More Than a Number: What’s a Lexile Measure?

More Than a Number: What’s a Lexile?
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Many state assessments, mid-year tests, and reading programs report students' progress using a Lexile measure.

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 measure 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 measures 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 measure of just 680L. The word use and sentence length are simply 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."

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. Lexile measures are not intended to be used to guide students away from something they want to read, even if the Lexile measure is lower or higher than their Lexile reader measure. When the goal is to match students to books that they are likely to comprehend, aim for texts that have a Lexile of 100L below to 50L above their Lexile reader measure. 

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 measures to personalize learning for each student.

When used correctly, Lexile measures 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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