Chapter 34: Why Reading Level Matters

(Click for the Complete Online Parent Reading Guide)

What is “reading level”?

You may have heard the term “reading level” from your child’s teacher. It sounds simple enough to understand. Second-graders are all at a second-grade reading level, right? And fourth-graders must read books at a fourth-grade level. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Children in school are usually assessed at a certain reading level based on their scores from standardized reading tests. Their test scores are then compared to the average reading scores of children at each different grade level. Based on this comparison, children are assigned a two-number score called a grade level equivalent, or GLE.

The first number in the GLE represents the actual grade level while the second refers to the month of the school year. For example, if your child has a GLE of 4.2, this would tell you that he reads about as well as the average fourth-grader does by the second month of the school year. If he’s in the third grade, a score of 4.2 would mean he’s reading very well for his age. If he’s in the fifth grade, however, a 4.2 would mean he’s a little behind his peers.

Why does it matter?

Your child’s reading level matters for two reasons. One is simply because it gives you and his teacher a quick snapshot of his ability. It can tell you if he’s reading pretty well for his age or if he needs some extra help. It can also let you know when he’s improving.

The other reason that knowing your child’s reading level is important has to do with how you choose books for him to read. If your child is reading books that are too simple for him, he is not being challenged and may actually get bored with reading. If he is reading books that are simply too hard, he will struggle to understand what he’s reading and may become frustrated and quit trying.

Follow that score

If you want to find books that pique your child’s interest without leaving him frustrated, ask his teacher for his reading level score. Not all schools use a direct grade-level equivalent, but his teacher should be able to translate whatever system the school uses into a grade-level score for you.

While looking for books for your child, keep in mind that the GLE is just approximate. If your child’s score is a 3.9, for instance, he would probably be comfortable with books in a range on either side of that score – 3.0 through 4.2, for instance.

Once you know the reading range you’re trying to target, you can talk with your child’s school librarian or reading specialist about which books would be a good fit for him. They may already have lists of books for the different reading levels.

Off to see the wizard!

One great way to find books for your child based on reading level is to use an online reading-level wizard. The Scholastic Books and Authors page has a “Book Wizard” that allows parents to search for books by four different reading level measurements, including GLE, as well as by author, title and keyword. You can even set a reading-level range. Book Adventure has a “Find a Book” wizard that searches for books by grade level as well as by difficulty settings such as “books at my grade level” or “books that are a challenge.” The I Can Read site lets kids and their parents search for books based on its own reading levels. These include levels with easy-to-understand descriptions like “My First: Shared Reading” and “Reading With Help.”


Scholastic Books, Books and Authors, “Book Wizard,”

Book Adventure,

I Can Read,