What’s your Lexile index?

While cruising through the Barnes and Noble site recently, I noticed something I’d never seen before on the page for my book, Gravity. There was something called a Lexile number, and mine was 730L. What the heck was that, I wondered. So I clicked on the link and found this explanation:

A child’s grade level and reading ability are two different things. That’s why a Lexile® measures the child’s ability based on reading comprehension, not grade level. A Lexile (for example, 850L) is the most widely adopted measure of reading ability and text difficulty. Lexile measures are valuable tools that help teachers, librarians, parents and children select books that will provide the right level of challenge for the child’s reading ability—not too difficult to be frustrating, but difficult enough to encourage reading growth. A child typically receives a Lexile measure by taking a test of reading comprehension, such as the Scholastic Reading Inventory, the Iowa Tests, and many end-of-grade state assessments. The Lexile measure of a book is based on word frequency and sentence length, and is displayed on Barnes & Noble.com product pages. The higher the Lexile measure, the more difficult the text is likely to comprehend.

To learn if Lexile measures are available in your area, contact your school district or state department of education. For more information on Lexile measures, visit www.Lexile.com.

Please note: A Lexile measures text difficulty only. It does not address the subject matter or quality of the text, age-appropriateness of the content, or the reader’s interests. Parents are encouraged to preview all reading materials.

So what did it mean, that Gravity had a Lexile number of 730? I hopped on over to the Lexile site, to compare where my book stood against others, and was surprised to find out that, according to Lexile, Gravity has a reading difficulty akin to an average book in the Nancy Drew series, making it appropriate for readers from age 8 to 12. Which astonished me, considering the fact that Gravity is so full of NASA and engineering terminology that it requires a glossary to explain the vocabulary. I then did a search of my other titles and found that my medical thriller Harvest was rated even less difficult to read, at 620. And that is chock full of complicated medical terms.

Then I noticed that Lexile numbers for mystery authors are all over the place. Robert Parker’s in the 500’s. Patricia Cornwell and Michael Crichton have similar Lexile numbers to mine, in the 700’s. Dean Koonts’s books have Lexile numbers over a thousand. Nathaniel Hawthorne beats us all with a Lexile of 1340. Astonishingly enough, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, a book written in the voice of a child, told in charmingly simplistic terms, rates a Lexile of 1180.

What does it all mean, anyway? Does a low score mean we’re simplistic writers? Or does it mean we write with more clarity, making our books easy to comprehend? Does it mean that a school kid who reads our books will get less credit because our books aren’t considered difficult enough?

Or does it mean our books are more likely to be assigned in schools because librarians feel our writing is appropriate to students?

ICheck the site and see if your own books are listed on the site. You can do a search by writing in the author’s name.

I found more information on Lexile here. It offers a grade-equivalent of the Lexile text difficulty scores. And yep, according to the chart, my books are for appropriate for kids from Grades 3 – 5! I had no idea that Harvest was a young adult book!

10 replies
  1. laurakate
    laurakate says:

    Hi Tess!
    I just wanted to say that I work in a bookshop and I adore your books. I think the fact that you use the medical terminology is great. I love that I never feel like I’m reading something that has been ‘watered down’ I’ve never heard of these “Lexile” numbers (I live in Australia, they may not have reached us yet) but they sound completely absurd!
    I’m really looking forward to your next book, and can’t wait for Rizzoli & Isles

  2. therese
    therese says:

    This sounds like a new classification by people in the publishing industry trying to figure out why some books connect with an audience and other do not.

    Don’t make yourself crazy over this. Your job is story. Leave the data analysis to the geeks.

  3. Tess
    Tess says:

    The more I read about Lexile scores, the more concerned I get. According to several educators’ websites, some school libraries are arranging books according to Lexile scores, and students are told to pick books ONLY based on appropriate Lexile numbers. So a third grader might be directed to read GRAVITY — which would totally frustrate him because of the advanced vocabulary. And a 10th grader would be forbidden from reading GRAVITY because it’s deemed too simple for him. These classifications are being used to direct children to books “deemed appropriate”, when in fact the appropriateness isn’t so clearcut.

