What’s Your Lexile Score?


Levelized reading programs have been around since dirt but considering what we know today about reading—how we read, why we read, how we can keep on reading throughout our lives—surely we know better than to even suggest that our students restrict their reading only to books recommended at certain levels or lexile scores.

But it seems we may not. Many “acceptable” reading curricula resemble an orderly progression of texts organized by steps and numbers when neither make sense.

Peter Greene writes about how nonsensical this can be:

“There’s a lot to argue about when it comes to reading levels. These are generally based on mechanics, in keeping with the whole philosophy of reading and writing as a set of context-free “skills”– it assumes that how well you read something has nothing at all to do with the content of what you’re reading. Lexile scores, the type of analysis favored by the Core fans, works basically from vocabulary and sentence length. That has the advantage of being analysis that a machine can do. It has the disadvantage of providing ridiculous results. Ernest Hemmingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises is at about the same lexile score as the classic Curious George Gets a Medal— third grade-ish. Meanwhile, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse V may have PG-13 language and situations, but it also has a fourth grade-ish lexile score. And none of those works rank as high as Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

“So there’s a great deal to dislike about the whole business of assessing reading levels…”

The American Association of School Librarians is among those who dislike Labeling Books with Reading Levels :

“…Student browsing behaviors can be profoundly altered with the addition of external reading level labels. With reading level labels often closely tied to reward points, student browsing becomes mainly a search for books that must be read and tests completed for individual or classroom point goals and/or grades. School library collections are not merely extensions of classroom book collections or classroom teaching methods, but rather places where children can explore interests safely and without restrictions. A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians.

“Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels. Only a student, the child’s parents or guardian, the teacher, and the school librarian as appropriate should have knowledge of a student’s reading capability.”

Despite this position, a recent School Library Journal article notes:

“… The topic of labels and restricted sections in libraries came up in SLJ’s Controversial Books Survey last year. The results showed that compared to a 2008 survey, school libraries are more likely now to place content labels on books or to have restricted sections for books containing mature content. The practice of using content labels had increased the most at the elementary level, from 18 to 33 percent. Twenty-seven percent of respondents at the middle school level said they currently used labels, compared to 10 percent in 2008, and in high school, the number has increased from six to 11 percent.”

NCTE stands strong against the labeling, leveling, lexiling, etc.—of books in its Position Statement Regarding Rating or “Red-Flagging” Books .

Spelling things out, NCTE member Teri Lesesne emphasizes in her recent blog, “There Is No Neutral,” why book leveling, labeling, red-flagging, and lexiling are not good ways to grow readers and why we educators shouldn’t stand for them :

“If we want kids to become lifelong readers, levels and lexiles and tests and other programmed approaches need to go the way of the early primers … Lexiles and levels and tests narrow choices for readers. I think of them in the same way I do censorship of other means. They tell kids, “Sorry, you can’t read that. It is not on your level.” I wonder what would happen if I were to do that in a library or bookstore to an adult. I suspect it would not be pretty. Choice matters. Choice is crucial. There is no, “well, you can select from this shelf,” when it comes to choice. And we, as educators, need not be neutral in this. We need to take a stand. Know the research. Fight against the censorship that results when we allow a program to narrow the choices for readers.”

What are you reading right now? How did you choose that text? What’s your reading level? What’s the level of the text you’re reading right now? Do you know its lexile score? Does it matter?

What about your students?


About Millie Davis

Millie Davis is Senior Developer for Affiliates, and Director of the Intellectual Freedom Center at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). In addition she works on NCTE’s communications efforts, particularly on social media. Millie's passion is working with literacy teachers across the country and beyond whose passion for their students and their students' learning is their reason for going to work each day.

12 thoughts on “What’s Your Lexile Score?

  1. I do think if you use Lexiles as a guiding point so that students are directed to not go to their actual frustration levels, then it is worth leveling and knowing one’s lexile.

  2. I have been a middle and high school reading teacher for 23 years and have said this for exactly that many years. Now that I have my own children, ages 8-12, they all love to read and participate in it at their own pace and love. This summer at one of the giant reading stores I asked if the “free book” they would receive when they completed their reading log had to come from the book at their designated grade level and was adamantly told YES, there would be no exceptions. When I explained this to my children, they were less than delighted, as they either had read all the books on the list or were not interested in the titles. My fifth grader was not interested in the titles on that list, as his next book of interest is on Nikola Tessela; yes, seriously. So I simply explained we would politely take the free books and donate them to a locate library or a children’s hospital to other children who were in need of books. As adult educators who are raising readers, we MUST be willing to break the barriers which are still in place in order to create successful, delightful, interested, enthusiastic readers – AT-ALL-COSTS.

  3. This is an article that deserves face-to-face discussions. I think once our students have a bank of skills and strategies they can read anything – and will. However, when students are learning skills /strategies in order to grow into readers who can read anything, isn’t it important that they decode and read fluently (95 – 99% accuracy) so that they aren’t trying to decode AND do the heavy-lifting new thinking we are teaching? I’m not a “book nazi”; I would support and scaffold a reader to the nth degree if he/she wanted to read something, but as a rule of thumb it seems important to practice new skills/strategies in books that can be read with fluency in order to focus on new learning. Isn’t it the relationship we have with our learners that helps us teach, support and cheer them on as they work toward building reading skills that enable them to know how to read anything? (By the way, I think lexiles are worthless; I would never put a level label on the spine of a book or organize my library by levels. However, I do teach students what a ‘just right’ for learning book looks and feels like to a reader.)

    1. AT ILA this past week I heard “levels are for instruction”… that makes sense. Instruction needs to happen at their instructional level. When they are reading independently, let them choose!

    2. Thanks for your comment; you’ve given us something to think about, Kasey Perry.

      Another way to look at it might be as the editors and authors of a new NCTE book on Deep Reading do: https://secure.ncte.org/store/deep-reading . We all struggle with reading at times, especially with complex texts. And, we owe it to our students to model how we struggle and what we do about it so they, too, can learn both to struggle and how to push through.

      1. Totally agree, Millie. Modeling our struggles as learners levels the playing field for our students and means they can be open and honest about the support they need. I am currently reading “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill. I am not overly found of fantasy so as I read I am thinking about how I might share my reading struggles with this book with students.

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