Reading Levels: What Do They Tell You?


My child is in second grade and her report card includes a reading level, but I don't know what it means. How can I find out what the level means so that I can understand what my daughter needs help with?

S. James, Mt.Pleasant, SC

Ask the Experts

Margie Gillis, Ed.D

Margie Gillis is the President of Literacy How and a Research Affiliate at Haskins Laboratories, which conducts basic research on spoken and written language.

The reading level that you’re referring to is either a number or a letter, which is meant to tell you if your child is reading at grade level. It is based on an assessment called a running recorda record that shows which words the student can and can’t read. But what this assessment does not provide is a more in-depth analysis of your child’s ability to sound out words (decode) and spell accurately.

If you’re concerned that your daughter is reading below grade level, your first step should be to ask her teacher to explain what the score means in terms of accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.

In order to measure these skills accurately, the teacher must use an assessment that’s designed to measure them with reliability and validity. Equally important, the teacher must retest these reading and spelling skills on a regular basis to be sure that the child is making progress. There are assessments that are specifically designed for that purpose.

If the assessment results determine that your daughter has adequate decoding and spelling skills, her reading difficulties may be due to problems with comprehension. Comprehension skills are more difficult to assess because there are many different skills involved in understanding texts.

Keep asking questions about what the assessment information means until you are satisfied that you understand it clearly. And even more important, be sure that you know what the teacher is doing to address the difficulties that your child is experiencing and that she is making sufficient progress in order to reach grade level and her potential.

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