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What are reading levels?

A reading level is a score assigned to a text meant to guide teachers in selecting appropriately challenging books for their students. There are different ways to determine the reading level of a text, but broadly speaking, different companies use different algorithms which take into account the average sentence length, average word length, and word difficulty level. The leveling systems most commonly used in schools are Accelerated Reader (AR), Lexile, and Guided Reading (Fountas and Pinnell). You can differentiate between these levels by how they are given: AR book levels are typically decimal (4.2) whereas Lexiles are higher whole numbers (720). Guided Reading or Fountas/Pinnell levels are given as a letter (R). In Bartholomew County, you are most likely to see teachers using AR levels.

How are reading levels determined? Are they accurate?

How a reading level is assigned varies from system to system. To determine the reading level of a text, publishers often rely on a combination of factors: word difficulty (how long a word is, how many syllables, how common it is, etc), word count, and sentence complexity (length and structure) are among the most common. Two different systems may assign very different levels to the same book. 

How is a child’s reading level assigned? 

A child’s reading level is determined by assessments given in the classroom. Some of these assessments are oral assessments that measure fluency (errors per passage or words per minute) and others measure comprehension (multiple choice questions). Still others measure vocabulary with fill-in-the-blank type questions. Although there are many differing ways to find reading level, most of these do not capture the full range of skills, motivation, and background knowledge needed for a child to read independently; thus, a given reading level rarely provides a full picture of reading ability. 

How do I know what reading level a book is? 

In our library, AR book levels are written inside the back cover of all of our children's books. AR book levels are also indicated in our online catalog - you can even search by them! A level of "0" means that the book is not in the AR system.  

If you or your child's teacher is using a different leveling system, you can use a correlation chart (we have one linked on this page under "Other Resources.") 

What do labels on easy readers, like "Stepping Stones" and "Green Light," mean?

These are series names given by publishers to describe sets of books that they consider to be in the same range of difficulty. These do not necessarily line up with a single reading level or even a single reading system. We usually disregard them when recommending titles. If you want more information about how different series of easy readers compare to one another, we recommend this blog post -don't miss the downloadable comparison chart included at the end of the post.

Is it okay for children to read outside of their assigned reading levels?

Yes!  A reading level is only a guide to help children know that they may be successful at reading the words in the book. If a student is interested in a book that is below their reading level, they’ll read it easily and quickly, and if it is higher than their reading level this just means that they may need more help from a parent or a dictionary.

How should I (a caregiver) use reading levels when choosing books with or for my child?

A common misconception about reading levels is that a child MUST read at their assigned reading level in order to be successful. This is NOT true! A reading level is simply a suggestion, and is not intended to constrain your reading choices. 

When selecting a book, keep in mind the reason why your child is reading. Doing research (i.e., reading to learn) can be challenging due to the highly specific vocabulary used, and it is okay for children to read at a grade level below their assigned AR level to truly comprehend what they are reading. Similarly, when reading for enjoyment it can be beneficial to read a level or two higher than a given AR level in order to fulfill an interest or passion. When children are interested in a book, they are more motivated to read it, and when they finish a book, they are more likely to seek out more of them. At BCPL, therefore, we ALWAYS encourage children to read what interests them, regardless of their reading level.  

Please note that a reading level is NOT the same as a maturity level.  Maturity of concepts/ideas in the book is not taken into account when assigning a reading level to a book.  A book with a lower reading level may have more mature content, and a book with a higher reading level may be perfectly appropriate.  If you are concerned about the potential contents of a book, you can always check the flap or summary, or look it up on websites such as Common Sense Media or AR Bookfinder. 

How to Find a Book According to AR Level

If you are looking for books at a particular AR level, the library is here to help! You can find books at a given level in three ways:

1) Use AR Bookfinder. This will also help you to determine whether a book has an AR test or not. 

2) Visit the library catalog. You can use the slider feature on the catalog landing page to select a range of reading levels and run a search. You can also search by topic while doing this. If you need assistance, please ask at the Children's Desk.

3) Browse the library's books. Each book has a pocket and/or sticker on the inside back cover, and these all feature a number corresponding to its AR level. A book with a zero inside the cover does not have a corresponding AR test. (Please note that brand-new books are often released before they are entered into the AR system, and may not have a level until a test is developed).