Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Privacy of Reading Levels

Reading levels are surrounded by controversy.  Many discussions have taken place in the education world about the use, misuse, and abuse of labeling students according to their reading levels.

I am sure I cannot add anything new to the discussions; however, I had a light bulb moment tonight and felt the need to write about it.

My students are getting ready to write open letters where they can combine their research skills with argument skills and write about an issue that concerns them.  Believing that teachers should be writers, too, I set out tonight to research articles on Accelerated Reading.  Yes, I am writing a letter to my superintendent arguing that we should do away with AR.

I wanted to find an article about the inconsistencies of the reading levels with age-appropriate levels of books.  I was immediately disheartened (but not surprised) by the number of images of color coded stickers for classroom libraries that came up in my initial my search.

Reading further, I came across a position statement on labeling books by reading level by the American Association of School Librarians.  It states the following:

"Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels. Only a student, the child’s parents or guardian, the teacher, and the school librarian as appropriate should have knowledge of a student’s reading capability."

I began thinking about the teachers who level their classroom libraries, school libraries with non-standard shelving practices and the students who select books from those shelves, and students who carry around cards or name tags identifying them by reading levels or colored dots.

All of these practices are public displays of confidential information.  If I were to tell a student or a parent another student's test scores, grades, or even their address, I would be breaking the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  Yet, we are making confidential information public for all to see in our classrooms and in our schools.

I have always believed that reading labels should be for books and not students, but honestly, I never thought about it as breaking a law.

Until tonight.

For more reading on this same issue, check out this article by Dr. Molly Ness. 


  1. We never used levels at my school & now I see bins at my granddaughters' school with all those levels, consider it outrageous as well as sad. It's like the old days when kids were grouped into those cute names, but everyone knew who was in the 'low' group. I'm glad to read this and hear what you think, Leigh Anne.

  2. Interesting post, Leigh Anne. We have a mix of leveled and unleveled books in our classrooms and students are free to choose from anywhere they wish. I'll be thinking more about this.

  3. I also don’t like leveled reading groups... I think kids need built up not labeled as the good readers and struggling readers... kids learn from one another when they are placed in mixed level groups for reading/ language arts time. When I was in Year 5 I was put in a lower level reading group - it put me off reading for the next 10 years or so... Let’s do all we can not to label kids and instead encourage them to be life long lovers of reading and learning.

  4. I am an educator. With that said, it is what it is. Some students read just fine but will read lower level books to get their numbers in. Some kids just like the stories. I believe we can go overboard. My students are in SPED and there is no disguising it yet I am not allowed to post their work outside like the other classes because ppl will see that they are SPED. Again... it is what it is.

  5. Throughout teaching the school offers grade level books. But within my class I usually put books below grade level and above grade level. Only reading or looking at the pictures can tell the difference separate and apart from those given to the grade.

  6. Could not agree more. In addition to "shaming" those at lower levels, this teaches kids that when we read the most important fact to consider is "is the book my level". It doesn't teach them that we read things that we love! I could get on my soap box about this all day long. You can read a post about this on my blog- if you're interested!

  7. But how to you ensure during silent reading your students are picking books they can actually read, not just flipping through the pictures?

  8. This is a really powerful stance to take on the topic of leveling. So many ways of comparing kids is inadvertently violating their privacy, maybe not to the extreme of saying it's illegal, but maybe it should be? Posting sight words, multiplication accomplishments, or standardized test score goals for example. All this is a public announcement of what one child can do as compared to others.