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Saturday
Jun032017

BFTP: Reading levels are political not educational

I shared this list from What Kids Are Reading; The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools, 2012 edition (80 page PDF) with the teachers and administrators in my district:



Top 20 Books Read Among U.S. High Schoolers 2010-2011:

  1. Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (ATOS book level 5.3)
  2. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (4.5)
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (5.6)
  4. Night, Elie Wiesel (4.8)
  5. The Last Song, Nicholas Sparks (5.1)
  6. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (5.3)
  7. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (5.3)
  8. Animal Farm, George Orwell (7.3)
  9. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer (4.9)
  10. A Child Called “It”, Dave Pelzer (5.8)
  11. Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer (4.8)
  12. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan (4.7)
  13. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton (4.7)
  14. Dear John, Nicholas Sparks (5.5)
  15. Crank, Ellen Hopkins (4.3)
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (6.9)
  17. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (7.3)
  18. Lord of the Flies, William Golding (5.0)
  19. The Giver, Lois Lowry (5.7)
  20. Marked: A House of Night Novel, P.C. Cast (5.4)”

And one English teacher e-mailed back with the question/statement: "Hunger Games and To Kill A Mockingbird are .3 apart?"

What she is suggesting is that reading levels are pretty much meaningless if you are just counting polysyllabic words and sentence length* and not taking sophistication of theme, imagery, and interest into account.
Increasingly reading levels are being use as a political tool (In today's crummy schools kids are reading way below grade level!!!!) and not as a means of helping students find and choose materials appropriate for them. 
I've never understood how all kids could be "at grade level" in reading scores. Wouldn't an accurate "grade level" proficiency be determined by establishing the mean student reading level, with lots of kids reading better and lots of kids reading less well? If we apply this logic, couldn't we expect all kids to be at "grade level" in height and weight as well?
In our insane metric-driven teaching environment, there are still a few voices of reason. In the document above, check out section "IV: Librarian's Picks" by my friend Terri Kirk from Kentucky. She writes:

What should kids be reading?

Maybe I should start out with what students shouldn’t be reading! They shouldn’t be required to read books that are over 200 pages. They shouldn’t be reading things that are developmentally inappropriate, no matter what their reading level is.

“I hate to read” is a common saying among teenagers. However, many of them hate to read because they haven’t been allowed to read things that they like. The basic tenet of getting all students to read is to let them choose what they are interested in. 

Spoken like someone who wants kids to love to read, not just know how to read. Yeah, spoken like a librarian, not a politician. Oh, I wonder what the reading level of 50 Shades of Gray or the latest Vince Flynn thriller might be? Are we adults reading "below grade level" as well?

Folks, you see "reading level" proceed with caution.


*From the report, page 67:

The ATOS Readability Formula is a free text-analysis tool provided by Renaissance Learning to estimate the quantifiable dimension of text complexity. ATOS takes into account the most important predictors of text complexity—average sentence length, average word length, word difficulty level, and total number of words in a book or passage—to help educators assist students in finding books to read at appropriate levels

The ATOS Readability Formula is a free text-analysis tool provided by Renaissance Learning to estimate the quantifiable dimension of text complexity. ATOS takes into account the most important predictors of text complexity—average sentence length, average word length, word difficulty level, and total number of words in a book or passage—to help educators assist students in finding books to read at appropriate levels

Original post May 1, 2012

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Reader Comments (2)

We have sucessfully fought a few attempts at leveling our elementary libraries. I use the comparison to what adullts read. We don't go to the public library and ask for a book by its reading level. Wonder what books would be appropriate at my age 63? Hmm maybe it's Firty Shades of Gray? Do reading levels for adults level off or do we keep ascending?

June 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDebra Gottsleben

Every time I read something on the whole grade level reading thing, I am eternally grateful that this didn't even exist when I was in elementary school. I was a kid who read well above grade level, and I was allowed to read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. If some well-meaning teacher or librarian had taken a book out of my hands because she thought it wasn't "appropriate" for me and tried to limit me to things that were in theory at "my" level, I would have been frustrated beyond belief.

I still remember being forced in first grade to read a typical first grade book to my mother, and both of us hated it -- me, because the book was too simple for me, and her because she hated to be read to.

June 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Mark

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