Reading and Tests: Grade Equivalent v Grade Level – a brief email discussion on the ca-resisters listserv

I hope someone here with reading background can aim me in the right direction.  We had open house at school tonight.  My son's Language Arts teacher (8th grade) noted that everyone in that particular class period had a grade level equivalency of at least 11.6. Thus, she said, all children must read books at or above the 8th grade level (as determined by - yuck - Accelerated Reader).  So, because our library doesn't have a great stock of books and because we don't have all the AR tests, there'll only be a few books to choose from.  Which books are available, though, isn't the issue right now.  I need to read about grade level equivalency - what it means and what it doesn't.  My kid might be a good reader but he isn't like a 12th grader in experience or in understanding.  So picking books by reading level as though he is a 12th grader is a lousy way of picking books.



Dear Mickey:

Essentially, "grade equivalent" scores on a test mean that a student got as many or more... questions right as the typical student at, say, the sixth month of eleventh grade. It's a form of norm-referencing, useful only for bragging about how well your child did compared to mine.

But "grade level" on a book has a completely different meaning. It is a declaration that the complexity of the work (perhaps calculated according to a formula that considers syntax and vocabulary) makes it appropriate for the average reader at that grade level or above. There is nothing about "grade level" in this sense that precludes older and more advanced readers from enjoying and learning from the book.

Because you or I have a college diploma, or maybe an advanced degree, do we have nothing to learn from books with "reading levels" lower than 8.0? Charlotte's Web and Sarah Plain and Tall, although popular with very young readers, still have lessons for their parents and teachers, and so might more than one of Dr. Seuss's books. The list could go on and on, but the point should be clear: an arbitrary rule about "grade level" texts is based on a misunderstanding of test data and an even more profound misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of reading.

Perhaps your son's teacher wants to ensure that her students challenge themselves. If her goals extend to making literature meaningful to her students, she might be more successful by conferencing with or exchanging letters with her students about the books they select.



The standardization of reading, as exemplified by commercial packages like Accelerated Reader.  Ouch!!!  The psychological message driven in to students is that reading is a quantifiable "product" that you obtain by reading the book and answering the questions  on the computer test.  Your tally score tells you if you are reading "correctly," just  like on the test!  And since the tests can't measure complexity, the realm of  "comprehension" gets reduced to the lower level: recall of facts, and a superficial take on such things as inference and symbolism, etc.  Just the kind of thinking needed  in a society where the citizens must follow orders and not question authority.