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 and here 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.