More Than a Number: What’s a Lexile?

Monday, September 24, 2018
More Than a Number: What’s a Lexile?

Many state assessments, mid-year tests, and reading programs report students' progress using a Lexile score.

But the number is not just a measurement of student growth—it can be a tool for challenging students and promoting a love of reading.

What is the number?

The Lexile® Framework for Reading was created by MetaMetrics® to measure the reading challenge presented by a text. In contrast to a district's age-based guidelines for what students should read, a Lexile is quantitative. Measures range from below 200L to above 1700L, and are based on both reading ability and text difficulty.  

While sentence length and word frequency inform text difficulty, factors such as theme and content do not play a role in the score, which can be problematic for teachers. Because the measure is objective, some intellectually rich and complex books have lower Lexile scores than might seem appropriate. For example, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is typically studied somewhere around grades 9 or 10 and still presents challenges for adults, but it has a Lexile score of just 680L. The word use and sentence length are simply are not considered very challenging—a hallmark of Steinbeck's work that he was actually proud of.


What is the scale?

According to the Lexile® Framework for Reading, "There is no direct correspondence between a specific Lexile measure and a specific grade level. Within any classroom or grade, there will be a range of readers and a range of reading materials." For example, in a fifth-grade classroom, some students will be ahead of the typical reader (about 250L above) and others will be behind (about 250L below). To say that some books are "just right" for fifth-graders assumes that all students in fifth grade are reading at the same level.

While there is no direct correspondence between a specific Lexile measure and a specific grade level, MetaMetrics® has studied the ranges of Lexile reader measures and Lexile text measures at specific grades in an effort to pinpoint the typical measures of a given grade level. According to its website, "this information is for descriptive purposes only and should not be interpreted as a prescribed guide about what an appropriate reader measure or text measure should be for a given grade."

Reader Measures, Mid-Year
25th to 75th percentile (IQR)
Up to 280L
230L to 580L
360L to 720L
480L to 830L
620L to 950L
690L to 1020L
780L to 1090L
820L to 1140L
880L to 1170L
920L to 1200L
940L to 1210L
950L to 1220L


Here are some additional—and more routine—Lexile measures illuminating the difficulty of well-known texts:

  • The Cat in the Hat – 260L

  • Clifford the Big Red Dog – 330L

  • Charlotte’s Web – 680L

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – 880L

  • The Hobbit – 1000L

  • Pride and Prejudice – 1100L

  • Walden – 1340L

  • The Declaration of Independence – 1480L

Rules of thumb for teachers

The Lexile framework is not a scoreboard or a contest, but simply a guideline aimed at taking some of the mystery out of selecting the appropriate book for a reader.

The important thing for any student is that they are reading, period. With this in mind, never use a Lexile score to guide a student away from something they want to read, regardless of whether the score is too low or too high for their abilities. That being said, a good rule of thumb is for students to be looking at books that are 50–100 Lexile points above their current level in order to provide an adequate challenge.

The Lexile framework doesn't only apply to the traditional book format—graphic novels appear on the Lexile ratings search engine, while periodicals and newspapers can be analyzed using this tool. You may want to run some of the nonfiction texts you use in class through the analyzer to make sure they are at an appropriate level for your students. In light of this format flexibility, if a student likes to read one form of text over others, let them.

It's also important for teachers to think about differentiation. Previous generations used class sets of a single book, which every student read together (often aloud). That book was probably too hard for certain students, too easy for others, and "just right" for about 30 to 50 percent of the class—but the teacher didn’t know that. Today, a teacher can bring a variety of texts into a unit, tied thematically but on different Lexile levels to ensure students all get what they need in terms of challenge. Additionally, online and software learning sources can use Lexile scores to personalize learning for each student.

When used correctly, Lexiles can be a prominent tool for teachers, serving as just one example of how technology and ingenuity are changing the face of the classroom.


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