How to Determine the Reading Level of a Book

Fountas and Pinnell, Lexile Level, Primer, Pre-primer, Beginning Reader are all terms you may have heard if you have a young reader in your house. Seriously, what does it all mean? Is there actually a way how to determine the reading level of a book? If your child can read The Cat in Hat, which is a level J in Guided Reading, can she independently tackle Diary of a Worm, which has a Lexile Level of 510L or is she ready for Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-Up, even though that one has a DRA of 30?

Through this post, I am going to attempt to elucidate and explain reading levels. So scroll through to find the system that your child’s teacher uses or pour yourself a large cup of coffee and sift through all of the various ways educators, librarians, and book publishers level and categorize books for young readers.

Reading Levels Are Like Starbucks Sizes

I admit, I don’t visit Starbucks unless I have a gift card. I am also that person who goes to Starbucks and still tries to order a large iced tea. The barista calmly asks if I would like a venti or a trenta and then explains that I need to choose between Passion Tango, Matcha Green, or Guava White Tea. Then comes the question of sweetened, unsweetened, or added lemonade.

For the young reader, finding a book that can be read independently can be as tricky as remembering all of the variables in a Starbucks order. Little readers who are not familiar with reading levels or taught to find a “good fit book” often go for books that are too easy and boring, too difficult and frustrating, or, like my kindergarten son, books that have too many unreadable Star Wars planet names like Kashyyyk. If a child knows her reading level, she can find books that contain sight words she knows, plot lines that are not too advanced, and vocabulary that is manageable.

Explain the Levels, Please

There are many different ways that books are leveled. Here are the three most popular methods for how to determine the reading level of a book.

Developmental

Children become readers by moving through different developmental reading stages. These stages range from the emergent pre-reader to the expert fluent reader. Typically, the emergent pre-reader is between six months and six years of age, while the expert fluent reader is 16 years and older. The developmental categories are broader categories than many of the other leveling systems.

Letter Levels

When I taught first and second grade, I found letter levels to be the most kid friendly way to organize a classroom library. If your child’s school levels books using Fountas and Pinnell, Reading A-Z, Scholastic Books, or Guided Reading Levels, then books will be leveled using a letter system. While it would be nice, these leveling systems do not always correlate. A book that is a Reading A-Z Level P, is not always a Level P using the Guided Reading Levels.

Number Levels

Books can be leveled through such systems as Lexile Numbers, The Direct Reading Assessment (DRA), and Reading Recovery. These systems measure texts by complexity and a reader’s skill level and then assign a number.

I Have My Child’s Reading Level, Now What?

Throughout the school year, your child’s teacher will probably perform¬† reading inventories or assessments with your child. These will determine your child’s reading level.

If you homeschool or your child’s school does not use leveled reading, then use a simple test called the “five finger test” to roughly determine your child’s reading level. Have your child choose a book and open to the second page. Ask your little one to read the text out loud. If your child struggles with independently reading five or more words on that page, the book is too difficult and is not a good fit. You should also ask some comprehension questions to make sure that your young reader understands what she is reading. When a book passes the five finger test, use one of the links below to determine that book’s reading level.

Once you have the reading level, take a look at these five helpful websites, apps, and charts that will help you and your child find or level the perfect book:

  1. Book Wizard : Type in the title of a book to retrieve the Guided Reading Level and grade level.
  2. Lexile Find-a-Book :Visit this site to find the Lexile Number for a specific book or to generate a list of books with a particular Lexile Number.
  3. Reading A-Z Level Correlation Chart : This is the best conversion chart out there for reading levels.
  4. Reading Levels Explained : Check out this very clean and user friendly site if you are still feeling overwhelmed by all of the reading level systems.
  5. Literacy Leveler app : Download this app and then use it to scan a book’s ISBN to see its Lexile, DRA, and GRL.

Levels Should be Helpful, Not Stressful

Reading levels should not feel restrictive. They should be used as helpful tools and not as a draconian system that kills the love of reading. Encourage your child to read books on her level, but don’t be upset if she chooses to reread an old favorite or picks up a nonfiction book that has some advanced vocabulary. Imagine how horrible it would be if adults had to always adhere to a reading level. I am well aware of the fact that some of my beach reads are probably a fourth grade reading level, with a Guided Reading Level of Q, 820L, and DRA of 40. I may not always be challenged as a reader, but it is still fun to sip my trenta Passion Tango unsweetened iced tea and enjoy a book simply for the fun of reading.

Need some books to practice leveling? Help yourself to 50 Must-Read Books for Beginning Readers, 20 Must-Read Books for First Graders and Second Graders, The Best Chapter Books for Kids: Engaging with Words, and 70 Must-Read Books for 3rd Graders.

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