How reading levels are determined

Subject: How reading levels are determined
From: Michael Cenedella <ropes -at- TELEPORT -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 1998 12:04:09 -0800

Since there's interest, and (I know) much ignorance on this subject, I'll
give some information to the list.

It will be helpful to techwhirlers as a reference point for audience
analysis or for convincing an employer which grade level may be a reasonable
target. You can assume a greater educational level (not necessarily the same
as a reading level) for specialized business software than for a consumer
game, to be totally obvious. Technical vocabulary is excluded from the grade
level rating.

Children?s Writer?s Word Book, by Alijandra Mogilner, Writers Digest Books,
1992, has lists of words at grade levels 1-6, with writing samples in
fiction and non-fiction at the different grade levels.

Reading level:
In my years as a special ed teacher, I learned that most people, including
myself before I got training, have a wrong impression of what grade level
measurements mean. Most people think it is a list of words or of reading
skills which a person must have to succeed at a given grade level?a
criterion standard. Instead, grade levels are empirically derived from
normed tests.

For example, a 6th grade reading level indicates the performance of the
statistically average 6th grader in the norming sample for a particular
test. In other words, a test is given to several kids. Their assigned grade
is indicated on the test form, and tracked along with their answers in the
scoring process. As the tests are scored, the performance of all 6th graders
is compiled. The scores (on a well-designed test of a carefully selected
norming sample) will give an accurate picture of the performance of 6th
graders. Then the performance of the statistically middle or average 6th
grader is used as the standard against which other 6th graders are compared.

A moment?s thought yields the startling realization that at any moment, 50%
of the 6th graders are below grade level! Scandalous! But wait, it?s
actually normal. Anyhow, I explained this to kids and parents, and it caused
great relief. In fact, schools don?t become very concerned until a kid is
more than two years below grade level.

Yes, you can find criterion-based grade level systems, but the criteria are
originally based on some normed data.

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