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Lexile ranges December 19, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, science fiction, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
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The younger boy’s school sent home a bunch of information on lexile range.  I’d never heard of this before, but it’s a way to rate books so that kids are reading at an appropriate level.  On the surface, it seems like a good idea: it’s very hard, as a parent, to provide reading material for your kids that’s appropriate.  Aside from the basic issues of whether they’ll understand the language and sentence structures of a book, there are the themes and situations: are they too complex or adult-oriented for a child to read?

A lot of this, of course, depends not only on cognitive ability but emotional maturity, as well.  I remember how my older boy started reading Harry Potter very early.  Sometime in third grade, he read the fifth book.  I began to wonder about him reading the fourth and fifth books at such a young age because of the adult themes.  We were fortunate, however.  Reading books about such emotional and adult themes started giving him words to explain a lot of his thoughts and feelings with minimal emotional fallout.

After receiving these results, I dutifully trucked my troops down to the library (no complaints from said troops) where they had a program to help us find books in the appropriate range.  However, I forgot the letter with the lexile range and so had to guess where he was at.  The younger boy had already been reading Magic Tree House books, so I figured some of the Dragon Slayer Academy books might be up his alley.  We got those and some Bionicle books and headed home.  He really seemed to like the Dragon Slayer Academy books and has been reading bits at a time.  Language-wise, they seemed perfect, although their length is a bit intimidating for him.

It turned out, I had remembered the incorrect values.  The books we picked were near the top of his range.  And yet, I was confused.  If these were supposed to be too difficult, why was he having no difficulty reading them?

Mike, unbeknownst to me, had also started looking at lexile information on specific books.  He was curious where he would’ve been placed when he was in various stages of school.  After we returned from the library, he started telling me about this and that he didn’t buy the results.  He’d been comparing some of his favorite sci-fi books, and he was puzzled at the results.  I threw out some books I read as a kid and made some comparisons.  Books that I thought were very difficult showed up as supposedly easier to read than ones I’d zipped through.

We looked up the criteria for determining lexile range:

A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book. Lexile measures are based on two well-established predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile measure is a good starting point in your book-selection process, but you should always consider these other factors when making a decision about which book to choose.

Both Mike and I read this and shook our heads.  We both had different takes on it.  I found that one thing that made a book challenging for me was dealing with vocabulary.  It’s not clear to me whether or not this is reflected in the “word frequency” measure.  (Do they mean word frequency in the book or relative to the English language?)  Mike felt he struggled most with books that had very adult themes, something not reflected in the range.

Our take on this is that this is only a very rough guideline, and probably not a good one to use.  We both felt that interest in a book or topic was probably going to be a far better predictor of readability than using the lexile range.  I suppose that’s what they’re saying about considering other factors.

My concern in this is that some schools go a bit overboard with these things.  When the older boy was in fifth grade, he was going to public school part time.  I got a couple calls from the school librarian because he wanted to check out books that were designated for 7th-9th graders.  I felt this was silly because he’d been reading at above that level already, and probably had come across themes in his reading that were more adult than what was in those books.  I told her it alright for him to check the books out, but she seemed to be very opposed to it.  I finally gave up and told older son that he should just probably check most of his books out from the public library.

I’m hoping I don’t see something similar happen with the younger son, i.e., that he not be allowed to check books out from the library if they’re outside of his lexile range.  On the other hand, I’m glad that they seem to be promoting reading at the upper end of the scale so that kids will stretch their mental muscles a bit as well as that they make the point that within any grade level, you’ll have a wide variety of reading levels.  In other words, it seems like they’re trying to get rid of the fantasy that kids all read at the same level and thus require the same reading level.  Therefore, while I may disagree with assessments of individual books, I think they’re definitely taking a huge step in the right direction.

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1. Lexile ludification | FCIWYPSC - November 23, 2014

[…] while back, I wrote about our first experience with lexile ranges.  The short story is that lexile ranges are indicators of reading levels that are determined by […]

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