Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Should Students Know Their Reading Level?

Last week, I came across this post titled "A Level is a Teacher's Tool, NOT a Child's Label" from the Fountas and Pinnell blog.

F & P are gurus of reading assessment, so the post quickly caught my attention.

If you don't have time to read the post from F & P (although I hope you will), here are a few highlights that really hit me:

* Reading levels should guide, not limit, student choices when choosing a book for independent reading. (Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, has said this too.)

* Reading levels aren't meant to be shared with students OR parents. They should not appear on a report card or in a teacher's evaluation.

* Reading levels are an estimate, not an exact measure of a student's reading ability.

* Reading is not about moving up levels, it is about enjoyment and building a lifelong habit. (Yep!)

* Reading levels are a teacher's tool to be used for assessment and instruction only.

This got me thinking about how I communicate with my student readers about their progress.

I do not use the F & P system for assessing my students, but we do take the Star Reader test every month to check for progress. (It is even a component in my teacher effectiveness plan.)

My students keep a chart in their goal notebook to track their growth. Some months, there are cheers as good growth is made.  Other months, they take a peek at their new score and quickly shut their notebooks.

This made me think about an assessment experience that I think many of us can relate too -- getting on the scale when I am trying to lose weight.  When the numbers on the scale go down showing good growth in my weight loss goals, I am happy and motivated to keep going. But when the numbers are stalled, or even worse, go up, I am deflated and want to go find a pack of Oreos and gallon of milk, ready to give up.

I need to think more about the post from F & P and how I can communicate reading growth to my students in a way that is positive, motivating and accurate.

I think the answer lies in conferring.

Do you have any suggestions?


  1. We do use F/P and I struggle with all of these issues, so I am going off to read the original post. Thank you.

  2. I've read this original post and shared it with people. I like to think of reading level as a clothing size. It's a place to start where things may fit better, but it's not the only consideration.

  3. We are having similar conversations in our building. Do we label book boxes with levels or let students choose from bins of text bands? How much choice do we give our students? Is a kindergarten or first grade student able to find a just right text?
    Yes - the more we read the more questions we have too!
    Thanks for opening up and continuing the dialogue.

  4. I did not have to use levels at my school, but know that I struggled with my granddaughter sharing her "level" and that she couldn't "read" this other level yet. I think it clearly held her back from persisting in trying, and learning that maybe a few words might be new, but the story could still be enjoyed. It's a dilemma I see that you must struggle with because of the expectations. I'm glad you are questioning!

  5. I too have read this article/post and feel it is excellent, if not a sigh of relief! We use the DRA reading assessment at our school and we report out the reading level on our progress reports. While I don't support this, I feel that most parents want to know and it is something that they can comprehend. I think it's time that we as educators start to focus on how we can share reading progress or lack there of without reporting a level. Great post, Jennifer! As always, thanks for sharing your views. They resonated with me in a positive fashion. ~Amy

  6. Thanks for bringing this article to my attention, now, I am off to read it.

  7. This is such a sticky question. As I think back on my elementary education, I am certain that there was no such thing as levels. Everyone had the same book, some just read it faster than others. I am not a fan of labeling kids as levels.

  8. The only time I talk about levels with my students is during a few conferences per year when I show them a growth graph that our assessment system (we do it fall, winter, and spring) creates. I show them how they have progressed and sometimes look with them at how their current book's Lexile compares with the Lexile given by their assessment result, but only within a conversation about how lots of factors influence how hard a book is, and this is just one more piece of information that can help us see where they are as a reader and what kinds of books might be right for them.

  9. I know you know about my strong dislike for the STAR reading test and the company who makes it. We take this test also. My frustration level goes up when students' levels go backward. Did they really lose reading ability or is this a flaw in the test? I think we both know the answer to that. We also take the Accucess which seems to be a little more reliable and reflective of their reading ability.

  10. Hello! It's good to see you again!
    We too, take the STAR.
    However, we are required to send home the STAR results. What we have noticed is that STAR goes down as students realize their goals are based on their level. So, to get an easier goal, they purposely answer questions wrong. Sigh. I wish I had the answer.