Today I felt I scored a small victory in the battle against reading levels, or should I say the misuse of reading levels. If you're a parent or a children's librarian, I'm sure you know what I mean. On the off chance someone reading this doesn't, I'm referring to programs such as "Accelerated Reader" and "Lexile" which claim to use computer algorithms to accurately evaluate and rank the reading level of any book.
The problem with these programs is two-fold: first of all, as any children's librarian can tell you, these programs are too simplistic and take only limited factors into consideration, thus the numbers they spit out are easily skewed. For example, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, an intermediate level chapter book probably read most often by 3rd graders scores a 1070 on the Lexile scale, which would be considered high school to college level, and works of Shakespeare only score around 700-800, which would be considered lower middle school level. So you can see how inconsistent these systems are, and how they often fail to take into consideration the complexity of the language, difficulty of understanding outdated language, and complexity and maturity of the content.
The second problem is that too many schools, and sometimes parents, are hyper-focused on these levels, telling children they may ONLY read books in a narrow range that is supposedly their level. Too many times this results in children not reading some really good books that they would like to read because it does not score a certain Lexile or AR level (or because their school doesn't have the AR test for that book), and having to read books that are too hard, too easy, or simply not what they want to read. In the end, this does the opposite of what these reading programs are supposed to do, it discourages kids from reading and they find it a negative and frustrating experience.
So today I was helping a family with children of varied ages find books, and the older child selected a book and his mother asked what the level was, and was going to make him put it back because it was supposedly below his grade level. I quickly told her those levels should be taken with a grain of salt because they are determined by a computer and fail to consider all aspects of the book and are often skewed one way or the other. I also mentioned that most literacy experts agree that any reading benefits a child, and reading books that they select for themselves has a much better long-term payoff. And she let him keep the book! Now if only we could convince the schools....
Also, I should mention I was the *only* staff person in my department the whole shift, with both librarians out for emergencies and the manager being at another branch for a meeting. Which wasn't a problem, but is a bit unusual. It was pretty busy after school let out, but I handled it just fine. One small issue came up when I had a couple of families come in with the new student cards that were being issued in a special pilot program to a couple of schools in the area. They were just given out recently, and this was the first time they had been used in our department, to my knowledge. However, I had not seen any info sent out to staff about how they were to be used, if there were any differences between them and a regular card, so when I had a question about them and I wasn't sure of the answer, I simply called one of the children's librarians at another branch, and found out where to find that info.
So it was a busy, but satisfying day, and I was glad to be able to successfully defend a child's reading choice and have him leave with a book he wants to read, which will hopefully lead to him reading even more books!