A Guide to Reading Levels and Leveled Reading Systems

Reading level refers primarily to how students compare to a normalized group in their reading. However, there are many other factors involved, such as interest levels and text complexity. Many publishers have developed their own leveled reading systems/scores. Three of the most popular methods sold and used in most school districts are the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), the Fountas and Pinnell (BAS), and the Lexile. Reading levels play a significant role in the classroom, but parents need to understand them as well to help their children read at their appropriate level.

Leveled reading systems are significant because students must read certain materials at their appropriate level in school. Assessing reading levels is key, if they are not at their proper reading level, they will have difficulty in the classroom. This can affect the child’s interest in a topic or text, which can either help or hinder their comprehension. Reading levels are used to determine if a child is struggling with their reading. Reading scores are significant for parents and teachers of children from kindergarten through grades 2-3. These formative years are vital to developing essential literacy skills. Many studies have shown the relationship between poor reading scores in early grades and poor performance in later grades.

These levels are not just important to teachers during the school year, but parents must be aware Reading levels are significant to help determine if a child is reading below grade level or above grade level. Reading levels are also used to assist in determining appropriate classroom placement. Reading scores are often used for educational interventions, which can benefit struggling readers.

What is the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)

The Developmental Reading Assessment(DRA) is a standardized reading test used to determine a student’s instructional level in reading. The DRA is administered individually to students by teachers or reading specialists. Students read aloud a selection (or selections) to the proctor. As the levels increase, so does the difficulty.

You can assess reading comprehension, fluency, and accuracy using the DRA numerical scale. Students are described as being near, at, or significantly below grade level. Once you’ve obtained the student’s DRA score, you can compare it to books at the correct level.

The DRA has the students read a passage aloud to the proctor. The teacher/proctor is looking for several things while the student is reading the passage:

Prosody, Pronunciation, Expression, Word accuracy, Miscues, substitutions, self-corrections, re-reading, sounding out

Once the student has five errors in a passage, the assessment, and the previous passage is used for scoring.

Reading passages correlate to their corresponding grade level. Reading levels on the DRA have standard scores ranging from 0-44.  Examples of reading levels, an average first-grade reading level ranges from 4-16. We would expect the student in the higher ranges at the end of the school year. The Reading levels ranges are:

  • Reading Level 4-28 (First and second grades combined)
  • Reading Level 20-38 (Second and third grades combined)
  • Reading Level 30-44 (Third and fourth grades combined)

You can see the standard ranges in the correlation chart at the end of the article.

What is the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Assessment

Fountas and Pinnell Reading Levels Grade Equivalents is another prevalent reading assessment tool in many elementary schools. Fountas and Pinnell(sometimes referred to as the guided reading level system) is the publisher and creator of this reading assessment. The administration of the Fountas-Pinnell is very similar to the DRA, and the scores are cross-referenceable to the DRA.

The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System is also conducted by having students read selections in increasing difficulty. The teacher will have the student read the passage and count miscues, errors, self-corrections. These miscues are what the teacher will score as Reading Errors.

What is the Lexile Framework for Reading?

The Lexile Framework was developed in 2000 by MetaMetrics, a company that created the SAT I exam. Since then, it has been used widely with 100 companies and publishers in the United States using it.

Your youngster receives a Lexile reading level from a school or state test, not a “Lexile” assessment. The range of the Lexile measure ranges from less than 0L for early readers to more than 2000L for advanced readers. If a reader’s score is less than 0L, they are labeled as a beginning reader. If you’re not sure what your child’s Lexile reading score is, ask their teacher.

The Lexile Framework for Reading is a measure that gives a rigorous, comprehensive description of text complexity based on sentence length and word difficulty. This Framework makes it possible to match readers with targeted text that builds their vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency–the essential elements of reading success. The

The Lexile Framework, a more stringent numerical filtering, analyzes a book’s difficulty and matches the reader’s skill to the text’s Lexile level. This system from MetaMetrics, a UK-based educational measurement firm, targets books at the correct reading level for the child’s skill. It’s comprised of an algorithm that analyzes both words and sentence length at the same time.

