Reading Levels of Books

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Sara Sewell



Why Level Texts?

Leveling Systems

Uses of Leveled Readers




Leveled books have become a mainstay in the world of reading and education. Keeping students reading within their zone of proximal development has become a major need for teachers and parents. The business of leveling books for students and schools is a money making business. Almost any children’s or young adults book in bookstores and schools has some variation of a reading level smeared across the cover. With the demand for leveled readers growing it is becoming harder and harder for many educators to keep up with and understand the variety of leveling systems used to categorize books. The following page will serve to show the reasons for leveling text, to break down the numerous leveling systems, and to give some examples of leveled text use.





Book leveling has become important in classrooms because teachers and researchers have recognized a need to match students to texts that ensure they are receiving reading instruction at their instructional reading level (Fountas & Pinnel, 1996). Students have been burdened with using material that is not at an appropriate level of difficulty for their learning for far too long. Rog tells us that “if students are to learn and apply reading strategies, they need texts that provide a balance between support and challenge” (Rog & Burton, 2002). When students are able to choose their own material, leveling “ensures that students will have an easier time selecting books that they will be able to read without feeling frustrated” (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005). Reading levels of books allow students and teachers to select appropriate texts for instructional and independent reading.






There are a plethora of leveling and Readability systems in use today. It is important to note the difference between readability formulas and leveling systems. For classroom titles, readability is an objective numerical score obtained by applying a mathematical formula, while leveling is less objective and takes into account some subjective factors such as content, illustrations, length, format, and repetition of words (Fry, 2002). Unlike readability, leveling cannot be done by a computer. The leveling systems decide if the text is appropriate and familiar to the age group it is for. Do the illustrations tell the story or explain the vocabulary? How many words on a page and pages in the book? Do the levels relate to teaching methods and frameworks? Is the language repetitious, does it flow? Is the backgroud experience of readers appropriate for the text? What size is the type? How is the page layed out? Does this effect the readers understanding? All of these factors go into creating levels and placing books into those levels. Some systems that level books with readability formulas are Lexiles, Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), and ATOS, the leveling system used for the Accelerated Reader program. Systems that use subjective leveling programs include Reading Recovery and Fountas & Pinnell. The following tables represents some of the most commonly used systems and will show the equivalence of levels across the various systems and if they use readability formulas or leveling procedures.


Fry, 2002


From http://www.leveledreading.com




The use of leveled readers is only one part of a balance language arts curriculum. Some uses of leveled readers include guided reading, independent reading, partner reading, and Accelerated Reader. The use of books that are at a students instructional reading level, or the level at which a child can read 90-95% of the words easily, during guided reading “provides the context for successful reading work and enables readers to strengthen their processing power” (Fountas & Pinnell, 1999). Students who know their “just right” level are able to choose books independently that will not frustrate them but will provide a fulfilling reading experience. Partner reading with leveled texts gives students the opportunity to teach or be taught by their peers. Students are higher reading levels can be taught how to help scaffold their peers reading which provides reading instruction that is highly motivating for all students. One other use of leveled readers is the Accelerated Reader program. In this program students read books at their level, which are assigned a point value, and then take a comprehension test on the computer. Students earn points for each book and test they take. This is an external motivator that can be a wonderful or detrimental tool, based upon how the teacher or school uses the program. Leveling books provides a source for reading instruction that is allowing students to work at their own level and be successful at becoming better readers.






Jack Stenner, the CEO of Metametrics Inc. (developers of The Lexile Framework for Reading), states that “when texts are selected that align with all the facets of the reading process, the reader is truly targeted” and that “targeted reading is self-reinforcing, pleasurable, and productive” (Stenner, 2003). Reading levels of books are important to teachers, parents, and students. However, the variety of leveling systems used can be difficult for many to navigate. Teachers must be aware of the readability formula and leveling system behind the leveling they are using and always “take into account the interests, motivators, background knowledge and experience, or the sociocultural identities of the readers in the determination of book appropriateness for idividuals” (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005).



Dzaldov, B.S. & Peterson, S. (2005). Book leveling and readers. The Reading Teacher, 59(3), 222-229.


Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1996). Guided reading:Good first teaching for all children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1999). Matching books to readers:A leveled book list for guided reading, K-3. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Fry, E. (2002). Readaliblity versus leveling. The Reading Teacher, 56(3), 286-291.


Rog, L.J. & Burton, W. (2002). Mathching texts and readers: Leveling early reading materials for assessment and instruction. The Reading Teacher, 55(4), 348-356.


Stenner, J. (1999). Matching students to text:The targeted reader. Scholastic, Inc.


Reading A-ZPrintable leveled readers

Leveled Readers List of books for elementary students leveled by grade, Reading Recovery, and guided reading levels

Fry's Readability GraphFind the readability of any text

Accelerated Reader Readability System

Understanding Leveled Reading A great resource for parent information.

Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 10:19 pm on Mar 27, 2007

I thought your paper was organized and concise. I visited the table's website. I would like to offer one suggestion. Since some readers may not be that familiar with Lexiles, DRP, and the Reading Recovery Program, consider a brief description of each of these readability formulas and programs.I did a little more searching and found 2 other sources on reading levels. Richard L. Allington,(2001). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, Designing Research-Based Programs. Allington provides a brief description of these programs. The second source was Tompkins, G.E.( 2003). Literacy for the 21'st Century, Teaching Reading and Writing in Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 4.Tompkins addresses reading level books and the Reading Recovery Program.

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