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A word on Lexile

What is Lexile?

Lexile is a quantitative value of 0 to 2000 used to describe reading level.  It can be assigned to measure the reading level of literature or to describe the reading ability of people.   The numerical value is derived from a formula based on sentence length, occurrence of keywords and complexity of vocabulary.

While in my heart of hearts, I think using Lexile restricts reading choices, I do believe that when Lexile is applied appropriately (and with a dose of common sense) it can be a very useful tool in the educational process.   Firstly, Lexile provides an unbiased number to use as a starting point in finding a book at a comfortable level for the student. It is not based on what other kids of a similar age or grade are reading or what level the student, parent, or teacher thinks the student  should be reading at. This is particularly important when you have a client with reading delays or other learning differences such as dyslexia.  Lexile is also invaluable when you are dealing with an extremely reluctant reader who has never ever successfully read an entire book.  When you are helping such a reader, you cannot ask them, “What’s the last book you read that you liked?”  You may be able to find out what content will interest them by talking to them, but you will be clueless about the reading level.  It is indeed awkward when you size up a client, hand them a book and realize it is too hard for them and then you must work your way down.

 So is assigning a student a number bad?  I tend to think that when you look at the big picture it is not.  In fact , here are several more reasons why that dastardly machine-generated number can be seen as useful.

 Firstly, since Lexile scores are computer generated, they  are easy to derive and assign to a child without giving individually administered and scored reading assessments several times a year.  In fact, computer generated assessments are a necessity when you have thirty kids in a class – especially during the grade school years when reading levels differ greatly between students.

 Another benefit of the Lexile score is that because the testing is so rampant, it means that virtually every student you encounter has one.  It is the savvy librarian that knows to ask the parent that has come in to get their children’s books for book reports with no child in sight, to ask what the child’s Lexile is. Believe me, most parents know their child’s score down to the last digit.

 Thirdly, Lexile provides data that teachers can share with parents to figure out educational goals.  Since kids are assigned a number each year when they take their state exams, it is easy to see if the child is staying the same or improving.  It may seem heartless, but when you are trying to literally get hundreds of kids to move forward, this data is invaluable to our educators.

 Is Lexile misused?  Is it being used to label kids as genius, dummy or heaven-forbid, average?  Perhaps, but I also see how they can be a useful tool when approached in an objective and reasonable manner.

For information on finding books at your child’s Lexile visit

To help determine which of these books your kid will actually enjoy reading visit and chat with your local librarian.

My kid has a low Lexile, Help!

If a child has a low Lexile – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and shouldn’t be approached from the point of view that we need to “raise” the Lexile.  What should be done, is locate age-appropriate materials that are within the Lexile, interest the child and challenge them to increase vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

Additionally when a child struggles with reading there is usually one or two components in which the student is lacking adequate skills.  By identifying weak elements and working individually with the student to improve these elements, dramatic improvements in reading comprehension and fluency occur.   The main components of reading literacy are:   Phonological awareness, vocabulary, rate and prosody (how fluently a person reads) and comprehension.  Identifying which area a child struggles with can often provide a breakthrough in how to help them, and most importantly increase their enjoyment of reading.

My kid is a genius – Fourth Grade and a 1000 Lexile!

Where I see Lexile getting particularly sticky is when you have a young-ish child with a high Lexile (say over 1000).  Now, it is often VERY hard to find materials without venturing into books more appropriate for high school and adults.  For these kids, I say great for them!  They are reading at an adult level – so let them read whatever they want.  (Unless you want your nine year old reading the Kite Rider).  Yes I know there are a few  books at this level, but kids with high Lexiles, often tend to be the most voracious (and fastest!) readers.

If you strike out finding appropriate high level Lexile books that the child hasn’t read, one suggestion is to have the parent bounce the issue back to the school to see if they can’t be flexible in allowing these students to read at the 800 or 900 level.  You can search books by Lexile level at

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