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How well is my child reading?

From time-to-time families want a benchmark to use in judging a child’s academic progress. Reading is a subject about which parents can be particularly curious, especially if they have a child in the early elementary grades. Fortunately, there are tools to help you gauge your child’s reading level.

There are several widely used systems for ranking the difficulty of children’s books. Each evaluates features of the texts – illustrations, word length, sentence complexity, book length, descriptive language, vocabulary, and other aspects – to assign a reading level. If you know where to look, you can usually find the Guided Reading Level or Lexile Level for children’s books. This useful document from Scholastic will help you to make sense of the Guided Reading Level and Lexile Level targets by grade.

Your child’s school district may have a preferred system for evaluating students’ reading levels. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland uses the Reading Recovery and Guided Reading systems (, and report cards for students in K-5 include the child’s current reading level.

In between reports from school, you can get a feel for your child’s reading level by looking up the books he is reading independently. Books that are challenging but not too frustrating to read on his own can give a general sense of a child’s reading achievement. (In school teachers have methods for testing a child’s fluency and comprehension while reading a text aloud; these assessments are used in determining a reading level more precisely.) Scholastic’s Stacks for Kids is one website where you can find the Guided Reading Level and Lexile Level of books. The Lexile Framework for Reading website also allows you to look up a book’s level for free. (It can be useful for finding new books on your child’s level too.) You may be interested as well in the $2.99 Level It Books iPhone and iPad app, a tool that will scan the ISBN and return a book’s Lexile, Guided Reading, Grade Level Equivalent, and/or DRA levels. I have also had luck in some cases searching for “[Book Title] level” in Google.

Keep in mind that, while each leveling system uses similar criteria, they do not always agree about the challenge level of a particular text. By Lexile Level, My Father’s Dragon is more challenging than A Wrinkle in Time. However, A Wrinkle in Time has the more challenging Guided Reading ranking. You want to look at more than one book and trends in your child’s reading over time to get a more complete picture of how well he is doing.


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