Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lexile Score? What's THAT?

    Two questions parents ask me every year:

    What is a Lexile score?  What do we do with it?

    Answering those questions is pretty dry stuff, but -- like gluten -- it's important, for now.  (Also, like our preoccupation with gluten, our interest in students' Lexile scores may well be gone in the next five years, replaced by the latest fanfloozle.)

     Okay, deep breath.  What is a Lexile score?

     The words "Lexile score," or Lexile measure, can apply either to a reader or to a piece of text.  The score is typically shown as a number with an "L" after it, so 850L = 850 Lexile.  A student's Lexile measure results from a reading test or program;  a higher Lexile score represents a higher level of reading ability.   (A score of 1800 is reeeeeeeally up there.)

     With text, Lexile measure refers to the level of difficulty a student might experience in reading that text. So, students with an 850 Lexile measurement should stick to reading books at an 850 Lexile level, right?  Um, no. 

     Even though each student has an assigned Lexile number, it is preferable that they think in terms of a Lexile range when choosing books.  Lexile.com suggests a range from 100 points below one's Lexile number to 50 points above the number.  Consequently, if one's Lexile number is 880, then the Lexile range would be 780 to 930.

     Still with me?  Good.  


So should I restrict my child to reading only materials in his Lexile range?

     If you want your child to improve as a reader, here's the key:  Students who read the most, read the best It really is that simple.  It is not a matter of reading the "right" sorts of books, nor is it mandatory for students to read consistently at a certain level of difficulty.  (See The Mystery of the Maligned Manuscript.)  Actually, rigid restrictions about reading levels, genres, etc,  often inhibit students' enjoyment of reading, causing them to read less.  It's counterproductive. 

     Better to regard a student's Lexile range as a guideline rather than a rule in choosing reading materials.  While it frustrates students to read text far above their Lexile range, it's unproductive for them to read far below their capability.  Also, while a child may be able to read literature far above his grade level, such materials often contain content or themes inappropriate for his social, emotional, and/or psychological stages of development.  Because of all these variables, teachers are starting to realize the importance of granting students more autonomy -- within reason, of course -- in choosing their own reading materials.

     After years of working with student readers and their data, I've observed that students who read a lot of books -- even books as far as 200 points below their Lexile range -- tend to improve their Lexile measures the most over the course of the school year.  This obviously supports the notion that reading improvement is more about the quantity of reading than anything else.


Why did schools switch from "grade level" to Lexile measure, anyway?

     As has always been the case, students in any given grade are reading at many different levels.  It just doesn't make sense to think of reading levels in terms of grade levels.



So why determine reading levels at all?

     Whatever a student's reading level is at the beginning of the school year, it's important to see whether that level continues to improve.  If no gains are made over the course of a school year, it's time to diagnose and correct whatever may be standing in the way of  improvement.  Looking at Lexile scores for growth is the most valuable use of the data.

     According to the Lexile website, students are expected to achieve a gain of 75 to 100 points over the course of a school year.  It is natural, however, for students to hit an occasional plateau or to experience a growth spurt during the year.  Students coping with reading issues such as dyslexia will most likely improve at a slower pace.

To tell or not to tell?

     I have never found any value in keeping students' Lexile measurements a secret from them.  Because it is unfixed, a student's Lexile range can be improved over time with effort.  (It can also change for the worse over time through lack of effort.)  Simply put, an advanced Lexile measurement is evidence that a student's behaviors + native ability = a desirable outcome.  If a student's reading level is unsatisfactory, then it's time to put in the additional effort required in order to achieve a more desirable outcome.  There's nothing magical about it.