dyslexia reading Archives - Lexercise

A Better Way to Profile Reading Skills 

grandma and granddaughter practicing the child's reading skills In our previous post, we discussed the problems with using “grade level” as a measure of reading proficiency. See What Does Reading on Grade Level Mean?

The current grade-level approach incorrectly implies that language comprehension and topic knowledge can be separated and that reading skills can be measured independently of knowledge of the topic. But, if grade level is not a very meaningful or precise way to profile reading abilities, what might be better?

A More Meaningful Way to Profile Reading Skills

The science of reading suggests a key to a more meaningful way to profile reading skills. The Simple View of Reading tells us that comprehending reading material requires two main abilities: 

  1. The ability to understand the spoken language of the material, including the topic, the meaning of the words, and the sentences. 
  2. The ability to read (decode) the written words. 

The 1st of these abilities depends a great deal on the reader’s knowledge about the topic. Topical knowledge requires education or at least experience. 

The 2nd of these abilities depends on the reader’s ability to identify (decode) the written words.

Consider this fill-in-the-blank question that might appear on a 3rd-grade science test:

fill-in-the-blank question as an example of reading skills

If the student has never been exposed to a science curriculum focused on the properties of matter, they may struggle to choose the correct answer (gas), even if they understand the words and the question and choices were read aloud to them. This is a knowledge gap.

Some students, even those who have been exposed to a curriculum about the properties of matter and understand these properties may struggle to answer the question due to difficulty reading the words. This is a word reading gap

Recent research suggests that assessment using the Simple View of Reading has the potential to determine a student’s reading profile and to identify the appropriate intervention methods for students who struggle (Sleeman, et al., 2022). Because comprehension is so tightly related to topic and vocabulary knowledge, it makes sense to assess reading skills using materials on topics the student has covered. 

Content area teachers (e.g., in science or social studies) don’t typically think of their assessments as tests of reading. But often reading is at the heart of struggling students’ difficulties in mastering content area subjects. If teachers had a way to measure their students’ verbal responses as follows, it would help them pinpoint any reading difficulties:

  1. Can the student answer questions orally about the material?
  2. Can the student read (pronounce from print) isolated content words from the material? 

The role of knowledge in reading comprehension is a super-hot topic in today’s science-of-reading discussions. See Closing the Gap.  But, despite the “simple” and rational guidance provided by the  Simple View of Reading, methods for assessing reading skills that don’t depend on overly simplistic averages and grade level equivalents have been elusive.

What do you think? If you were creating a testing system, how would you balance subject knowledge and word reading? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment!

How Lexercise Can Help with Reading Performance

If your child is a struggling reader, Lexercise can help. Lexercise identifies and treats dyslexia and other learning difficulties with online reading, writing, and spelling therapy. Children who complete the Lexercise program improve 3 grade levels on average! Learn more on the Lexercise website, or contact us today.



Sleeman, M., Everatt, J., Arrow, A., and Denston, A. (2022). The identification and classification of struggling readers based on the simple view of reading, Dyslexia 28(3).

DOI: 10.1002/dys.1719 LicenseCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Wexler, N. (2019). The Knowledge Gap: The hidden cause of America’s broken education system–and how to fix it. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Wexler, N. (2022). Why 3 Popular Infographics on Reading Don’t Tell the Whole Story. Minding the Gap. July 17, 2022.

What Does Reading on Grade Level Mean?

child reading a grade level book at homeEvery week, Lexercise therapists talk with parents who are concerned that their child is reading “below grade level.” In most cases, the child’s teacher has told the parents that the child struggles to keep up. Even when parents observe their child’s reading difficulties, they may not understand the meaning of grade level reading or what can be done to help the child improve.

Is Reading at Grade Level Important?

Reading is a complex activity; it is not a single thing. Consider the differences in reading: 

  • a food ingredients label
  • a pharmacy insert
  • a bus schedule
  • a ballot initiative
  • an owner’s manual for a car or appliance
  • an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publication
  • a workplace policy manual
  • a news article
  • an opinion article
  • a poem
  • a book 

Further, within each of these examples, the difficulty level can vary widely. Just as some books are more complex than others, some food labels are more complex than others. 

Attempts to capture reading difficulty levels have typically focused on passages or books. Over the years, different readability formulas have been developed to index the difficulty level of passages. These formulas count elements like word length (number of syllables, number of letters), word frequency, and sentence length. But, even with all the diligent counting, there is no agreed-upon standard for indexing the difficulty of reading a written passage.

Reading on Grade Level: What Does it Mean?