Only prose is included in the Lexile database. NP and Non-Prose are two words used to categorize poems, plays, and songs. A book is classified as an Adult Directed, or AD, work if shared as a read-aloud. A book is a Nonconforming Text, or NC if its words and sentence length are more complicated than the subject matter. An NC book is appropriate for older readers who require age-appropriate material. BR(beginning readers) is the term used to describe books with a Lexile score of zero or less.

When are these assessments administered?

Reading assessments are typically given 2-3 times per academic year, in the fall, winter, and spring. Reading is a skill that takes time to master. Reading levels will constantly be changing as kids grow and mature. Reading assessments give teachers a sense of how their students are doing when it comes to reading. Reading levels change drastically from year to year and month to month for some kids. Reading assessments let the teacher know how to plan for instruction and intervention. Also, as with any subjective test, there will likely be some discrepancies in scores between proctors. That’s why it’s vital that the proctor/teacher is experienced and knowledgeable in reading and the assessment process to get an accurate level.

What are these scores used for?

Reading scores can motivate students and allow them to get targeted instruction in the Reading classroom. Reading assessment scores do not define a student or limit their opportunities. A student’s level will help teachers plan appropriate interventions if needed and see where students’ strengths and weaknesses are in reading to plan reading instruction accordingly.

How do I know if a book is appropriate for my child’s reading level?

Finding a children’s book that your kid can read on their own may be as tricky as remembering all of the components in a coffee shop beverage order! Reading levels are numerical scores assigned to books, but they can be challenging for parents and students to understand. Finding the books to match these levels can be even more challenging.

Online Resources

However, there are some resources on the internet that can make the task a little simpler to find that perfect fit for your child:

  1. Lexile Find-a-Book: Visit this website to discover the Lexile Number for a specific book or create a list of books with a specific Lexile Number.
  2. Book Wizard: Type in the book’s title to retrieve the Guided Reading Level and grade level.
  3. Reading A-Z Level Correlation Chart: This is the best conversion chart out there for reading levels.
  4. Reading Levels Explained: Check out this excellent and user-friendly site if you are still feeling overwhelmed by all of the reading level systems.
  5. Literacy Leveler app: Download this app and then use it to scan a book’s ISBN to see its Lexile, DRA, and GRL.

There are several others out there, but these are some of the ones I’ve found useful. Reading levels can be very frustrating at times, but with some help, you will find the right books for your children.

A word of caution is DON’T STRESS over finding the precise book level! What is your child interested in, what do they like to read? Reading levels are general guidelines, so don’t be afraid to stray from the books suggested on the Reading Level sites. Reading is supposed to be fun!

If your child enjoys reading about dinosaurs, you should find many books at that interest level. Your child’s levels are excellent guidelines but take it easy. Reading books should be enjoyable for your child, not stressful or tedious!


Understanding the different leveling systems can be a difficult task for parents and students alike. Developmental Reading Assessment, Fountas and Pinnell, and Lexile are the major assessment methods in determining the reading levels of books. There are many online resources to help find what book is appropriate for your child’s reading level, such as Reading Levels Explained or Reading A-Z Level Correlation Chart. The three leveling methods discussed here are the most popular at this time, but these are only three of many.

Each major publisher likes to have its own “system” for determining reading levels for the books they provide. There will be some differences between each publisher’s system; that’s why we need to interpret the reading levels assigned as general guidelines and not a strict boundary.

By Brian Southwell

About The Reading Ranch

The Reading Ranch is based in Texas and has 11 Centers in the DFW area as well as an online Virtual Literacy Program. We are laser-focused on literacy and provide reading intervention, phonics for reading, reading enrichment, comprehension, writing, and critical analysis classes for Prek-6th grade students.

At The Reading Ranch, our motto is “We Make Reading FUN“! Our methods are interactive and not the “drill/kill’ of many other programs.

The Reading Ranch curriculum created by Dr. Southwell at The Reading Ranch is research-based and heavy on phonics. Research has proven time, and again phonics is the best method of learning language and literacy skills.

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