Reading levels: What do parents of 1st-3rd graders need to know?

The new school year has begun, and for many parents of early readers (grades 1-3), that means there will be a reading level assigned. It’s not the case in every school, but in lots of districts reading levels are used to group children for guided reading and overall support (sometimes even starting in kindergarten).

The reading level process creates a lot of questions for parents (see next week’s blog for an FAQ!). But most importantly, parents need to know WHY a child is at a certain level. That’s because until you know your child’s specific strengths, and the bucket(s) of skills your child needs to work on, it will be harder to support reading growth at home and to make sure that there is enough time spent in school working on your child’s reading needs.

Here’s an analogy that might help explain the problem:

Three runners on a cross-country team all had the same race time in a 5K. As the coach watched the race, this was what she noted:

  •      Runner #1 was slow at starting
  •      Runner #2 lost time on hills
  •      Runner #3 was really tired at the end and couldn’t finish strong

So should they all get the same training plan? No. Runner #1 needs help with pacing, Runner #2 needs hill workouts, and Runner #3 needs more long runs and interval training to improve conditioning. Given that training time (like instructional time) is limited, it makes sense to make sure that each runner gets specific help with his/her specific running issue.

How does that running analogy relate to your child’s reading level?

What often happens in schools is that children who have the same level (like runners with the same 5K time) are grouped together for instruction. Sometimes that makes sense, but often the focus of that group instruction isn’t specific to what each reader around the table needs to work on to get to be a better reader.

So if your child is assigned a reading level this fall, make sure you know why that level has been assigned. Ask about which skills he or she needs to sharpen. Find out what is happening at school to address those skill needs. Your child only has one year in grade one (or two or three), and you want him/her to move as far along as you can every day.  To make that happen, the instruction has to match your child’s specific skill needs.

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