"A grade level of reading material is commonly estimated using one or more readability formulas, which purport to measure text difficulty based on specified text characteristics. However, there is limited direction for teachers and publishers regarding which readability formulas (if any) are appropriate indicators of actual text difficulty. Because oral reading fluency (ORF) is considered one primary indicator of an elementary aged student's overall reading ability, the purpose of this study was to assess the link between leveled reading passages and students’ actual ORF rates. ORF rates of 360 elementary-aged students were used to determine whether reading passages at varying grade levels are, as would be predicted by readability levels, more or less difficult for students to read. Results showed that a small number of readability formulas were fairly good indicators of text, but this was only true at particular grade levels. Additionally, most of the readability formulas were more accurate for higher ability readers. One implication of the findings suggests that teachers should be cautious when making instructional decisions based on purported “grade-leveled” text, and educational researchers and practitioners should strive to assess difficulty of text materials beyond simply using a readability formula."
I want to take this a step further than cautioning teachers about using these reading level designations. I would like to suggest that we do not use them when trying to match a book and reader. I know many of you have witnessed a child reading a book with a reading level that would suggest it would not be accessible to her or him. Likewise, we have all seen readers read books at lower levels than one would normally suggest, too. Take me, I read picture books, middle grade novels, YA books, and much more. If I were to read only at my designated level 9and lexile), I probably would have given up on reading entirely. How would we feel, I wonder, if the rules about reading at and above level applied to US? I know I would be rebelling ALL THE TIME.
About the convergence reference from the first paragraph. My colleague Rosemary Chance and I were talking about some books that have received critical acclaim for illustration and how they are not all "children's" books. The discussion had little to do with readability and much more to do with developmental issues. Earlier last week I entered into a discussion at Facebook about Accelerated Reader and how it has gone from being initially a way to keep track of what kids were reading to now being one of the programs that purports to "teach" kids. I have had discussions about CCSS and close reading, about Exemplar Texts, about grade level reading lists. To me these are just different facets of the same topic. And it boils down to this: We need to provide CHOICE for our students. If we really want to encourage reading beyond the confines of our class, we need to know much more than the level or lexile measure of the book. We need to know TONS of books, to talk about them, to post about them, to spread the word about them.
Our Spring semester opens today. As my grad students explore the requirements for their children's and YA lit classes, I am certain they are dismayed. There is a LOT of reading involved (30 books for YA lit, at least 75 for children's lit). I understand the commitment I am requiring. However, the folks in my classes all have as their goal to become a school librarian. Since it is a PK-12 certification, they need to know lots of books for a wide range of readers. None of my lists for the class come with lexiles and levels attached; there is some overlap between the two courses (books for tweens who fall into both camps so to speak). I will admit there is not as much choice as I would like (children's lit gets to select 25 of the books; YA books have very little choice except for series titles). I have been wrestling with this for some time. If we were a FTF program, I would meet each week with stacks of books and allow students to select the ones they wanted to read (book floods, book passes, etc.), but in an online community, having a common list works better. I need to find a way to practice what I preach a bit more. Until then, I will keep reading and searching and revising. Happy Spring Semester to all of you.