Leveling Books Is Not Science

winter 2007 078
In a classroom? Ok if you must, but not in my library please.

I’m not saying it’s totally wrong or anything and it definitely has a place, especially in classrooms and with younger readers to help guide their reading progress but for my purposes in the school library?  Leveling is a big fat pain in the tuckus.

To prove that it’s mostly nonsense just look up the DRA, Lexile, AR, F&P, and whatever other leveling program you can think of for a half dozen books or so.  They almost never line up grade level wise.  And that whole “grade level” thing is pretty suspect as well.  Think about what you like to read.  According to these leveling programs you’re probably a 12+. Does that mean you should only read Chemistry textbooks, Sartre tomes and Pynchon novels?  Of course not.  You may enjoy those things but you may also enjoy the occasional light thriller and be just as caught up with the Percy Jackson books you’re reading out loud to your kids as they are.  And don’t get me started on picture books.  I Want My Hat Back may be a picture book written for kids but I love it for me. I get just as much pleasure out of Chris Van Allsburg books as anything.

When a student comes in to my library I want them to get whatever it is that floats their boat.  Yes, I help them pick something close to their “level” but I don’t go crazy with it.  I had a first grader in here the other day wanting something about the Titanic.  We do have a number of Titanic books but even the easiest one is above “first grade level.”  Who cares? It’s a non-fiction book with a ton of pictures and captions  That’s about all I ever get to on those National Geographic magazines and I feel pretty smart.  He’ll enjoy it and get what he can out of it.  That is the point.

I do have to make more concrete decisions when it comes to books in the school library.  I’m not going to buy the Hunger Games or Divergent for an elementary school even though I do have 5th graders I know reading those.  The vendor I use has categories for K-3, 3-6, 5-8 and so on.  I stick mostly to K-3 and 3-6.  I do get some fiction from the 5-8 category, but usually wait for the students to request those so I’m getting what they’ll actually read.  That’s where Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Wimpy Kid books fall.  It’s not scientific either, but it keeps my students, staff and parents happy so that’s what’s working for me so far.


2 thoughts on “Leveling Books Is Not Science

  1. I always tell parents that my daughter had to read The Help in 10th grade, and the level is 4.2. I don’t worry about levels that are “too low”; occasionally, my struggling readers do struggle with higher books, but in general, we let students choose whatever they want.

  2. I tell my kids that level doesn’t really matter because it ignores the “Do you like it?” factor. If you like a book, you can read well above your “level.” If you don’t like a book, you may have to step a bit down to get through it. And I *hate* it when people are discouraged from reading stuff below level — my high schooler likes to see the new Elephant and Piggy books. Some stuff he leaves behind (he eventually told me I could stop getting the latest Vampire Sisters book), others stuff not so much (still picks up the latest Riordan book).

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