Assess your Child’s Reading Level

A child’s Lexile score (or reading level) can be difficult to decipher without the use of a digital Lexile measuring tool, such as an online assessment or reading-level based program. While these programs are often used in schools and made available to teachers and reading specialists, parents might feel left in the dark when it comes to assessing their own child’s reading level. There are steps that parents can take at home, however, to somewhat narrow in on their child’s reading level—and it’s much easier than one might think!


Begin with decoding

Decoding is essentially one’s knowledge of or ability to translate text to speech properly by understanding letters and their relationships to sounds. Letters, combinations of letters, and syllables make specific sounds and follow specific patterns. A child may never have seen a word in print before; however, they can attempt to decode it by using their knowledge of these letter-sound relationships. The “sound it out” method that we adults are likely familiar with from our own educational experiences as kids is essentially the rough practice of decoding.


A simple at-home assessment, like the San Diego Quick Check or another equivalent test that gauges reading ability, can help determine at which grade level a child is reading. As its name suggests, the assessment is quick and easy to administer. Children will read a list of words out of context, using only their ability to decode to read them aloud. The number of errors in the list or series indicates the rough instructional reading level.


Vocabulary check

After selecting a book that suits the child’s reading level, parents can encourage active reading and listening by implementing the 5-finger method. As a good rule of thumb, no pun intended, the 5-finger method involves reading one page at a time, and asking the child to put a finger down any time that they are held up by an unknown word. If one page of the book contains 5 words that prove too difficult, the book overall is probably too difficult.


Another way to assess children’s vocabulary is to ask them to brainstorm synonyms and antonyms, but not in a high-pressure, quiz-like way. As your child reads, ask her if she can think of another way to say the basic words on the page, like happy, shiny, smart, play, run, etc. If she struggles, help her out by naming your own synonyms. This practice helps new readers slowly accumulate new, more specific vocabulary.


Comprehension check

To continue checking your child’s reading level, parents will want to hone in on comprehension as well—not just the phonics side of reading. Your child may be pronouncing words and sentences fluently, but reading for understanding is a whole other facet. As you and your child read, pause every few pages to discuss what is going on in the story. Prompt them by asking questions like this:


  • Where are the characters?
  • What are they doing there?
  • Have they faced any challenges, problems, issues, or difficulties?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Who do you think the main character is?



For older elementary readers, ask them if they can summarize the story at the end, or help them review the most significant parts of the story. Also, if possible, encourage a conversation about theme by asking what the character might have learned throughout the story.