Monday, February 29, 2016

What is My Child's Reading Level?

Since my oldest son requires a steady stream of books from the library for independent reading, I wondered what his reading level was and how I could use that information to see if the books I'm picking out for him are challenging enough. That seemed like a simple enough task, but it turned out to be a little more complicated than I expected. 

First of all, reading assessment test results can vary... by quite a bit. School's tests are no exception. Your child may test as reading at a 4th grade level locally, a 5th grade level in the next county, and a 3rd grade level in the next state. Test results can also vary from year to year, as standards fluctuate. So I've decided there is no such thing as a "fourth grade reading level." I still wanted to get a ballpark idea, and then ask my librarian what to do with it, so we took some free online reading tests. I'll share the links here in case you're interested...

Free Online Reading Tests

  • Mind Sprinting Free Assessment Test - This test is based on international standards, so it's claimed to be more consistent and accurate than school-based tests, which can vary from place to place and year to year. This one turned out to be the most accurate result for us. They offer grade-level assessments in both reading and math. After the test, they try to sell you their curriculum, which I am not advocating. I'm just linking to the free test if you want it.
  • Reading Level Assessment Tests - This page has two different printable, quick reading tests. 
  • NRRF Reading Competency Test - This is for students who have completed grade 2. Part 1 measures phonics competency and part 2 indicates grade level reading ability. 
  • Sonlight Quick Reading Assessment - This quick online assessment from Sonlight helps you find your child's reading grade level. It was the most basic test, but it did show some sample pages to read from. 

I talked to our librarian, who told me that the books in our system will generally have a Lexile number. She showed me a chart that linked Lexile numbers to approximate grade levels, and showed me how to see what a book's Lexile number is when choosing books online through their website. (That's how I roll. I don't browse the shelves, I request the books ahead of time and they put them on a request shelf for us to stop by and pick up.) I looked up the Lexile number for a few of his recent books, then chose a couple more books at a higher level to try out. 

Our librarian warned not to be too restrictive on reading levels, since any reading level (Lexile included) is nothing more than an approximate estimate.  She told me about a young reader who was required to read only "grade level" books for school, though she actually read at a much higher level. She ended up very frustrated to say the least. 

Read-Aloud Test

How ever you find your child's reading level estimate, the only real confirmation  is to have the child read aloud to you.  If you're testing levels, then try one book at his suggested level and one above/below. (Your librarian can help you find books by level!) After listening to him read aloud to you for 20 minutes you'll be able to tell which level is appropriate.  

Ruth Beechick describes a more official Read-Aloud test in her book The Three R's, which determines your child's independent reading level (what he can read to himself), instructional reading level (what you can use to teach him with), and frustration level (too hard to even use for instruction). Count off 100 words for the child to read to you. If he's unable to read more than 5 words, that book is on his frustration level. If he misses 3-5 words, the book may be on his instruction level. If he misses 2 or less words, the book is on his independent reading level. (Note that Beechick recommends not to concern yourself with testing until at least grade three.) 

Here is her chart to reference:  (page 33)


Your child can even learn to evaluate books himself. Assuming that the book pages have 100-200 words per page on them, he can read a page and count how many words he runs into that he doesn't know. If he runs out of fingers, the book is harder than his current level. 

What Now? 

I don't intend to over-analyze the level of every book my kids read. But knowing how to use my local library's Lexile rating at least gives me a clue as to how difficult books are when I'm picking them online rather than in person. My best advice is to listen to your kids read aloud to know if a book is right for them, and talk to your librarian if you need help beyond that. Happy reading!

*** Go back to my Reading Resources page! ***


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