Thursday, September 20, 2012

Coming 2 Know Readers vs Relying on Lexile Levels

from Lexile Website
Now it may simply be a lot of coincidences, but something is very wrong.  During the last few days I have had the opportunity to confer with scores of middle school youngsters about themselves, their reading habits, the texts they read/avoid/abandon, and to listen to them read aloud passages from self selected texts.  Like most work of this sort, it has been eye opening.  One oddity that has arisen is connected to lexile scores that have been generated based on student performance on Scholastic's SRI Interactive, a computer based reading test. What I have noticed is that so many of the students' lexile scores are significantly lower than what I am seeing as I sit alongside each learner.  For example, one sixth grade boy had a score of 278, which would indicate he was reading like a first grader (see chart).

Because students are encouraged to read texts that correspond with their lexile test score, this student was rather challenged to find a book he actually liked.  I encouraged him to forget about the score and instead select a text based on a topic he might care about.  I can't recall the first book he selected, but he read sections of it aloud and discussed it with significant confidence and insight. As we worked together, I introduced him to Laurence Yep's Hiroshima and later to Saki's short story, "The Open Window." Needless to say, this is a sophisticated and rather talented young man. Next week, we will be reading Poe's "Tell Tale Heart" and also Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw." He has a thing for the macabre.

The difference between a learner reading a typical first grade book, such as Rylant's Henry and Mudge and one who can read and comprehend Saki is so incredibly vast that it leaves me a bit speechless.  Keep in mind that Henry & Mudge which has a 340 lexile level would have been above the student's 'reading level' according to the test results.

Here is a visual comparison from the opening of each text:

First Page from Henry & Mudge, Lexile 340

from The Open Window, Lexile 850




















The Smarter Balance website has recommends the Saki story for 10th grade.

Word Count: 1214
Flesch-Kincaid: 7.3
Lexile: 850L, grade 4-5
This literary passage is recommended for use at grade 10. The  quantitative measures suggest a lower grade level, but the language, complexity of sentence structure, and setting in a  former time make this passage more appropriate for an older grade level.


More than half of the students I worked with demonstrated that they read much better than the single test suggested and there was another occasion where the difference between a student's actual performance and the test score was more than 7 years.  I have suggested to the teachers I worked with that sitting alongside a child and hearing him or her read aloud from a text they actually are enjoying and then discussing the text together yields the potential for significant insights.  It costs nothing additional to do this, can help to build community, and because it involves choice and performance, allows the teacher to build a more complex understanding of the learner, while affording the learner an occasion to deepen his/her metacognitive understanding.

The other potential problem with reliance on a computer generated 'reading level' is that some teachers and learners begin to doubt their own insights, especially if the test score is overly privileged.  Whereas it's wonderful to help students make appropriate text choices and a test score can in some cases be helpful, we should not lose sight that lexile levels at best hint at performance.  Prior knowledge, interest, confidence, and choice greatly influence how one reads.

My advice: sit alongside and come to know.




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