Lexile levels: How to use this tool to understand your child’s reading skills

Reading Jul 07, 2020

You might have seen it printed on the back of a book, inside a publisher’s catalog, or on a child’s progress report: a series of numbers and letters called a Lexile. What are these codes, and how do they apply to your learner? Let’s demystify the Lexile system and learn how Lexile measures serve as a valuable tool to support your child’s reading growth.

What is a Lexile measure and why is it important to parents?

The Lexile Framework for Reading is a system used to match students with texts (books, articles, and other reading material), regardless of grade level. It takes a scientific approach to measuring reading level. Its numeric measures can apply to both reader and text:

  • Lexile text measures reflect the readability of an individual book based on analysis of word frequency, sentence length, and text complexity.
  • Lexile reading measures reflect a child’s ability to read texts in a certain range of difficulty.

When you know your child’s Lexile measure, you are better able to select books that will be “just right” for them: not too easy, not too tricky. This way, you can avoid picking inaccessible books that will leave them feeling discouraged, or too-simple books that will leave them bored and looking for something else to read!

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What does the number in a Lexile measure mean?

Understanding a book’s Lexile measure code, which usually consists of a number followed by the letter L, is fairly intuitive: lower numbers mean that the material is simpler and easier-to-read, while higher numbers denote more complex and difficult texts. For example, Green Eggs and Ham has a Lexile measure of 210L, but The Great Gatsby clocks in at 1070L.

However, you can’t go on Lexile measures alone. The Grapes of Wrath, often taught in high school, has a Lexile measure of 680L, while Charlotte’s Web, an elementary school staple, has the same Lexile measure. Both books feature a simple, clear writing style, but The Grapes of Wrath contains advanced concepts and themes more appropriate for older readers.

When applied to your child, Lexile measures work the same way: a lower number means they should be reading books with less text complexity, and a higher number signals that they need something more challenging.

An exception is BR, or Beginning Reader, Lexile measures—higher numbers are assigned to simpler books and earlier readers, while lower numbers represent trickier books and more advanced readers as they approach 0L. A book rated BR300L will be easier to read than one rated BR100L.

What do the letters in a Lexile measure mean?

In addition to Beginning Reader Lexile measures (BR), there are several letter codes you might encounter at the beginning of a Lexile measure:

  • AD: Adult Directed. These books are meant to be read aloud to children.
  • NC: Non-Conforming. These books contain content appropriate for advanced readers who are still on the young side.
  • HL: High-Low. These books are engaging for older students who need less complex texts.
  • IG: Illustrated Guide. These are nonfiction reference texts.
  • GN: Graphic Novel. These are comic books and graphic novels. If your child loves comics more than anything else, you can still find ones that will provide an appropriate reading challenge!
  • NP: Non-Prose. These are songs, plays, poems, and anything else besides a traditional prose book.

What is the scale of Lexile measures?

Lexile reader measures and Lexile text measures help narrow down reading ability and text complexity to match readers with appropriate books at all grade levels.

There is no “correct” Lexile scale or range for your learner’s age or grade. However, according to an analysis published by the Lexile Framework for Reading, the correspondence of Lexile student measures to grade levels, based on the 50th-90th percentile range and measured at the end of the school year, are as follows:

  • Kindergarten: BR160L - 150L
  • 1st Grade: 165L - 570L
  • 2nd Grade: 425L - 795L
  • 3rd Grade: 645L - 985L
  • 4th Grade: 850L - 1160L
  • 5th Grade: 950L - 1260L
  • 6th Grade: 1030L - 1340L
  • 7th Grade: 1095L - 1410L
  • 8th Grade: 1155L - 1470L
  • 9th Grade: 1205L - 1520L
  • 10th Grade: 1250L - 1570L
  • 11th Grade: 1295L - 1610L
  • 12th Grade:  1295L - 1610L

Remember that although these numbers represent typical Lexile measures at different grade levels, Lexile measures vary more broadly within each grade. If your young learner’s Lexile measure is far above or below the typical range, you can seek reading materials with Non-Conforming or High-Low Lexile measures that will be enjoyable as well as appropriate for their reading ability.

How to assess your learner’s Lexile level

Lexile levels are assessed in school through classroom assessments and standardized tests. Ask your child’s teacher if they have assessed Lexile measures, and if so, if they are able to share this information with you, as school’s policies regarding assessment data vary. Keep in mind that although some schools assess Lexile measures, others use different assessments to determine a child’s reading level, and may not have Lexile measure data to share.

If you are able to view your child’s Lexile measure, it is important not to refer to this assessment result as a Lexile score; it is not intended to measure achievement, and treating it like a “test” can cause undue anxiety for kids and parents alike.

How to use lexile levels to help select appropriate reading material

If you have determined your child’s Lexile measure, it’s now time to help them find books they’ll love! Some books have Lexile measures printed on the jacket; Lexile measures for other books can be found on publisher websites and other online databases.

A recommended Lexile text range is 100L below to 50L above your young learner’s Lexile reading measure. Once you have determined an appropriate range, search for books with topics, content, and themes that interest your child.

An easy way to do this is to use an online database and filter search results for the Lexile range you have determined. You’ll find that there are books available at every Lexile level that will capture your child’s interest and imagination!

Feel free to involve your learner in the process. Remember to discuss their Lexile measures in a neutral tone and treat the numbers like those in a matching game; you want your child to be able to express their reading preferences without feeling pressure to pick something “higher.”

Following these guidelines will allow you to choose “just right” books that pose a healthy challenge to your child, but are within or not too far outside of their comfort zone. That way, kids are freed up from unnecessary difficulties and are better able to focus on reading comprehension, learning, and enjoyment.

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