Grade level reading is defined as the average passage difficulty level (as measured by one of the many readability formulas) that most students at a specific grade level can read with understanding. Again: grade level reading is what most students at a grade level can read. If this definition seems circular, it is! 

Another big problem with using “grade level” as a meaningful measure of reading is that there is huge overlap across grades in the difficulty level of passages that students can read and understand. 

For example, see the graph below. The purple area under the first/left curve represents the reading scores of average 3rd graders and the teal area under the second/right curve represents the reading scores of average 5th graders. The overlapped area in the middle shows that an average 3rd grader and an average 5th grader could have the same score! 

graphic showing how children from different grades can be on the same reading level

We are used to thinking about grade level reading as a single number, such as, “My child is reading at a 3rd-grade level.” But it would be more accurate to think of reading level as a range. For example:

  • Early elementary (grades K-3) reading level
  • Late elementary (grades 4-5) reading level
  • Middle school (grades 6-8) reading level
  • Early secondary (grades 9-10) reading level
  • Late secondary (grades 11-12) reading level

In a future post, we will explore an alternative to grade level that might be a more meaningful way to profile reading skills. Subscribe to our blog below so that you don’t miss out!

If your child is a struggling reader or you have been told your child is reading below grade level, Lexercise can help. Lexercise identifies and treats dyslexia and other learning difficulties with online reading, writing, and spelling therapy. Children who complete the Lexercise program improve 3 grade levels on average! Learn more on the Lexercise website, or contact us today.

What Should My Child Read?

Hi!Dyslexia Therapist, Tori Whaley, gives her advice on what your child should read depending on their needs.

Since I was a child in elementary school, libraries have been a favorite, nearly sacred place. Books filled with information I hadn’t learned and adventures I hadn’t taken inspired me to read more and more. For many children and their families, libraries are daunting. Parents are told that children should read a certain number of minutes per day, which turns into a frequent homework assignment. As a result, choosing books for a struggling reader can be confusing for a parent and stressful for a child.

What may surprise these parents is that the answer is often just as elusive for parents of good readers. What books are best for my child? To that end, I share the answer I find myself giving to any parent who asks.

It depends.


Don’t worry about grade level or what they are “supposed to be able to read” at their age. Instead think, “What is the purpose of reading?” and choose an appropriate selection accordingly. There are generally a few purposes for reading as follows:

Option 1: To Get Better at Reading

file4501243625430 (1)Once children begin to acquire independent word reading skills, practice is the key to improvement. However, not all books are appropriate for this type of practice. Books read to improve decoding skills should be largely decodable, where students can read at least 90% of the words correctly without support. Rather than rely on any leveling system to choose this book, ask the child to read the first page or two aloud. If he or she can do this successfully, the book is a good choice!

At some stages, there are few or no books that are appropriate for this goal! Other content can then be used to improve reading, including flashcards, word lists, and decodable text. These may not be the most interesting activities in the world, but will support reading improvement for the child. This type of practice should be use in brief bursts (1-5 min.) and with the clearly expressed goal of accurate word reading and expressive oral reading fluency.

Option 2: To Learn New Information

ID-100254313Having mastered learning to read, students transition to reading to learn. Typically, this shift begins around age 9 for developing readers. The purpose of most classroom assignments at this age is to acquire knowledge, improve vocabulary, and develop comprehension. Again, students should be able to read these passages with high accuracy and, when reading aloud, their reading should sound like their fluid speech.

For students with dyslexia, this can be challenging. This is a clear opportunity to add accommodations to the child’s treatment plan in addition to getting them reading therapy. If a student is not yet able to independently read the content with his or her eyes, “ear reading,” using recorded text or read aloud, can support student success until adequate accuracy and fluency is mastered.

Interventions to improve decoding should not replace vital comprehension activities but be used in addition to them until the student can read unfamiliar text with at least 95 % accuracy.

Option 3: To Have Fun!

ID-100179956In the struggle to learn to read, we sometimes lose sight of the joy of reading! When reading for entertainment, students should be allowed to read whatever interests them. Parents and teachers can help children decide whether a book or magazine is something they can read independently, with an adult’s support, or with technology. If students have a hard time finding things that interest them, treat it like a treasure hunt! Talk with them about what they love, and help them find books related to it. Even topics that seem silly to adults can help cultivate a love and interest of reading in children. (I personally would not be interested in a biopic of boy band members, but would never discourage a child from reading it, if it got them reading!)

Ask your local librarian to recommend books on the topics that interest you child. Be open to all genres! Librarians know what books are popular with kids!

Photo Credit FreeDigitalPhotos.net David Castillo Dominici, 2nix, AKARAKINGDOMS.