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The 411 on Leveling

Nick Rebman, Focus Readers Editor

Learning to read is certainly important, but it’s only the first step. The ultimate goal, of course, is reading to learn. And for that to happen, students need books that are written at an appropriate level.

At Focus Readers, our editors use several leveling tools. These include ATOS, Lexile, F&P, and good old-fashioned instinct. Each tool comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks, so our job is to find the sweet spot. For instance, suppose we’re creating a book for third graders. Two of the leveling systems might indicate that the book is best for third graders, while another says it’s best for fifth graders. That’s where instinct comes in. After you’ve worked on as many manuscripts as we have, you start to get a feel for a book’s level before you even analyze the readability.

It’s also important to understand that each leveling system uses different criteria. ATOS, for example, is based on sentence length and word difficulty. So, as you might expect, a book with short sentences and simple words will have a lower level than a book with complex sentences and ten-dollar words. Lexile uses a different formula, but it’s similar to ATOS in that it’s based primarily on sentence length and word difficulty. Meanwhile, F&P has a team of reading experts who evaluate books based on a list of ten characteristics. The graphs below provide even more insight into where our titles fall on each leveling scale.

No leveling system is perfect—and that’s why we always use multiple systems. That way our editors can be confident that students will end up with a book that’s right for them. And when students don’t have to spend all their energy decoding the words on the page, they can dedicate more of their brainpower to thinking about the book’s content—and focus on reading to learn.

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