When I was in third grade, my teacher informed my mother during my parent-teacher conference that I was over a year behind in reading. My mother was shocked because I loved books so much, and I would ask her to read to me all the time. My teacher informed her that, while my reading comprehension skills were strong, I was struggling with grade-level phonics and fluency. This means that while I understood most of what was read to me, I could not decode those texts with the accuracy and speed needed to read independently. Luckily, with small-group reading instruction and adult-directed guidance of reading materials, I could close this reading gap by the end of the school year, reading at-or-above my peers. I grew up and became an English Language Arts teacher, helping first and second graders develop their literacy skills early, creating more confident and motivated readers. 

My story ends happily, but for many, gaps in literacy become exacerbated over time and can impact students’ overall academic success. A study conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation called Double Jeopardy: How Third Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation shows a strong correlation between early literacy levels and the likelihood that students will graduate high school. One in six who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate high school, which is a rate that is four times greater than that of their proficient peers. This shows that developing literacy skills early has a substantial impact on academic success in the long run. The 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress (also known as the Nation’s Report Card) showed that only 25% of fourth-graders read at a proficient level, while 30% of the remaining students read at a “basic” level and 36% “below basic.” This means that three-quarters of fourth graders in U.S. public schools are ill-equipped for fifth-grade level reading content. These reading gaps widen as the years progress and text becomes increasingly complex, making it harder for students to catch up. 

Reading as a Developmental Process 

These findings show that developmentally appropriate reading skills must be cultivated in children early and often. So, how can we support our children in their developmental reading journey? The answer lies in knowing your children’s independent reading levels and how to help them continue to grow. Two highly respected frameworks are Fountas & Pinnell Literacy and the Lexile Framework for Reading.  

Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading 

Fountas and Pinnell guided reading levels (F&P) is the most widely recognized and respected tool for selecting developmentally appropriate books for children. Developed by two prominent literacy scholars, the levels, ranging from A-Z in difficulty, correlate to grade-level goals from kindergarten to eighth grade. Thus, if your child begins third grade reading at a level “N,” s/he should end the school year reading at a level “P” to be ready for fourth grade. If a student is reading below a level “N,” that means parents and teachers should collaborate to ensure that the student can reach grade-level competency by the end of the academic year. These guided reading levels are determined by teacher-led assessments and consider a student’s ability to read accurately, fluently (with speed), and fully comprehend the text.  

If you know your child’s guided reading level, then you can help your child pick appropriate books out at the library. Many books are labeled with F&P levels, so you can know if your child is picking texts that are too hard, too easy, or just right. If you are unsure of the reading level of a text, you can use tools like the Scholastic Book Wizard.  

Lexile Framework for Reading 

Another well-known developmental reading tool is the Lexile Framework for Reading. Developed by two well-respected educational researchers to help students become college-ready in reading, the Lexile reading scale is the most recognized and widely used framework in the world. Unlike F&P levels, Lexile levels are given a numerical value, and grade-level appropriate texts fall under a range. For example, a third-grade student should be reading texts between 645L-985L to be considered “at grade level.” By the end of high school, students should be reading texts between 1295L-1610L to be considered “college-ready.” The Lexile Framework considers the amount of academic vocabulary and sentence variety to assign a Lexile level to a text. 

If you know your child’s Lexile reading level from state standardized tests or the NWEA MAP test, you can check if a text is appropriate for them using their Find a Book tool. Both F&P and Lexile levels are highly respected measures for assessing grade-level appropriateness in reading and are best used together.  

How Afficient English Builds Literacy 

How can Afficient Academy help you ensure that your child is reading appropriately rigorous content over the summer? Well, all our passages in Afficient English are crafted and curated with students’ developmental reading abilities in mind. We ask ourselves the following three questions: 

  1. Are our fiction and nonfiction passages at a grade-level appropriate Lexile level? 
  1. Do our fiction and nonfiction passages fully address the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for each grade level?  
  1. Is our nonfiction content aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and History-Social Science Content Standards and address interesting and relevant current events?  

Therefore, when your child is learning with Afficient English, you can be confident that they are being challenged with content that will help them be competitive in U.S. schools and eventually be college-ready. Take our free diagnostic test for Afficient English today and ensure that your child does not lose valuable reading skills over the long summer months. Have a question? Give us a call at 408-726-2245 or send us an email at info@afficienta.com. 

Hannah Hart is the curriculum manager of English Language Arts (ELA) content at Afficient Academy. She is a former early-elementary educator and subject-matter expert in literacy and other ELA subject areas.