My seventh-grader, Cameron, reads at a fifth-grade level, and I’m worried. When I asked his English teacher how to help him this summer, she e-mailed, “His lexile is 756, so get him to read lots of books that are lexiled in the mid to high 700s.” What does this mean?


His teacher forgot to translate the “pedagese”! Here’s what she means.

The best way to become a good reader is to read a lot. She wants you to find books and materials that match Cameron’s skill level so that he can get plenty of enjoyable practice. She doesn’t want him to struggle with text that is too difficult, but she doesn’t want him breezing through stuff that’s too easy either.

“What we read varies in difficulty in vocabulary and sentence construction,” explains reading expert Dr. Michael Milone. “These factors can be measured mathematically to determine the ‘readability’ of the text. Winnie-the-Pooh is easier than A Brief History of Time. Some popular formulas are ATOS (Advantage-TASA Open Standard), associated with Accelerated Reader, Dale-Chall and Flesch-Kincaid. For example, Bridge to Terabithia has an ATOS readability of 4.6. This means that students in the middle of grade 4 would probably be comfortable with its vocabulary and sentence structure.”

The Lexile Framework is a readability formula that uses a scale from 200 to 1,300. It doesn’t correspond to grade level. Students are tested, given a lexile, and encouraged to read books in that range.

“Your son’s lexile is a test snapshot on a single day,” says Milone. “Many think that we rely too much on these snapshots. Readability is just one factor to use when choosing books for young readers. You should also consider suitability and interest. There is no better example than the Harry Potter series, with an ATOS readability in grades 6 through 7 range. The first Potter book has an 880 lexile rating. Yet we all know third- or fourth-graders who enjoy these books with perfect understanding. It is the role of the parent, teacher, and children’s librarian to use readability, suitability, and interest to help children pick books they will enjoy and understand.”

Since practice is the key to improvement, encourage Cameron to read everything he has time for, from whole books to magazine articles to interesting tidbits from the Internet. “He will improve faster if you or another capable reader can provide feedback,” says Milone. “Read what he reads, discuss it with him, and when possible, read together aloud, taking turns.”

Milone, a children’s author whose latest book is Nasha: The First Dog (Academic Therapy Publications, 2009), says there are plenty of titles you can enjoy together. “Don’t forget nonfiction. There’s nothing wrong with diving into The Big Book of Gross Stuff (Smith, Gibbs, 2010).”

Check out a batch from the library and return what doesn’t appeal. When Cameron finds an author he likes, read the whole series. If he is interested in a topic, check out all the books and browse through them. “As he becomes a better reader, guide him to more challenging books,” says Milone. “Use readability as a guide, not a hard and fast rule. In the end, his interests will motivate him to read more difficult text.”

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate Inc.