What Are Reading Levels?

Written by Dan

Last updated

Parents may be understandably perplexed when their child’s teacher mentions “reading level” or specific numbers like 440L and GR J. To help teachers explain what this means, we have developed a straightforward guide to assist them in communicating the importance of reading levels for students just starting school.

What are reading levels?


Reading levels are an efficient method for distinguishing a student’s reading abilities. To measure comprehension and fluency, these assessments analyse various elements, such as phoneme accuracy, decoding aptitude, and vocabulary knowledge.

Using these tests, teachers can identify precisely what kids understand and the areas needing more attention. Additionally, they are utilised to form small groups of learners based on their skill level to maximise their instruction sessions. Reading is a core part of the early curriculum , so ensuring we make the most of every session is essential.

When selecting a book for your child, choosing the correct reading level is critical. Many children’s book publishers have marked their books with appropriate levels that can be referred to by parents and kids alike to find suitable options.

If they pick something too hard, they may feel discouraged; their skills won’t develop adequately if the material is too easy. With a carefully selected read, however, they’ll flourish!

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

It’s critical to recall a few facts about the assigned scores. In certain situations, the score evaluates how easy it is to read a book; not it’s content. For instance, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple illustrates this idea; it has been given an AR/ATOS rating of 4.0, implying that it’s written at the complexity of fourth grade.

Nevertheless, it is commonly agreed that this book’s content isn’t suitable for fourth graders. This type of material is known as a “high-low,” meaning the interest level should be geared towards higher-grade kids while its readability score remains low enough to still be within reach for less proficient readers.

Therefore, level numbers should not be the only consideration when selecting a book. Many educators advise against relying solely on levels to impede children from choosing what they want to read. Is your child interested and willing to explore something more complicated because of its engaging topics or content?

Allow them! Alternatively, are they seeking solace in reading by revisiting old favourites for pleasure? Why not let them do so too? All that matters is getting students into reading whenever it’s possible.

How To Determine Reading Levels


Schools assess reading levels annually or even more frequently. Every system used to evaluate a student’s ability has its scoring criteria – in fact, your child might receive multiple scores based on different systems! Through these assessments, educators understand where each student stands literacy-wise and can adjust instruction accordingly.

If you are looking for levelled books, four central systems are used in most schools, districts and libraries. Each book has a different score according to the system being utilized. Equivalency charts can be found online should you need assistance converting scores from one system to another.

Although these four systems comprehensively cover many students’ needs, numerous other specialized companies or publishers also design their levelling criteria.

If you want examples of books each year group can enjoy, check out our article.

Lexile® Reading Levels

Lexile® is one of the most popular reading level systems and is measured by a number followed by “L”. The scale begins at 10L for novice readers up to 2000L or higher for advanced readers.

To get an estimate on which grade your child’s Lexile score corresponds to, divide it in half – so a book with 370 as its rating would be suitable for 3rd graders. When seeking books especially suited to your child’s current Lexile score, look no further than those rated 100L below and 50L above their own.

The Lexile measure scale can be seen in the following examples:

  • David Goes to School: 210L
  • Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm: 470L
  • The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson): 680L
  • The Hobbit: 1000L
  • This metric provides a reliable way for readers of all levels to find books that best suit their needs.

Guided Reading Levels (Fountas and Pinnell)

Developed by two Ohio State University professors, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, the GRL reading level system is now commonly called “Fountas & Pinnell” or merely “GRL”.

Although recently a contentious subject due to one of its core principles being disproved by current cognitive science findings, this system remains an invaluable tool for educators.

Even today, many educational institutions and publishers rely on the Guided Reading Level system to determine appropriate books for different reading capabilities.

This uses letters ranging from A (beginning readers) to Z+ (highly advanced). When selecting books, you can use these GR Levels as a guide to ensure your children get the best material suitable for their respective abilities.

As an example: David Goes To School has been assigned a GR Level of G; Judy Moody and The Bad Luck Charm is rated M; Percy Jackson’s Lightning Thief comes with W; while The Hobbit hits a maximum level of Z+.

