Understanding Your Child’s Reading Level
A child pointing to the words in a book as they read.

What Are Reading Levels?

Every parent and educator should know their children’s current reading level. As a certified Reading Specialist with a Master’s in Reading and Literacy, I have assessed more than 10,000 children’s reading levels over the years. Furthermore, I have identified and diagnosed struggling and gifted children, and provided research-based recommendations to further their abilities.

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To put it simply, reading levels are the tiers at which each child can read independently and still comprehend the material. Reading levels are determined by how many words a child can read correctly of the material during (many) one-minute assessments.

There are numerous charts that can be found online that will detail how reading levels correspond with grade levels. For instance, if a child is reading at the L level, this is equivalent to an average child’s reading skills near the end of the second grade.

If your child is reading at the L level and near the end of second grade, then they are right on track. If they are reading at the L level and are in fifth grade, then they should be provided extra help and interventions to assist them in getting to where they need to be academically.

Diagnosing a Child’s Reading Level

Reading is involved in every subject area in and out of school. If a child or adult struggles with reading, they will struggle with almost all aspects of life. If a child is gifted at reading and is at a reading level higher than their current grade level they are at in school, we are doing a disservice by not challenging them more with books equal to their ability.

School textbooks are usually written above the grade level they are meant for. This means that a third-grade textbook is written at approximately a fourth-grade level or higher. If a child is struggling with fluency (reading rate) or comprehension (understanding of the text) chances are they will not perform well in that class.

Rather than make the unfair assessment that the child is just not very bright, it may just come down to the reading level being too difficult. This means they could understand the material perfectly if it was presented at a reading level that was equal to their current reading ability. If a parent or educator knows a child’s reading level, they can adjust the text accordingly.

How to Accurately Assess Reading Levels

There are numerous programs that can be used to correctly assess reading levels. For instance, AIMSweb is an assessment system that can be used to figure out if a child is reading at grade level, and then place them into the percentile they are achieving.

Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) kits can be used as well. These assessments take longer to give the child but will provide more exact information such as comprehension level and grade-level skills.

In addition, there are countless other fluency assessments that can be used to determine if your own child is reading at grade level. They can be quite inexpensive and simple to use even for those not involved in education.

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How to Determine if a Book Is Within Your Child’s Range

If you aren’t sure if a book is at the right independent reading level for your child, there is a simple way to immediately check. Have your child read the first page of the book aloud to you as you follow along with the text. If they are not correct with 95% of the words, then the text is too difficult for them to read independently. Imagine trying to read a book where you do not know one out of every ten words. It would be extremely hard to comprehend.

However, if they really want to proceed with the book they are struggling with, don’t discourage it. Instead, read the book with them. You can read one page and then they can read the next. This way you are doing guided reading with them and can correct their errors as they happen.

What to Do If Your Child Is Gifted or Struggling

Most schools will do benchmark assessments with their students three times a year. These should determine the approximate reading level all children are at in the class. Ask the teacher if your child is gifted or struggling. If they are, ask what accommodations are being made to assist the child.

Books should be available at all reading levels to help with the comprehension of the text.

However, it does not just fall on the teacher’s shoulders. Parents should ask what they can do at home with the child as well. A simple thing to do would be to provide the child with many book options that they may be interested in at their current reading level. The goal for all should be getting the children to read as much as possible.

How to Improve Reading Skills

I know hearing your child is struggling with reading is not the best news, but it is not the end of the world. Still, it is better to “catch them up” while they are still young because it is much more difficult to do once they reach middle school and junior high.

Focusing on sight words, phonics and decoding, and providing more assisted reading time will have them making leaps and bounds with their literacy skills. If you keep at it, they should be reading at grade level in no time.

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