Once your child hits elementary school, chances are at some point you’ll be told a number, letter, or grade-level comparison that constitutes his or her reading level. Whether this information feels like a badge of honor, a dream-crushing blow, or just gibberish, here are some follow-up actions to help make this information meaningful.
A reading level is just one data point. Overemphasis of reading-level labels has stirred up controversy among educators. Paula J. Schwanenflugel and Nancy Flanagan Knapp, authors of “The Psychology of Reading,” caution that measuring a child’s reading skill is not nearly as simple as it sounds. Questions to ask your child’s teacher that will give you a more complete picture of your child as a reader include:
You might find out that your child is an avid participant when it comes to discussions of books he hears read aloud, but struggles with the mechanics of reading on his own, such as figuring out multi-syllable words or reading fluently enough to hang onto the meaning of the text. She might read every word accurately, but have no idea what she just read about if asked. He might start out strong but lack the stamina to finish a text. Maybe the skills are there, but she only uses them when the right book motivates her to do so. Whatever the case may be, learning about your child as a reader is most helpful.
(Note: These challenges are part of normal reading development for many children. If you’re concerned your child has a true reading disability, it’s your right under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
Matching your child with the best reading material is not as straightforward as handing him a stack of books at level 4.6, M, or 550L. Schwanenflugel and Flanagan warn that while book-leveling systems can be generally informative, distilling a book’s “level” down to one figure isn’t necessarily clear-cut.
Even Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, creators of the widely used “A-Z” reading level system, caution that their system was always intended as a “teacher’s tool, not a child’s label.” They responded to a controversial piece in the School Library Journal urging adults to prioritize children’s interests and opportunity to make choices when helping them select books to read.
Start by asking your child’s teacher questions like:
Once you have a general sense of the kinds of books your child can read relatively fluently and with adequate comprehension, focus more on helping your child find books he wants to read. This will keep him reading, which is beneficial at any level.
Whether your child is a literacy superstar or has areas in which she struggles, once you’ve found out more about how and what she reads, consider making a few family updates to better support her needs. Here are a few ideas:
Parenting today is full of high-stress acronyms and figures. Do your child a favor: when you’re served up his or her reading level, turn it into an opportunity to push past the label and tune into the reader behind it.