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September 29. 2016

A Level is a Teacher's Tool, NOT a Child's Label

It’s hard enough to be a kid. They have lots of things to worry about: parents, friends, sports, grades, etc. Reading can be an escape from those worries, just like it is for adults; it’s a way to relax and plunge yourself into someone else’s world for a little while.  But what happens when a child finds out that they’re not reading on the “same level” as the other children? What does that even mean to them? It’s not good, they know that. Reading has now become another worry to add to the pile of worries.

Trying to climb the “level ladder” is not what reading is about. It should be about enjoyment and discovery. Focusing too much on text levels can cause problems. Fountas and Pinnell created the F&P Text Level Gradient ™ to be used as a teacher’s tool for assessment and instruction. The levels aren’t meant to be shared with the children or parents.

Help Students Build Self-Esteem and Love of Reading

“It is detrimental to a student’s self-esteem and to their love of reading when they are encouraged to measure their own progress by ‘moving up levels,’” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017). Students should not use levels to compare themselves with others or to compete. This is counterintuitive to building a classroom community where each student is respected; has a sense of agency; values collaboration over competition; and grows up seeing themselves as literate.

Make “Choice” Authentic

Telling students to choose by “level” is not an authentic way to select books to read independently. That isn’t how I choose a book as an adult. In fact, I really love reading high fantasy, young adult books with a romantic twist. Can I read War and Peace? Sure, but I devour those YA novels like candy and that’s what we want students to do: get them to a point where they need to read every day; they yearn for it. As much as possible, strive for them to choose books in a way that all readers do—books that interest and engage them. 

Advocate for the Appropriate Use of Levels in Your School

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do.

Levels can be a resource for you and your colleagues to guide student choices for independent reading, but they should not be a limitation or a requirement. Leveled books are instructional tools for teachers who understand them—nothing more. Above all else, a level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label.

Jill Backman, Fountas & Pinnell Marketing Manager                                                                                                                       

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Comments (7)

  • Brittney

    10/1/2016 2:00:54 PM | Reply

    You include a quotation in this blog article.  Can you tell me which text you are referencing?  I would love to use this in a policy brief for a graduate course.  Thank you!

    • Jill Backman

      10/3/2016 9:50:07 AM | Reply

      Hi, Brittany! That exact quote was taken from a marketing piece, but it was adapted from a quote in Guided Reading, Second Edition, which is on page 296, and reads, "First, it is destructive to encourage students to measure their own progress by 'moving up levels.'"

  • Casey Korder

    10/27/2016 10:03:14 AM | Reply

    This article is excellent and go along with an Edsurge article I wrote.

  • Jeanne

    10/31/2016 12:52:15 PM | Reply

    I agree with most of the statements in this article--especially not telling students to choose a book at "their level."  When we want them to read at their level that means we need to choose the books for them?  The times when we let them choose is a time to have free reign?  Not sharing the levels with parents is interesting as I still see teachers doing that all the time at conferences. I would love to see an example of a teacher conference and how to relay the same information to the parent.  As a teacher, I always want to know my child's reading level, but I do understand what is means. I agree that the level system varies "too" much to make it understandable to most parents.

  • Cary C.

    11/28/2016 4:03:43 PM | Reply

    Thank you for this post. The reasons for not sharing this information with students and families makes sense. I work at a school that sees this data very differently. Reading levels are listed on the report card each trimester and mentioned at all conferences. What would you suggest teachers do instead of this? Families want to know how to help their students. I am leading a PD with our staff this week and would love to be able to share your response.

    • Debbie

      3/15/2018 11:01:27 AM | Reply


      I hope you received a response to this question about what to share with parents instead of levels.  The letters mean nothing to a parent.  It is better to share the language from the Literacy Continuum that describe behaviors that can be observed.  

  • Alison O'Fallon

    1/23/2017 1:59:20 PM | Reply

    So relieved to read this. I am an Ed Therapist whose students and parents all too often receive a "Level" as a hard and fast regulation regarding book choices. Levels are reported in conferences and on progress reports and it is often devastating to students who love reading and feel both restricted and inferior. One student came home with the photocopied list of her classmates' levels in her backpack. The levels are "guidelines" for instruction and assessment. Most teachers I know don't share instructional guidelines with parents in conferences or report them as progress. I have a 6th grader, (avid reader) limited to Level Q books although her progress report Friday said her accuracy on the recent assessment was 99%, with excellent comprehension, "...identifying almost all of the important facts and ideas." How does this information inform families about helping their kids?

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