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How to Determine Middle and High School Reading Levels

by Nadia Archuleta

With the pervasive nature of the internet, teenagers cannot escape the need to read, nor does anyone want them to. Unfortunately, many teenagers are not reading at their grade level, meaning at a level appropriate to their age and education to that point. Reading designations for students within a grade level are as follows: independent, meaning they understand everything in that grade level text; instructional, meaning they understand enough independently to access the rest; and frustration, meaning that reading this text frustrates them due to incomprehension. Whatever grade level a student reaches the instructional designation provides her reading level.

Parental Assessment

Naturally, all education starts in the home. If parents suspect their middle or high school child is having difficulty reading, they have options. They should note what grade-level book she chooses on her own. They can do a title search at AR BookFind if the level of the book was not provided by the library. Teenagers automatically choose reading material at their independent level. In addition, a parent can ask his teenager to summarize a passage she just read. If she has difficulty doing this, there may be a literacy issue. As suggested in the article "Screening for Reading Problems in Grades 4 Through 12," parents can then contact their teenager's school to follow up on their concerns.

Oral Reading Fluency

One aspect of a reading diagnostic that is done in schools but can also be done at home is an oral reading fluency test. For this assessment, the tester has a copy of a graded passage and the teenager has another. The teenager reads the passage while the teacher or parent listens, marking any mistakes. This is a timed assessment. When teachers conduct this reading diagnostic in the classroom, they stop the student at the one-minute mark and note the number of words read accurately. This provides the words-per-minute rate that helps determine the grade level of the teenager's reading. A parent or tutor might choose to allow the teenager to read to the end of the passage, while silently noting the one-minute mark.

Literacy Software

Some schools have access to literacy software. Teachers can use this software as a diagnostic to determine a teenager's reading level. Renaissance Learning, a common brand in use, guides students through a STAR test. The students logs in with his unique user name and password to take the test. The software guides the student through a series of reading questions that get progressively more difficult. When the student has reached frustration level, testing stops. Teachers use this data not only to determine reading level, but to determine which grade level literacy skills students need to work on.

Reading Competency

To aid parents in assessing reading levels, The National Right to Read Foundation developed a test that anyone can administer. The Reading Competency Test is based on the reading inventories used by teachers. In the first step, the teenager reads a series of sentences containing words chosen according to phonological decoding. Next the teenager reads a passage while the test administrator follows along, noting mistakes, mispronunciation and skipped words. Finally, the assessor matches the information to a given guideline to determine the level at which the middle or high school student is reading.

About the Author

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.

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