The Problem with Lexiles and Levels

Those of you working with vulnerable readers, have you noticed how they often don’t really want to read the materials offered at their “level?”  The lack of choice offered to these students has much to do with their lack of enthusiasm for reading. Would you like to walk into a bookstore and find out you could only choose your reading material from a certain shelf? Of course not! So why do we do this to children?  Here’s an excerpt from a recent post on the NCTE website related to reading levels and exiles:

Levelized reading programs have been around since dirt but considering what we know today about reading—how we read, why we read, how we can keep on reading throughout our lives—surely we know better than to even suggest that our students restrict their reading only to books recommended at certain levels or lexile scores.

But it seems we may not. Many “acceptable” reading curricula resemble an orderly progression of texts organized by steps and numbers when neither make sense.

Peter Greene writes about how nonsensical this can be:

“There’s a lot to argue about when it comes to reading levels. These are generally based on mechanics, in keeping with the whole philosophy of reading and writing as a set of context-free “skills”– it assumes that how well you read something has nothing at all to do with the content of what you’re reading. Lexile scores, the type of analysis favored by the Core fans, works basically from vocabulary and sentence length. That has the advantage of being analysis that a machine can do. It has the disadvantage of providing ridiculous results. Ernest Hemmingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises is at about the same lexile score as the classic Curious George Gets a Medal— third grade-ish. Meanwhile, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse V may have PG-13 language and situations, but it also has a fourth grade-ish lexile score. And none of those works rank as high as Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

“So there’s a great deal to dislike about the whole business of assessing reading levels…”

Read the entire post at