What K-2 teachers want parents to know - Reading levels


Welcome to my next blog series “What K-2 teachers want parents to know”. This is a series that will focus on common parent issues that teachers of Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 children face everyday. The series aim is to give parents more information about each area of concern and offer practical tips to ensure that these concerns do not become an issue in your household.

One of the biggest issues that is often brought to the teacher by a parent of a 5-8 year old child is the concern about what reading level their child is at. Many parents worry that their child is significantly below another child in their class or not moving up levels as fast as they should. The first thing that teachers want to shout from the rooftops is “Parents, stop obsessing over reading levels!”

A reading level (whether it be a number, colour or letter, depending on the book) indicates to the teacher what type of reader the child is. A child could be a beginner reader, emergent (developing) reader or an independent reader. The level is usually displayed at the front or back of the book. A reading level is given by a teacher who has conducted a “running record”, which is a reading assessment tool.

Below are 10 facts that teachers want parents to know about reading levels

1. Do not look at the back of the book

LeveledreaderIt is interesting to teach Kindergarten in the first term. Not for all the obvious reasons but rather to observe the way parents use reading levels as a way of competing against each other. At the beginning of first term in Kindergarten, children are given reading books and are happy to read them with the teacher during a guided reading session. They take them home at the end of this session to practise reading with their family. In Term 2 it all starts to change. When children are given their new reading books, they flip their books to the back to see what level they are on. The children say comments like “yes, I am on level 3” or “My mum said I should be on a higher level than this” or “Level 3 again!” It is these comments that change the idea of what reading is about. It moves from reading for enjoyment and a chance to practise reading skills to a tool for parents to compare their child against other children. As a parent, it is important not to show your child your interest in the number, colour or letter but focus on the reading skills that your child is developing.

2. The book should be easy

reading 1The book that comes home should be easy for your child. Reading at home should be an opportunity for your child to practise a smooth clear reading voice. Reading for them at home needs to be enjoyable and not a time for struggling and arguing. Parents can ask lots of questions while their child is reading to check that they are understanding the story line or facts of the text.

3. Read the book many times

reading 2Many parents are concerned that their child has had the same book for a few nights or a week. They inform the teacher that they can read it easily and require a harder book. Teachers want the children to feel that reading is easy at home. Harder texts are given in the classroom under the guidance of the teacher. They do not want a child to believe that it is so difficult. Praise the child for how they read. Emphasise how smooth their voice is or congratulate them on working out an unknown word. Reading a book each time, can be a different experience. Have a different focus for each time you read it with them. You could focus on the use of punctuation one time, working out unknown words one time, the story line one time and what’s in each picture another time.

4. Staying on one level for a long time

images-4Parents voice concerns about their child staying on a level for a long time. Teachers need a child to be secure (very competent) at a level before moving on. Being secure means that their reading voice is smooth and fluent, they can read a variety of texts at that level, have a variety of reading strategies they use to work out unknown words independently and they have great comprehension of the text. Children need to be exposed to both fiction and non fiction books at each level. Non fiction books tend to be harder for children as the vocabulary is more demanding. Lots of exposure to non fiction texts will help your child increase their vocabulary.

5. Reading strategies

images-5A child needs to develop a variety of reading strategies to work out unknown words in texts. While listening to your young child read, try to encourage them to work out the word independently. Informing your child of the word straight away will not develop their reading skills. Many children can not move to a new level as their undeveloped reading strategies will not support them at a new level. For further information about reading strategies refer to my previous blog “How to read with young children: Reading strategies”

6. Do not compare children

ComparingEveryone has their own strengths and weaknesses, children are no different. Each child develops their reading skills at their own pace. A parent’s concern about a child’s reading level can be due to the fact that another child in their class is at a reading level much higher than their own child. Most children when they are learning to read have times where they move up levels quickly and other times when they plateau for a while. As long as they are making progress and their teacher is happy with this progress there is nothing to worry about.

