Want to know how to get your kids excited about reading? It starts with choosing appropriate books for their level. Here’s what you need to know about how to identify reading levels for kids!
How to Identify a Child’s Reading Level & Which Books Are Best for Each Reading Level
Are you looking for someone to explain reading levels in plain English?
Like, how you identify your child’s reading level and what they mean from the schools?
Some systems grade with numbers, while others are letters and scores. It’s no wonder it’s confusing.
I struggled with this too. I wanted to get my kids books that they could easily read but I didn’t understand what the levels meant and how to choose a book based on those. After lots of research and trial and error, I’ve finally cracked the code(s).
I’m here to answer all your questions so you can feel confident in understanding your child’s reading abilities and can continue to help them grow as readers.
By the time you are done reading this you will understand:
- What leveled reading is and why it’s used
- The 4 major reading level systems
- How you can identify your children’s reading levels
- What level your child should be at based on their age and grade
- And how to help them choose an appropriately leveled book that nurtures their love of reading
Let’s demystify these systems and help you gain confidence in helping your child improve their reading skills.
What is leveled reading and why is it used?
Reading is a skill that is developed over time. As your child is learning to read they need reading material that they can decode to help gain confidence in their reading skills.
This is where leveled reading comes into play. Leveled reading breaks down how difficult a particular book is and where a child’s reading ability is. This way they are given books and individualized reading instruction that help them become better readers.
While reading levels can indicate if a child is below grade level, on grade level, or above grade level, the most important job these levels provide is to help a teacher develop a good strategy and plan to improve that child’s reading skills.
I think the biggest takeaway is that your child’s reading level does not determine their intelligence or even how successful they will be in school. Instead, reading levels help teachers and homeschooling parents determine the best strategies to help your child succeed.
How to Identify Your Children’s Reading Levels
Most children who attend school sit down one on one with their teacher multiple times a year so that the teacher can identify your child’s reading level. The teacher has the child read books from gradually increasing reading levels.
While the child is reading, the teacher takes into account how fluently and accurately the child reads, as well as their comprehension level.
To put it another way:
- Fluency means the child reads the text without many mistakes and can read it fluidly.
- Comprehension is how much the child is understanding from what they are reading.
A child who reads a book very fluently, without mistakes, can still not truly grasp what that book was about.
That lack of comprehension means that the book contains ideas, sentence structure, or vocabulary that is too difficult for them to understand and decipher. They would do better and enjoy reading more at a lower reading level.
How can you identify your child’s reading level at home?
Some websites advise parents to do an unofficial reading level assessment at home by making a running record. But I don’t think a running record is necessary at home. It’s overly complicated to just get an idea of your child’s reading skills.
A running record is basically making a copy of the page that your child is going to read and mark down anywhere your child makes a mistake. A teacher would use this to identify particular reading struggles to give them a more complete picture of the child’s reading abilities.
Instead, what I suggest is choosing a variety of books that hover right around their level. Choose books that are slightly below what you perceive your child’s reading level to be. Also, pick out books on their level as well as one or two steps above their reading level. This way they have material they can easily master as well as books that will challenge them.
I found this really great list at Scholastic that outlines books based on Guided Reading Levels (I’ll get more in-depth about the different reading level systems in just a minute).
Here is a list of my favorite books to use to gauge and practice reading levels at home:
- A-C – Bob Beginner Books 1 (you can’t beat them),
- D-F – David Board Books (Level D), Go, Dog, Go (Level E and a classic we all may remember from our own childhood), Pete the Cat: Too Cool for School (Level F)
- G-I – Biscuit book series (Level G), Big Shark, Little Shark (Level I), Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems
- J-M – Fly Guy series (level J), Pinkalicious Series (level K), The Book with No Pictures (level L), The Day the Crayons Quit (level M)
- N-P – Stellaluna (level N), Nancy Clancy series (level O), Horton Hears a Who! (Level P)
- R-S – Shiloh (Level R), Matilda (Level S)
- T-V – How to Train your Dragon (Level T), Bud, Not Buddy (Level U), Holes (Level V)
- W-Y – Walk Two Moons (Level W), The Little Prince (Guided Level X), Echo (Level Y)
In the Bob Books, your child should read a couple of the books as they progressively get more challenging. In other early reader short books, your child can either read the entire book or read a few pages.
For longer books, one page is usually enough to get an idea if your child is mastering fluency and comprehension.
To gauge fluency, keep a simple tally count of mistakes as they are reading and notice if they are able to read with inflection and emotion. I keep track of mistakes by putting a clipboard on my lap under the table and making a small dot for each mistake. I make sure to do this completely out of the view of my child. The reason is simple: I don’t want them shutting down or losing the joy of reading simply because they see me marking mistakes.
Remember, the goal is to build a love for reading!
To evaluate their comprehension, you should pre-read the selection you are giving your child and have some ideas of a few questions you can ask them once they finish reading the selection.
When they get to a point that they are challenged but still comprehending with good fluency, you have found their approximate reading level.
At home, they should have access to books that are one or two levels below their reading level. This builds confidence for budding readers.
The 4 Major Reading Level Systems
As if this whole reading level thing wasn’t confusing enough, there isn’t just one reading level system. In fact, there are 4 major reading level systems, which different school districts use.
The 4 major reading level systems are guided reading level, accelerated reader, developmental reading assessment, and Lexile measurement levels.
Let’s break these different systems down so you can understand the one that your child’s school uses, or one that you may want to adopt to track your child’s progress.
Guided Level Reading
This is the system that I used to make the list of books for you to do your home reading assessment above.
It is also one of the most popular systems through school districts. So it only makes sense to go over it first.
