Monday, June 13, 2016

Lexiles? Guided Reading Levels? What's the most important?

According to The Lexile® Framework for Reading, the Lexile scale is like a thermometer; rather than measuring a temperature, they measure text complexity. Lexiles are calculated based on the length of the sentence and the word frequency. The longer the sentences are and the less frequently the words are used, the higher the Lexile measure.  Sentences that are shorter and words that are repeated more frequently generate lower Lexiles. 

Thermometers measure temperature, whether it is that of a person, the weather, or any other state of matter.  There are several scales for measuring temperature one being Celsius and another being Fahrenheit.  Temperature is important in all fields of science from biology to physics as well as most aspects of daily life. Although knowing a temperature on a thermometer helps a person know whether to wear a coat or dress in shorts, or whether a person has a fever and may need to seek medical attention, a general understanding of temperature on a thermometer is all that most people possess.

Similarly, Lexiles and the “number” that is given to determine a text’s complexity is a basic reference and most people do not understand the many intricacies of text complexity, nor do Lexiles have the capability to measure them. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell cast the longest shadow in understanding and leveling text. According to Fountas and Pinnell, there are ten major factors that create the complexity of a text:

1.     Genre
2.     Text Structure
3.     Content
4.     Themes and Ideas
5.     Language and Literary Features
6.     Sentence Complexity
7.     Vocabulary
8.     Words
9.     Illustrations
10.  Book and Print Features

Teaching reading is much more complicated than inserting a thermometer and getting a temperature. When a person has a temperature that spans multiple days, seeking a doctor to determine the cause is important. A doctor is trained to determine the underlying cause in order to provide the most effective treatment. Likewise, a teacher must be trained to understand the ten components of a text’s complexity in order to select the most appropriate text for teaching reading processes to children. Simply knowing a Lexile range is not sufficient, just as simply knowing that if a person’s temperature is 104, the person has a fever. A teacher needs to understand the complexity a text offers along with the reading behaviors a child exhibits and know how to support the behaviors in ways that propel the child forward as a reader not only in one particular book but every book.

Why do some states use Lexile levels? Lexiles provide a map that parents and teachers can use to have a general sense of a child’s reading level. It is a tool that points people in the right direction.  The state needs a tool that is “quick” and relatively “easy” to use. As long as one remembers that a Lexile measures two things---word frequency and sentence length, then it should be pretty clear that in order to read and comprehend texts, a lot more than those two things are involved. A child deserves to be taught how to think about what the characters are thinking and feeling, and how the setting or time period is impacting the story.

We need Lexiles. Lexiles are helpful as a fast way to point parents (and even teachers) towards the right reading level.  More importantly, teachers need guided reading levels and a lot more knowledge than that of Lexiles to teach reading. Schools and districts need to make sure that the teachers have a deep understanding of the teaching of reading. Both Lexiles and guided reading levels are important. But most important of all, we need schools full of teachers who encourage children to read, to read widely, from fiction to non-fiction.  

We need teachers who are more focused on developing a love of reading by introducing children to their favorite characters, authors, and genres than they are to levels. Who introduce children to series of books that make them want to read every single book in the collection. Who take the time to read aloud and talk about books with children every single day, from large group lessons, to small groups, to special one on one time with each child. Teachers who instill a love for reading that spans a lifetime is the greatest, most important gift of all. Without teachers who know that teaching reading is the true heartbeat of our educational system, our schools will be full of children with minimal levels of competence. Full of children who can’t think, remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create. I know that I want my grandchildren taught by teachers who are highly skilled in the teaching of reading and who realize that there is so much more than levels involved.


Fountas and Pinnell, The Critical Role of Text Complexity in Teaching Children to Read. Retrieved from
June 9, 2012

Fountas and Pinnell, Guided Reading: The Romance and Reality, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 66, Issue 4, December 2012/January 2013. Retrieved from
June 9. 2012.

June 9, 2016

The Lexile Framework for Reading. Retrieved from
June 9, 2016

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