The article I read today, "Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection" by Judi Moreillon, brought a new perspective to the Lexile debate.
"One of the long-debated controversies in school library organization is labeling books according to reading or lexile levels. On the surface, this system may appear to be helpful because it could make it easier for young or striving readers to find 'just right' books at their proficient reading levels. . . . But is it? Why is this practice so controversial? Some teachers and administrators may not truly understand the issues inherent in leveling reading materials by lexile levels" (28).
Many, although not all, of the books in my library have stickers on the covers that mark the book with its Lexile level. I quickly learned, though, that Moreillon disagrees with this practice.
"In response to the pressures to level books many librarians face from their administrators and faculty, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has published a Position Statement on Labeling Books with Reading Levels (2011). In the position statement, AASL identifies the ways in which labeling runs contrary to core values of librarianship" (28).
I am a member of AASL, but I did not know about this document. I was fascinated to read more.
"When the spines on the books in the library are labeled, students may feel or even have been told that they are only allowed to check out and read books at their 90% or higher accuracy reading level. When limited to particular titles based on reading level or whether or not their is a standardized test to accompany a title, readers, unfortunately, may not feel or be free to browse and explore. 'A minor's right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians' (AASL 2011)" (28-29).
This argument makes perfect sense to me. I hate it when teachers limit their students' reading options. This seems so contrary to what we should be teaching!
"Students' privacy is also jeopardized by being limited to titles with specific labels based on reading level. When a student's proficiency level is indicated on a book's spine, peers and other students' parents have access to confidential information. This loss of privacy should be of concern to librarians who hold confidentiality as a core value" (29).
I do see what Moreillon is saying here. If teachers force students to check out only within their lexiles, then those lexiles become common knowledge of anyone who sees their labeled library books. And students with low lexiles, who might be ashamed of their lexiles, will be affected by this. So I do understand the argument of this as a privacy issue. It's a legitimate argument. But based solely on my own experiences, I have a hard time getting as worked up about this angle. I've seen the other point in action--kids restricted from reading materials of interest. So that seems of more concern to me than this issue.
Moriellon also raises concerns about parents. She writes:
"Like teachers and administrators, parents can believe that leveling library books is the answer to their child's striving to become a more proficient reader. Parents can become competitive about their child's progress and may carefully monitor book selections. But is there more to learning to be an effective, efficient, and motivated reader than the lexile level of a book?" (29).
Moriellon then appeals to readers' memories of positive experiences in the library. She writes:
"Everyone reading this article has, no doubt, had the experience of coming upon a book or other resource through browsing. If readers are limited to a particular reading level, will they have the same joyful experience of serendipity? Should the library be a place of freedom where learners can be assured of opportunities to explore?" (29).
Moriellon writes about the importance of allowing readers to choose texts based on interest, not limited to lexile. She feels that readers can handle texts above their lexile. She writes:
"The role of motivation in reading cannot be underestimated. All readers, including those who are striving, should have had the experience of reading text that is above their proficient reading level. This can happen when readers are passionate bout something for which they have no background knowledge or adequate vocabulary. Reading images or graphics in a text in which the print is too difficult for them to comprehend can further stimulate readers' curiosity or help them build the necessary background and prepare them to tackle the entire text" (29).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Moriellon also argues that there is no harm in reading books below lexile. She writes:
"Everyone has read books significantly below their reading proficiency level as well. Reading easy texts or rereading texts doesn't necessarily present cognitive challenges, but it can give readers meaning and the satisfaction that comes from the familiar. Sometimes the easier text is just what readers need to maintain their confidence or reignite their enjoyment" (29).
Moriellon's arguments, coupled with Malbert Smith's statements from the last article I read, make it clear that readers should NOT be held strictly to their lexile levels for reading. Leveled reading may have its place in classroom or instructional texts. The library, however, should be a place for children to branch out and explore their options, not to feel squashed or limited. This will require a rethinking of what teachers require of their students during classroom checkouts.
Moreillon, Judy. "Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection." School Library Monthly. Feb. 2013, Vol. 29 Issue 5, p 28-29.