As a pre-service professional student in the University of Georgia College of Education, I have had valuable, first-hand experiences in the language arts middle school classroom. This is where I first heard about Lexile Levels. This system rates literary works based on their difficulty. This might seem like a great way to provide readers with on-level or challenging reading materials, right? Some teachers might think so, but this is a controversial issues. For starters, Lexile levels are not always the best authority on the matter. People are sometimes surprised when they find that Lexile levels don’t always accurately represent the difficulty of literature. Some works are scored far too low, and students are not allowed to read the books they enjoy because they are not challenging enough. Some works are rated too high, and students are not allowed to read them because they are too difficult. Sounds like a double-edge sword, doesn’t it?
I don’t always trust Lexile scores for more reasons than these. When I was growing up in school, I never heard much about Lexile levels. I was free to read the books I enjoyed. Sometimes, I was cautioned by teachers that books might be too difficult for me to read; this never stopped me from reading and enjoying them. And sometimes, I was cautioned by teachers that certain books were too easy and wouldn’t challenge me; still, this never stopped me from enjoying them. Today, many young adolescents are placed in a box with what they can or cannot read. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard teachers say, “no, you can’t read that; the Lexile isn’t high enough.” Or “no, we can’t use this book in the classroom; the Lexile is too high.” Does this change the fact that students might take interests in books that aren’t necessarily on their “level”? I think not. And besides, leisure reading is called leisure reading for a reason. If we want to encourage our children to become more avid readers, we shouldn’t be telling them what to read.
Still, I don’t believe Lexile scores or other measures of difficulty or complexity are useless. They can provide a groundwork to help teachers choose which books to use in their classroom. These measures should only be a starting point; the best way to select reading materials for the classroom is to read them and use your own discretion. Lexile scores and other measures of difficulty and text complexity can be helpful when choosing appropriate texts, but they should never be the sole factor when choosing reading material for young adults.