  4. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    Back in my newspaper days, we were encouraged to write at “fifth-grade” level. Once, I’d used the word “elephantine” in a fluffy feature story about a calligrapher hired to paint words on the side of an elephant (I am not making this up) only to be ordered to find another word because the copy desk had deemed it too hard for our readers. =:-o

    Anyhoo, I went over to the website to have a little fun. I ran some of Faulkner’s books. “The Sound and Fury” is an 870. But his famous and, IMO, more accessible short story “A Rose for Emily” is listed as a 1270! 🙂

  5. reina
    reina says:

    Hi Tess,
    I first read Gravity when I was about 13 and didn’t get past the first chapter because I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and I was a good reader and loved to read! When I picked it up again three years later I was sucked right in and stayed up to finish it that night. So no, I don’t think your books are “easy” at all. Also, the explanation you provided did say: “The Lexile measure of a book is based on word frequency and sentence length”, and I think crime novels should be written in a direct manner with shorter sentences to engage the reader’s attention and so that they can actually follow the plot. By the way I checked up on Agatha Christie and her Lexile numbers are pretty much the same as yours – she’s still the Queen of Mystery. I think that you’re a great author and people WILL read your books and love them because your stories are GOOD, regardless of their Lexile numbers. And I seriously doubt that those school-kids are going to listen to the librarian :>

  6. Tess
    Tess says:

    your experience is exactly what I imagine would happen to a 7th grader who tries to read Gravity — I’m so glad you went back to the book three years later.

  7. missjenn
    missjenn says:

    Don’t read too much into it, Tess. Whether you call them lexiles, levels, grade equivalents, they are terribly subjective; highly dependent upon the person leveling the piece. Also, to be considered, is the fact that these books are often assessed as whether a person of that age/grade can decode the words found within, with comprehension or understanding of the work an entirely different kettle of fish and a secondary consideration.

    Vocabulary, text complexity, structure and length are all factors which lead to a book’s lexile/level. I’ve been reading your books since I was in high school and know that I never would have comprehended the nuances or subtleties of each character had I started any younger.

    Teachers “in the know” recognize that lexiles and levels were created to provide a general guide for matching appropriate texts to a reader’s abilities, though we have gone entirely overboard, requiring students to read “at or below” their assessed level to prevent “frustration and wasted literacy time”. We have taken a tool that could prove useful and have gone down a road we never should have.

    As an aside, I wonder if it is actually you, Tess, handling the facebook group I belong to. It cites this website however contains no updates. I had no idea a new book was coming (though thank goodness I do now!) and think this could be a great tool for promotion of upcoming projects. *Just a thought*

  8. Tess
    Tess says:

    missjen, thanks for the comments! (am away from home so haven’t been able to get online as often as I like to check here.)

    Re: Facebook, I do handle my own personal Facebook page, but I’m probably not as good at keeping it updated as I could be! Any blog posts here automatically get posted on my Facebook wall.

  9. SongDragon
    SongDragon says:

    The Lexile scores don’t make much sense to me, either way I wrap it. “Dragondrums”, by Anne McCaffrey has a more difficult lexile score than “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee.

    Perhaps looking at grammatical structure and world-specific words “Dragondrums” comes off as more complex, but it’s a stretch since it is part of a series made for young adults. “To Kill a Mockingbird” I did read in school, quite young if I remember, but while it read quite easily the ideas were complex and I would not consider it simpler than “Dragondrums”. In fact I would recommend the books to the same age group.

  10. lstintranslashun
    lstintranslashun says:

    You know, though the NCES (nat’l ctr. for edu. stats) says that Lexile goes a really long way in evaluating things like sentence length, word repetition, etc. they also note a big concern over the fact that Lexile does not take into consideration how hard a particular subject might be to comprehend nor does it take into account the context of the words used in the text – two big things I go by when helping my kids pick out books.

    IMO (as a mom with kids who are ‘labeled’ with these reading ‘levels’), Lexile’s are a good starting point, but they absolutely aren’t a good substitute for helping children continue or grow a love a reading.

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