As children learn to read, it is important to provide them with optimally challenging reading material. Books that are too hard will cause a child to give up because they can’t read the words or understand the sentences. Give a child a book that is too easy, on the other hand, and you risk losing their interest in the reading task.

So, how do you pick books that are neither too hard nor too easy for your child to read?

Determining a Book’s Reading Level

Over the years, different researchers have come up with different ways to measure reading levels for books. While each readability method is unique, they each come down to a mathematical modeling of the words and sentence structure used within text.

Some of the most popular reading level measurements are listed below.

  • Guided Reading Levels: Assesses ten characteristics of a book, including its genre, text structure, content, theme, language & literary features, sentence complexity, vocabulary, number & difficulty of words, illustrations, and print features. (Also known as the Fountas & Pinnell method.)
  • Lexile Framework for Reading: Analyzes and compares the semantic and syntactic complexities within a text. Lower scores indicate easier reading material.
  • Fry Reading Formula: Takes the average number of sentences and syllables for every 100 words and plots that data onto a graph.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Index: Uses a formula that multiplies the average number of words in a sentence and the average number of syllable in each word by specific constants to come up with a reading level.

Determining a Child’s Reading Level

Not every child reads at a level that matches their grade placement. While there are many different formal and informal assessments that can be used to identify a child’s reading level, these are the most common ones used in schools.

  • Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA): Assesses a child’s reading abilities through 1:1 testing to identify their reading level.
  • i-Ready Assessment: Measures a student’s general reading and reading comprehension ability through an online diagnostic-prescriptive method.

Matching Reading Levels

Use the chart below to match your child’s grade level or assessed reading ability to Guided Reading Levels or Lexile Scores.

You’ll notice that some scores have quite a range across each grade level. That’s because a child’s reading ability grows and changes throughout a school year. If you’re looking at this chart in September or October, your child will likely be at the lower end of a reading ability scale for their specific grade level. If you’re looking at the chart in May or June, their reading level should be at the higher end of the scale.

It is also important to keep in mind that individual children have a range of reading abilities. Some children entering kindergarten may already be independent readers. These kindergartners may be able to easily read books with a Lexile score of 150 to 300 or a Guided Reading Level of D or E in September.

Rather than worry that a child is not further along in their reading ability, parents should focus on tracking whether or not their child’s reading ability continues to grow throughout a year. Whether your child is continuing to learn basic phonics OR they are receiving tutoring help for a learning disability, incremental growth is most important to helping the child gain the skills they need to become the best reader possible.

Check out our book finder guide for matching reading levels to specific books.

Comparison chart of readability scales
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Last modified on September 5, 2023