To become highly proficient and motivated readers, struggling readers, including children with dyslexia, need to read interesting materials that have the right degree of challenge. This requires evaluators, teachers, and tutors to systematically answer three basic questions: (1) What are the child’s instructional levels for narrative and expository reading materials? (2) What are his independent levels for these materials? (3) What are his frustration levels for these materials? Failure to adequately answer these questions, instruct the child at his proper instructional and independent levels, and accurately monitor and adjust the levels to reflect his current progress will stymie the effectiveness of any intervention. It may also cause him great distress.
To determine these levels for your child, highly knowledgeable evaluators, teachers, and tutors can test her with a well-reviewed Informal Reading Inventory (IRI). They should supplement the IRI by asking her read from graded books of known difficulty (e.g., 2nd grade, 4th grade). When doing so, they should use the definitions below or highly similar ones. In many cases, adherence to such definitions can socially, emotionally, and academically strengthen struggling readers.
Instructional Reading Level. “The student can function adequately with teacher guidance and yet be challenged to stimulate his reading growth. Comprehension should average 75 percent or better, and word recognition should average 95 percent or better [before the teacher starts to work with the student].” (Ekwall, 1985) Anything easier is usually the student’s independent level, the level at which he can comfortably and fluently read on his own and successfully read his homework. Anything more difficult is his frustration level.
Independent Reading Level. “The … level at which a person can read with understanding and ease and without assistance. The reader has 99 percent or better word recognition (misses no more than one word in a hundred) and 90 percent or better comprehension (misses no more than one question in ten).” (Burns & Row, 1989)
Frustration Reading Level: “The frustration level is that level at which the student should not be given materials to read …. Students at their frustration levels are unable to deal with the reading material…. The criteria for the frustration level … are word recognition scores of 90 percent or less and comprehension scores of 50 percent or less.” (Johns, 1988)
Unfortunately, evaluators, teachers, and tutors often ignore these questions or answer them with hurried, unreflective references to grade equivalent scores from standardized tests. So, when your child (or student) needs reading help, ask for answers to these questions—in advance, in writing. And ask, in writing, for evaluators, teachers, and tutors to determine the levels through IRIs and your child’s actual reading of books. Ask that the IRI’s definitions or ones similar to those above be used to determine the levels. And ask teachers and tutors to use these definitions to monitor your child’s progress. The key word in the last sentence is MONITOR. Monitor, because children change, because well-justified, well-designed remedial efforts can fail, because no test is infallible, no test is more than an imperfect snapshot at one moment in time.
Burns, P. C., & Roe, B. D. (1989). Burns/Roe Informal Reading Inventory (3rd ed.).Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 2.
Ekwall, E. E. (1985). Locating and Correcting Reading Difficulties (4th ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill, p. 4.
Johns, J. L. (1988). Basic Reading Inventory (4th ed.) Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, pp. 82-83.
Howard Margolis © Reading2008 & Beyond