7. Do not compare teachers

teacherAnother main issue that teachers face daily is the constant comparison of classrooms. As each child is different, each teacher is different as well. A teacher has their own idea of the most effective way of teaching reading, therefore some focus on moving up levels, some want to ensure a child is really secure before moving them up and some want the child to have more exposure of different texts at that level before moving up. Your child will have to work with all different types of people in their life so it is important that your child is given that opportunity with each teacher they have. As a parent you may not be completely happy with how the classroom is run but have faith that the school ensures that all teachers are working to the best of their ability for each child. If you have a real concern about a teacher, always approach them first for some clarification.

8. Comprehension

Unknown-2The most important part of reading is to be able to understand what you have read. So many times I listen to beautiful oral reading from a child, who is able to work out unknown words easily and pronounce all words correctly. However, they are unable to answer questions about what they have read. Moving up levels too quickly may cause more harm than good. A lot of children’s comprehension strategies are undeveloped as the focus has always been on how the child sounds. Parents need to ask lots of questions starting with “why” and “how” about the text. Having a discussion about what has come up in the text is invaluable for a student’s comprehension.

9. Children going backwards

Unknown-3Over the school holidays it is very common for a child to go back a few levels in reading. During the school holidays they are not having their targeted reading sessions at school, getting new readers and working on new strategies. Give your child a few weeks to get back into the routine of school before approaching their teacher about reading levels.

10. Assessing Reading levels

Unknown-1Teachers are constantly assessing reading levels of each child in their class. They observe how the child reads each guided reading session and writes notes about that child for the next reading session. They conduct “running records” regularly to give the appropriate levelled text. A running record is when a child reads a text at a particular level and the teacher records all the mistakes and self corrections the child makes. Using a few calculations, the teacher will know whether the text is too easy, correct or too hard for the child.

I hope this blog has given parents more insight into the world of reading levels. Teachers want parents to focus more on how a child is reading than what the reading level is. The more focus a parent places on a reading level the more focus a child places on it. Encourage reading for enjoyment and open their eyes to a whole new world inside books.

If you have found this blog useful why not check out our other blogs that all focus on different educational topics.

20 ways to help your child learn their sight words

Are you a helicopter parent?

20 great ways to learn multiplication facts

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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63 thoughts on “What K-2 teachers want parents to know - Reading levels”

  1. You hit the nail right on the head with your points. Should be put in every ‘Welcome to Kindy’ pack handed out to families

      1. This is an affirming blog for my daughter who was not the one obsessing about reading levels but rather the prep teacher under seeming pressure of Naplan (previous year’s results apparently below par).

          1. Naplan pressure starts in kindy in a lot of schools ! For some reason there are admin & teachers out there who seem to think that the only way to get good naplan results is to start as soon as possible on the formal ‘death by flash cards & worksheets’ route.
            Most school’s literacy & numeracy targets from kindy up are set based on improving naplan results 🙁

  2. You have written down what I have been saying for years….thank you. I will share this with my fellow teachers and I am sure they will all agree.

  3. Thank you for putting my thoughts into print.
    Wonderful words stated clearly for parents to understand.
    I am just hoping many parents get to read the article.

  4. Reading levels originated for reading interventionists ie Reading Recovery teachers, as a guide for teachers to check if the students they were teaching were making success. Even some of our experienced teachers do not understand fully how this works as they are not trained RR teachers. Unfortunately for everyone, the publishers of these books have seen a marketing tool which people grabbed and the reading levels are no longer utilised as they should be.
    I really enjoyed reading this blog. I look forward to reading similar articles.

    1. We had reading levels (color wheel) in New Zealand long before Reading Recovery was ever developed but all classroom teachers were taught how to take and analyze Running Records and group their kids accordingly!

  5. Hi Kelly,
    I was surprised but delighted to see your name after reading this great article. I agree with the other people’s comments, that this should be included in ‘Welcome to Kindy’ packs.
    I’m looking forward to reading your next piece.
    Megan Brunet

  6. Brilliant! Every single point you’ve made is totally true! As a Reading Recovery teacher (as well as an ‘normal’ teacher) these comments fit with my philosophy for teaching reading! Wish we could have it to share during P/T interviews! Well done!

