Lexile vs Literacy

As we head into August, it is starting to be back to school time, at least in my part of the country. For a long time I have had serious thoughts about the lexile system and as someone who is incredibly passionate about encouraging children to have a life-long love affair with books, I thought it deserved a post.

The Lexile system is relatively new. It didn’t exist when I was in school. Actually, that’s not 100% accurate. It was being developed when I was in elementary school and junior high school. The concept behind lexile levels is to find a way to quantify where a child is reading and understanding texts. That’s a great thing. We know that we struggle with children “reading below grade level” and there is a desire to help them grow into strong readers.

According to Wikipedia -“Readers and books are assigned a score on the Lexile scale, in which lower scores reflect easier readability for books and lower reading ability for readers. The Lexile framework uses quantitative methods, based on individual words and sentence lengths, rather than qualitative analysis of content to produce scores. Accordingly, the scores for texts do not reflect factors such as multiple levels of meaning or maturity of themes. Hence, the Common Core State standards recommend the use of alternative, qualitative, methods for selecting books for students at grade 6 and over.”

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Okay, so this is where some of my issues start to come in. Are they saying children reading at grade 6 levels or children actually in grade 6? Because according to the official Lexile website, “There is no direct correspondence between a specific Lexile measure and a specific grade level. Within any classroom or grade, there will be a range of readers and a range of reading materials.” So then by taking the grade 6 proficient number of 800, anything about 800 stops mattering so much, but some kids hit that number way before they are in 6th grade.

We understand that children shouldn’t be reading books that are way above their abilities, so having a knowledge of the lexile level is important. There is also something to be said for the child who is struggling and wants to use the lexile framework as a goal to achieve, but what of the advanced reader?

What gets me riled up is when educators and parents get so focused on a number that they forget about making sure that they are nurturing a love of reading and not a competition between kids on who has the higher lexile level. Also, if the materials contain additional “factors such as multiple levels of meaning or maturity of themes,” then in my mind, once they get to about a 800 lexile level and are STILL IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, we should leave them alone to develop as intelligent readers who gain insight about the world around them from the books they read.

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Here then is my beef. There are some schools and some teachers who cling so desperately to the numbers that they forget that reading fictional texts is about developing character and a love of reading. There is a such a strong testing mentality that kids are told they have to take a certain number of AR tests or Reading Counts quizzes and that they have to read within a certain range of their lexile. If I followed that train of thought, my daughter would have been expected to read things like “War and Peace” last year while she was in the 3rd grade. Right. I’m grateful that her school didn’t have these requirements and believed that kids should read what they want, but as an Usborne Consultant, I see similar posts from consultants around the country being questioned about lexile levels.

We need to remember that lexiles only look at sentence length and frequency of words. Stories help us understand the world around us and things we are going through. Here are some perfect examples:

I am Jack – This is a marvelous book about bullying, written from the perspective of an 11 year old boy. Life is good for Jack. He’s a great photographer, he wins at handball, and time at home with his family is never boring. But when big George Hamel starts calling Jack “Butt Head,” school becomes a little less great. And when everyone starts calling him “Butt Head,” it gets outright dangerous. Susanne Gervay’s thoughtful story sheds light on the contagious and destructive nature of school bullying, and the power of humor, love, and community to overcome it.  Lexile – 550

Because of Winn-Dixie – One of those must reads. This book touches on a variety of themes that all kids should read and experience. One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries – and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie.  Lexile – 610

The Fourteenth Goldfish – This book questions the idea of whether we can take science too far. With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility. This book opens up a world of possibility for discussion, but has a relatively low score. Lexile – 550

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – A great book for kids to read. Many are inhaling this at an early age. Do they get all of the details and themes? Probably not. Can they answer basic comprehension questions on it? Sure. Lexile – 880

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – I posted previously that I don’t love this book. Great for getting kids excited about reading though. But compared to the other books above, not nearly as deep and is just a great, fun book. As the Amazon summary says, Sixth grader Greg Heffley doesn’t understand his annoying younger brother, obnoxious older one, or well-meaning parents. But he knows enough to record his daily thoughts in a manly journal―not some girly diary. In a unique novel brimming with laugh-out-loud moments, Greg chronicles his first turbulent year of middle school. Lexile – 950

The Hunger Games – We all know this one. My point for including it is this. Lexile – 810. Will I let my 9 year old read it. NO!

So can we please stop worrying about their scores and let kids just read for a love of reading? Let’s bring back the book report and just let them explain what they got from the book rather rather than teaching them to answer comprehension questions. More than anything, encourage your child to read what they love. Their knowledge and willingness to try new things will grow.

child who reads

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4 responses

  1. Very thoughtful post. I agree with you. I think our responsibility is to encourage the love of reading and forget about scores.

    1. It is a personal pet peeve, unfortunately. I wish our education system could see the forest for the trees.

  2. I hate how AR (which our school uses) is used for a grade. I mean, you can understand the tests to prove you read the book, but it shouldn’t be a grade. Great post! 😀

    1. Thanks! I don’t usually get on a soapbox, but I had to go there.

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