ATOS/AR Reading Levels

The Accelerated Reader level, also known as the ATOS score, is a system that evaluates a book’s average sentence and word length, vocabulary grade level, and the overall amount of words. The books are scored in an X.X format where the first number symbolises what grade it corresponds to (0 being kindergarten). In contrast, the latter indicates when this reading material should be expected or introduced to students during said grade.

Let’s say, for example, that a book with an ATOS/AR score of 5.4 would be perfect for students who have just started the fifth grade – easy to comprehend and enjoyable! To illustrate this point further, here are some examples of books and their corresponding scores: David Goes to School (ATOS/AR 0.9), Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm (ATOS/AR 3.1), The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson) (ATOS/AR 4.7), and lastly The Hobbit (ATOS/AR 6.6).

DRA Reading Levels

The Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) evaluates proficiency levels in various reading elements such as phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency. Student scores range from A1 (beginners) to 80 (advanced).

To ensure children are continuing to make progress at a comfortable level of difficulty but not becoming overwhelmed with frustration due to excessive challenge, be sure their reading materials are at or slightly above their DRA score; for instance: David Goes to School – DRA 12; Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm – DRA 24; The Lightning Thief by Percy Jackson – DRA 60; The Hobbit ––DRA 70.

Providing children with books appropriate for their reading ability is of utmost importance regarding educational outcomes and fostering a lifelong love of literature. You can find books matching your children’s reading level by using the Lexile measure scale, Guided Reading Level system, ATOS/AR scores or the Developmental Reading Assessment Levels.

This way, we can ensure our kids get the best material suited to their interests and capabilities!

Five Useful Articles About Reading Levels:

  1. Reading Rockets: “Understanding Reading Levels” (https://www.readingrockets.org/article/understanding-reading-levels) This article overviews reading levels and their determination. It covers topics such as the different types of reading assessments and how to use them to guide instruction.
  2. Scholastic: “What Are Reading Levels?” (https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/what-are-reading-levels/) This article explores the different reading level systems used in schools today, including Lexile and Guided Reading Level, and provides tips for effectively supporting student learning.
  3. Edmentum: “The Importance of Reading Levels: What They Are and How to Use Them” (https://blog.edmentum.com/importance-reading-levels-what-they-are-and-how-use-them) This article discusses the importance of understanding reading levels and how they can help educators identify students who may be struggling with specific skills or concepts. It also provides practical tips for using reading levels to guide instruction.
  4. Reading A-Z: “Why Leveled Reading?” (https://www.readinga-z.com/literacy-research/leveled-reading/) This article explains why levelled reading is essential for supporting student learning and offers guidance on selecting appropriate texts based on a student’s reading level.
  5. Booksource: “Reading Levels Explained: A Guide for Parents” (https://www.booksource.com/reading-levels-explained.aspx) This article is aimed at parents and provides an overview of the different types of reading level systems used in schools today, as well as tips for selecting books that are appropriate for their child’s skill level. It also includes information on how to use reading levels to support children’s development as readers.


Q: What is reading levels?

A: Reading levels are a way of categorizing books based on the difficulty of the text. They are typically determined by analyzing sentence length, vocabulary complexity, and overall readability.

Q: Why are reading levels critical in primary school?

A: Reading levels are essential in primary school because they help educators identify students struggling with specific skills or concepts. By matching students with texts that are appropriate for their skill level, teachers can provide targeted interventions to support student learning.

Q: How do schools determine a student’s reading level?

A: Schools use various assessments to determine a student’s reading level. These may include standardized tests, informal assessments (such as running records), and teacher observations.

Q: Can students read books outside of their assigned reading level?

A: Yes, students can certainly read books outside of their assigned reading level. It is often encouraged as a way to challenge and stretch their skills. However, ensuring that students have access to appropriate texts for their skill level to support their growth as readers is crucial.

Q: How can parents support their child’s development around reading levels?

A: Parents can support their child’s development around reading levels by encouraging them to read regularly and providing access to books that match their skill level. It is also helpful for parents to work closely with teachers to understand how they can best support their child’s learning at home.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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