    1. Thanks Kerryn, I had a chuckle to myself when you wrote “normal” teacher. The reading recovery program is such a great tool for struggling readers. I am going to write a a blog in the next coming weeks on how parents can use the reading recovery techniques to help their struggling/reluctant reader at home.

  7. Hi Kelly,
    Well done on creating concise, easy to read steps to help parents with their child’s reading at home. In New Zealand/ I am presuming you are inAustralia or the States we give parents this same advice.
    Thanks for putting it all together so well.

  8. and yet reading levels is what is quoted to parents when parents ask “how is my child going”. but with no context.
    I was told for 3 years that my child was “going well and is on 32nd level of reading”. When asked what does “32nd level” equate to (ie: is it age appropriate, behind, ahead- seeing as she had been on the same level for 3 years) i was told it wasnt important. If its not important then why do schools invest so much time, energy and attitude into ‘reading levels’

    1. I agree with you Amanda that some teachers do not give you a context. Each teacher is different and their knowledge of teaching reading is different as well. Reading levels were introduced as part of a targeted reading program called Reading recovery. It is for the most struggling students in year 1. They use levels as a way of assessing the reading progress of these struggling students. It has made its way into the mainstream classroom as there were so many benefits that came from this program. Unfortunately some teachers have latched unto the reading level instead of the type of reader. If you have the opportunity to meet with a specialised reading recovery teacher they too will tell parents not to be caught up on the level but focus on the reading strategies the child is doing well and the ones they are not doing well. I am disappointed that the teacher informed you that letting you know if your child is at stage, working towards or working beyond stage in reading is not important. That is the information that IS important. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  9. It would be great to give it a different title/ heading. I have year three and four students who I would like to share this with.

  10. As a parent of a prep student (QLD) this is the information I would love to get from teachers. Thanks for the article, I will keep these points in mind when we start on readers (although I hope that I wouldn’t have compared levels anyway!!)

  11. Wonderful article that should be given out to all parents of young children! I totally agree with your approach to help children develop a love for and confidence in reading! Well said!! 😀

  12. A great read! One of my greatest fears about my children starting school is that comparison with other children. I am well aware that they have weaknesses, but know that they also have strengths. I love how the focus is on children developing skills at their own pace.

  13. Wow what fabulous timing. I have just written a note to patents explaining that next week the children would be bringing home their first readers and not to get too caught up in making sure their children read them word for word. I want them to develop a love of books and reading and don’t want it to be a chore. I have suggested that for a while the parent just read and ask the children questions or get them to point out words or sounds they know. with your permission I would love to attach your blog. It says exactly what I would like to say.

  14. We’ve just had a meeting with our son’s (yr 1) teacher, who went through all of this (and more) and we 100% agree this information should be explained at the beginning of prep!

  15. That is a brilliant article which I will be steering other parents towards. Thank you for your clarity of insight

    (PS. There is one wrong word in the first sentence of point 8.)

  16. Hmmmm - One of your rules is “Do not compare teachers” well my son had a teacher a few years ago who was, to put it bluntly, a complete idiot. He was new to the school at the beginning of the year and without information from his previous school she put him on a level 1 reader (without even bothering to test him). I approached her and said that he was on a level 7 at his previous school & she was happy to move him to that level.
    By the end of the year she had put him up to a level 17. Now why on earth would she do that when he couldn’t read most of the words on the page? At a meeting I had with herself, the principal and deputy principal, towards the end of the school year she said how wonderful it was that my son had gone from being on a level 1 at the beginning of the year to now being on a level 17. I had to point out to her that in fact my son hadn’t been on a level 1 to begin with AND that level 17 was too hard for him.
    The following year he had a sensible teacher who brought him right down to a level 9. So why should I not compare these two teachers, one who was a complete air-head, allowing my son to read books way beyond his reading level and did not teach him any skills in how to help read the words in the text, against the other teacher who saw that my son was struggling and brought him back down to the level he needed to be at?
    You also point out that parents should not be concerned about the level their child is at. Really? When your son starts another school and is given level 6, when last year he was on level 17, don’t you think that should be cause for concern? Reading sentences such as “The king is in the castle” is now far below my son’s reading level and he just gets upset about having to read books that are too easy.