Guided Level Reading was developed by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. It uses an alphabet system of dividing books into appropriate levels. Level A are the easiest books and they get progressively more challenging until you reach the most difficult books at Level Z.
For each grade level, there are multiple different reading levels so that as your child progresses they can get gradually more challenging books.
Children are tested on level by reading a benchmark book. That means a book that they have never read before is what you can use to determine their fluency and comprehension. The list of books I gave you above would be examples of benchmark books.
This system is popular because it gives a clear vision of where the child is with their reading skills but it isn’t as obvious to the child whether they are ahead, behind or on target with their peers. So it can be better for the child’s confidence and can reduce bullying or comparison.
This is by far my favorite system because once you know what letters correspond to which grade, it is very easy to understand.
Accelerated reader is the system I remember from childhood. Books are based on grade level with a decimal system giving each grade a scale of 10. So what does that look like?
A book could be leveled at 1.8 meaning it’s a first grade level book but the difficulty is moving towards a second grade level book. The biggest difference between Accelerated Reader system versus the other systems is that it has a computer program that quizzes children on the books they read.
This can be problematic for children struggling with reading. Quizzes can cause anxiety even in young children, and cause a negative association with reading.
For that reason, I am not the biggest fan of this particular system, but it is still very popular in the school system.
Developmental Reading Assessment
This system also starts by testing a child by reading a benchmark book. Remember, a benchmark book is a book that helps test your child’s fluency and comprehension.
Developmental Reading Assessment (also called DRA) is a system of leveled books and tests created by Pearson (one of the most popular textbook and educational tools in the US).
I think this system is a little more confusing because it starts with a reading level labeled level A then immediately switches to numbers. So very beginning readers start with leveled A, then it switches to levels 1-80 with 80 being the most difficult.
This is also a very popular choice with school districts, so you may be used to seeing this.
This system ranks books and reading materials based on readability and how difficult it is to read them.
Lexile Measurement Levels
If your child’s reading levels look something like “200L”, then they are using the Lexile Measures system.
This system does not start with a benchmark book but with a standardized test. This system ranks books and reading materials based on readability and how difficult it is to read them.
Levels for the Lexile Measuring system start with BR for beginner readers and then transition into a number like 700L for more advanced readers. Let’s be honest…this makes this system a little more confusing for us parents.
This is a less popular option for schools, but a few do use it. So I want to cover it in case you fall in this group.
What Levels Should Your Child be Reading Based on Grade?
Overall, reading levels are supposed to help with small reading groups and interventions if necessary. They also help a teacher to develop tailored instruction based on each child’s reading level.
How do you know if your child is reading on grade level based on their reading level?
I am going to break this down by grade and I am going to cover all 4 reading level systems: guided reading level (GRL), accelerated reader (AR), developmental reading assessment (DRA), and Lexile measurement levels (Lexile).
Then you can compare your child’s reading level with the reading levels for their grade to get a better understanding of where your child is with learning to read.
You can also notice that for all the reading level systems, except for accelerated reader, reading levels overlap between grades. So, for example, GRL reading level S could be for fourth grade or fifth grade.
Remember, your child may fall outside of these boundaries – they are just general guidelines.
Kindergarten Reading Levels
- GRL: A-C
- AR: 0.1-0.9
- DRA: A-4
- Lexile: BR40l-230L
First Grade Reading Levels
- GRL: C-I
- AR: 1.0-1.9
- DRA: 4-16
- Lexile: BR
Second Grade Reading Levels
- GRL: I-M
- AR: 2.0-2.9
- DRA: 16-24
- Lexile: 107L-1080L
Third Grade Reading Levels
- GRL: M-P
- AR: 3.0-3.9
- DRA: 24-38
- Lexile: 415L-760L
Fourth Grade Reading Levels
- GRL: P-S
- AR: 4.0-4.9
- DRA: 38-40
- Lexile: 635L-950L
Fifth Grade Reading Levels
- GRL: S-V
- AR: 5.0-5.9
- DRA: 40-50
- Lexile: 770L-1080L
Sixth Grade Reading Levels
- GRL: V-Y
- AR: 6.0-6.9
- DRA: 50-60
- Lexile: 855L-1165L
What to do if Your Child is Reading Below Their Grade Level
If you are told your child is reading below grade level, it can be a gut punch. So what do you if your child is reading below grade level?
First, don’t panic. Children develop their reading skills at different stages, some children are early readers and some children take a little longer to get there. Just like some children walk early and some children walk late.
Next, just continue encouraging reading at home by reading books together and discussing what you’re reading. You can also continue to provide them reading materials they can comfortably read and enjoy.
Positivity and encouragement, along with shared reading time will go a long way!
How to Help Your Child Choose a Book to Read
So now that you know what your child’s reading level is and what that means, how can you help your child choose a book to read?
The number one factor in helping your child choose a book is to pick something they are interested in, even if it is above or below their level.
You want to foster a love for reading because it’s enjoyable. With time and practice, the skills will come! Of course, if you are truly concerned, speaking with your child’s teacher to come up with a game plan may be helpful as well.
At this point, I hope you feel more confident in understanding the different reading level systems and how they are used to help your child to become a better reader.
Remember, your child’s score is not an indicator of how successful they will be and all children develop reading skills at different ages.
Just continue to nurture a love for reading with your child by providing them books they are interested in and spending time reading to them and with them. You’ve got this!
More Resources On Positive Parenting & Screen Free Kids:
- Safety Tips for Kids: Books to Reinforce Safety Rules for Kids
- Pros and Cons of Homeschooling: Weighing School Options
- 10 Ways to Limit Screentime and Raise Unplugged Kids
- Creating Screentime Rules for Summer (Free Printable)
- 10 Screen-Free Alternatives Before Bedtime
- Printable Screen time Rules Checklist for Kids (PDF)