Understanding Reading Assessments

A few weeks ago I had Bailey take these two reading level assessments.  On the first one she scored 4.9 (fourth grade, ninth month).  On the San Diego Quick Assessment her independent reading level measured at fifth grade, and her instructional level was sixth grade, but seventh grade was determined as beyond her current abilities.  Now apparently these are norm-referenced tests.  For instance, Bailey is reading at the same level as the 50th percentile of kids in their ninth month of fourth grade, so some kids in the ninth month of fourth grade read better than her and some read worse.

I more recently had Bailey take the Schonell Reading Test which claims to determine “reading age” rather than grade level.  She read 55 out of 100 words correctly for a reading age of 10.5 (which I assume to be 10 years and 5 months).  This is pretty consistent with her scoring on the other two assessments.  One thing that I did like about this one over the others is that Schonell doesn’t tell you to stop going through the list once your child misses two or three in a row.  So while Bailey started to falter around word 48, she was able to read at least one word in each of the last four groups of twelve.  Interestingly, this test only measures up through age 15.

Of course most of these tests focus on decoding skills, whether the child can read specific words.  They do not cover reading comprehension.  Can the child read a passage and understand the message the author is trying to convey?  Does she know what all the words mean together?  This is where the Lexile measure is supposed to come in to play.

I first discovered Lexile measures while looking up the recommended age levels for books at the Barnes & Noble website.  Lexile assigns a range of numbers that correspond to the reading comprehension skills of each child.  Books at the low-end of the range are easy for the child to read and understand while books at the high-end of the range may be more difficult.  The books in the middle are just right.  This is supposed to help you pick out books that will develop a child’s reading skills without overwhelming them.

The biggest problem I see with Lexile measures is that they can only be accurately derived by taking a handful of standardized tests.  They will not offer an assessment test themselves, so you just kind of have to make a rough guess of your child’s Lexile range.  They recommend either averaging the Lexile scores of books they have read or they will give you an average range based on grade levels.  This is kind of funny because Lexile seems to constantly turn up its nose at referring to grade levels, but yet they are forced to do so if they want to promote themselves.

Lexile is obviously also trying to carve out a niche in the standardized testing industry and libraries.  However, the only place I’ve regularly seen them mentioned is at Barnes & Noble, but even there not every book has been assigned a Lexile score.  Of course, only about a quarter of the books that Bailey has read recently have a normative grade level recommendation either (for example 4.9).  The most consistent label I’ve seen around has been “suggested age range” or “suggested grade level”.  Of course, sometimes you don’t know if that is referring to decoding, comprehension, or content level.

So, why in the world do I care about Bailey’s reading level anyway?  I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit proud that she seems to be reading two years above grade level (in decoding skills anyway).  At the same time I know this doesn’t necessarily make her a genius.  But we’ve had a consistent problem for about a year now of finding books at her comprehension level.

When you go to the library they normally have a section for picture books that are designed for an adult to read to a child because the decoding level is way higher than than content level.  Then you have a section of “Easy Readers” for children at a decoding level between kindergarten and second grade.  And then you have “Juvenile Fiction”, “Juvenile Biography”, and “Juvenile Non-Fiction” which could have decoding and comprehension levels anywhere between second and eighth grade.  This is where Lexile scoring could really earn its bread and butter.

The average Lexile range for a 2nd grader who thinks what she reads in school is easy is between 575 and 870, and this really seems about right for Bailey.  About a year ago, though, she was breezing through the Rainbow Magic series and its first book has a Lexile score of 520.  More recently she read Who Was Marco Polo? as part of her schoolwork.  It has a Lexile score of 780; she said that she could understand what was going on but she did stumble over some of the foreign names of people and places.  She might be able to comprehend books with a score of higher than 870, but it may take a bit more concentration and brain-power.  

Knowing Bailey’s approximate Lexile rating can help me in two ways.  First of all, it can help us browse the Lexile website for book suggestions for her own pleasure reading.  And when I am compiling her reading list for her schoolwork each semester I can more easily choose books within her comprehension level or slightly above.

Unfortunately, though, my library’s search system doesn’t offer any information about normative grade levels or Lexile scores, so I have to cross reference everything at the Barnes & Noble website.  I think I might just have to have a talk with the librarians in the kids section about that next time I’m in there.

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