    Another point you have made “Teachers are constantly assessing reading levels”. I have worked in schools as a teaching assistant and as a mother of a student, I have never, ever seen teachers do running records on a regular basis. Schools I have worked at and my son has attended only test children on their reading at the end of each term - if they are lucky.
    On top of everything, most readers my son has brought home or I have used with students I have worked with are utter rubbish. There is no building up of a child’s vocabulary in a consistent manner, for example the word “beautiful” might be used just once in the entire book and never again in that level in the series. Other books use the same sentence repeatedly, but change one word on each page for example on one page the sentence could be “Here is the cat,” on the next page the sentence could be “Here is the dog.” Why not change the words in the sentence around so that the same words are used but are read differently? So instead of saying “Here is the dog” why not write “The dog is here”?

    1. I am sorry that you have had this experience. In every profession there are the good, the bad and the ugly. You have definitely done the right thing by approaching the teacher first and then having a meeting with the principal as you were unhappy with the response. When I mentioned “do not compare teachers” I am referring to the the variety of techniques that teachers use to teach reading and that parents should not compare one technique with the other. If a teacher is not teaching reading that is a different story. By a teacher not completing a running record on your child when they first started a new school seems very strange.

      The second point you raise is the amount of times a running record is conducted. A running record is only valid for 3 weeks and therefore needs to be conducted a few times during term. All the schools that I work at constantly are conducted running records and using data walls to track students. If your child is on the reading recovery program in year 1, they have a running record completed on them everyday.

      The last point you make about the text in early readers being repetitive is so important. Many parents believe exactly what you have stated. It is so important that the text is the same. This repetition allows a child to focus on phrasing, fluency and their reading strategies.

      I hope you have found some of this information useful.

      1. I’m not defending the teacher who was randomly choosing levels for her new student, which is appalling, but I do want to say that the biggest barrier to teachers doing frequent running records in some schools is the constant challenging behaviour of some students. In my state class sizes are going up due to massive budget cuts and behaviour is becoming more difficult. And for younger teachers, their training at university tends to be very hit and miss, and they may be really struggling. Parents, if you want better teaching, tell your local politicians you want smaller classes, more staff in schools to cope with violent and disruptive students so the class teachers don’t have to stop teaching while they deal with them, and better university courses which actually prepare future teachers for the demands of teaching in the real world.

  17. Stop obsessing about reading levels - do you want to come and tell my niece’s grade one teacher this? She told my niece that my niece is stupid, since she isn’t reading at a high level. My niece works hard to learn how to read, she loves books and this teacher has no patience. In fact, all these issues are with her teacher -not parents, not with me, or her older brother (21). Thank goodness she has a private tutor who knows all these points and my niece still loves learning to read.

    1. The teacher’s actions that you are describing are not acceptable. Encourage her parents to initiate a meeting with the teacher to get to the bottom of this. Get the teacher to read my blogs 🙂 If your niece’s parents are not happy with the outcome of the meeting, they need to request a meeting with the Principal.

  18. I love this article, however my 5yo will be watched like a hawk after the travesty that my now 11yo has had to endure. I knew he wasnt getting literacy abd raised my concerns in yr1. Was patted om the head told i was being impatient, yr2 reading recovery made little difference, yr3 naplan band1, yr4 diagnosed mod-severe dyslexia.
    Now in yr6 and literacy is still an issue. Early intervention is the key and teachers also need to listen to parents who have genuine concerns.

    1. Early intervention is definitely the key. Most teachers do listen to parent concerns but it is sad that you have had this experience. Sometimes as a parent you have to make tough decisions like “is this school giving my child the best chance to learn?”

