Why Librarians Don’t Like Reading Levels

Report cards went home this week and parent-teacher conferences are in full swing.  The request for books at a certain reading level will increase exponentially at the library in the next few weeks.  I’ve been trying to write a post about reading levels for months.  It hasn’t come together.  It’s an important subject; so I am glad a coworker is letting me post the text from her recent blog entry Grow a Reader.  Her blog can be viewed at EatReadSleep.

Use Levels for Instruction Only

Droves of children are being corralled into narrow compartments called “reading levels,” which are numbers or letters that someone, somewhere decided can accurately describe how your child is reading at this moment in time. Schools jumped on the bandwagon, painting the entire school library in red, blue, and green stickers, assigning points to books that should be read for their own sake, and filling children everywhere with unwarranted pride or shame. Every classroom has a poster displaying each student’s level and point count, and the high-level students learn to consider reading as a means to power, while the late bloomers learn to hate reading forever, nipping in the bud any chance that they could later become very proficient readers themselves.

Parents who want their children to succeed sometimes force them to read only at or above the level that the teacher gave them, not realizing that this instructional level is the level at which the child is struggling to learn, not the level at which they can enjoy reading fluently and develop a love of reading. It is such a shame to see children skipping over books that should be a precious part of childhood because Accelerated Reading has placed them at a lower level—or, for competitive children, assigned them too few points—only to read advanced books that they cannot appreciate, since they were written for older children.

It is not just the difficulty of the vocabulary that makes books appropriate for a certain age. More importantly, the difference lies in the emotional maturity and life experience of the reader. The book that would have been perfect for the eight-year-old is missed forever while she reads a book written for a twelve-year-old. She can read the words in the book, but she is not equipped to think like a twelve-year-old, and so both books are lost. If there is one issue that saddens the children’s staff in a public library the most, this is it.

Hopefully, my posting explaining the different leveling systems will be ready for publication the next time report cards go home.  Once again, thank you to Cheryl.  Her blog post, Grow a Love of Reading provides other valuable information about helping your child to enjoy reading.  Check it out!

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