's teacher as "the best of the best...I recruited her from another school due to her stellar reputation and skills"; yet, she didn't appear to follow through with any support. Blah, pretty words mean nothing if you don't support your people, and she didn't. Wow, I sound disgruntled, but I hate all of the a55-hattery that seems to come more from the school board then anything else. Sad.

ETA: Can't

Posted on Jul 12, 2013 3:18:22 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 12, 2013 3:18:26 PM PDT]
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Discussion in:  Children's Books forum
Participants:  7
Total posts:  18
Initial post:  Jun 19, 2012
Latest post:  Jul 12, 2013

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