    2. For most kids this article is spot on - but I completely agree about watching my second son like a hawk!! My eldest is dyslexic, and despite consistently going back to the teachers each year (one of whom was the school reading recovery teacher!!) to try to understand why he found reading so unenjoyable and challenging, I was always told ‘kids learn at their own pace - he will be fine’. Didn’t care less what level he was on - his lack of enjoyment and progresd was my concern. Eventually got him tested off our own bat despite the ‘dont worry’ feedback. Thank goodness. So with my second I will be keeping track of levels and enjoyment levels as I have no other guide. 10% - 20% of kids learn differently - if teachers don’t recognise this levels are one of the few guides parents have!!! But some of our kids still fall through the cracks.

  19. Great article!! I would love to share this with my kinder parents at an upcoming information session on Best Start assessment and reading….if that’s okay with you…..and possibly share in our newsletter?

  20. This information is essential to all parents of K to 6 students. The talk about Levels is becoming far too dominant. Schools could be using this as part of the new Kindergarten parent orientation meetings.

  21. After several weeks of starting school, my then 5-year old came home and informed me that he was “dumb, stupid and no good at school.” Although, I assured him this was not so, he was adament & would not be convinced otherwise. When I asked why, he told me that he was still in the ‘bears’ reading group, and everyone else had moved into other reading groups, including a boy who had started school the week after him. It was his understanding, according to what he had perceived. (In NZ, kids can start school the day they turn 5yrs).

    One morning (during drop-off, before class started), I saw a classmate showing a nearly 5 year old that was doing their school visit the reading boxes and telling that child that first you get books from the ‘bears’ box, then you move to the ‘giraffes’ box, then the ‘lions’ box, etc. As the year progressed, my son was teased by his classmates for still reading the ‘baby books’. Eventually he was diagnosed with dyslexia & dyspraxia.

    Even if teachers and parents are not talking about levels, children are very aware of what they are reading in comparison to their peers. Emphasis on respecting diversity is fundamental, especially as the average classroom not only has children with different backgrounds, but also with different learning styles.

  22. Great article, and reflects what my children’s teachers have said and done with their classes.

    However, I just can’t understand how the repetition of simple stories, and books being “easy” for them to read at home makes the children interested in reading at all. When the books we borrow from the library are interesting, and the home readers that get sent home are boring with no plot and no action, I don’t understand how they can help with getting kids reading.

    So many kids get into reading when they find books that interest them, and fight it while they don’t find it interesting.

    I’m not sure if I’m missing something, as this issue never seems to be acknowledged by teachers.

    1. Beginner readers are unable to read factual texts or stories that have complicated story lines or content. They are not only working on their reading strategies but comprehension skills. The more interesting story lines require a higher comprehension level which the child will not be able to do while still learning how to decode (work out) simple unknown words.

      There are many types of reading that a child needs to be involved with. Modelled reading from a parent or teacher exposes the child to more interesting story lines and harder concepts. Guided reading is the process of a child reading a book that is a little challenging for them but with support they can read it. This is the ideal situation to teach reading strategies. The third type is independent reading. This is when a child brings home a reader and can confidently read it by themselves without any support. This is ideal for the child to develop their fluency and comprehension.

      As parents we need to ensure our children are exposed to all three types of reading. Read them lots of books that interest them. Encourage them to read a variety of texts like websites, magazines and simple procedures like children’s recipes.

      Learning to read is a long process. Most children start to take off and become confident readers in Years 1, 2 or 3 depending on the child.

      Hope this information helped. If you have any other questions or comments please let me know.


  23. Agree - thank you for posting this. Would you mind if I print them out and make copies for my daughter’s Year 3 teacher as parent/teacher conferences are coming up? I would love her to have them for parents to read and understand! As parent and educator I can really appreciate this myself - thank you!

  24. I’d love to see this post written without mention of grades so it could be used in any school, any state, any country, any grade !
    Kindergarten in WA means 3 turning 4 - and there’s a lot of parents out there who read US based blogs where kindy = 5-6 year olds and it causes huge issues as they see ‘kindy’ then assume it means our kindy and push for their kids to be reading way too early 🙁

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