There's a lot to argue about when it comes to reading levels. These generally based on mechanics, in keeping with the whole philosophy of reading and writing as a set of context-free "skills"-- it assumes that how well you read something has nothing at all to do with the content of what you're reading. Lexile scores, the type of analysis favored by the Core fans, works basically from vocabulary and sentence length. That has the advantage of being analysis that a machine can do. It has the disadvantage of providing ridiculous results. Ernest Hemmingway's novel The Sun Also Rises is at about the same lexile score as the classic Curious George Gets a Medal-- third gtrade-ish. Meanwhile, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse V may have PG-13 language and situations, but it also has a fourth grade-ish lexile score. And none of those works rank as high as Mr. Popper's Penguins.
So there's a great deal to dislike about the whole business of assessing reading levels, but the American Association of School Librarians (a subgroup of the American Library Association) has noted other undesirable trends related to leveling, and they have issued a statement about them.
Here's some bad news they note:
One of the realities some school librarians face in their jobs is pressure by administrators and classroom teachers to label and arrange library collections according to reading levels.
Yikes. As the AASL notes, this feeds into the practice of students scanning for slim books at the "correct" reading level so they can snatch up more of those reading program points. If you don't recognize how troubling that is, AASL would like to remind everyone what the point of the library is supposed to be:
School library collections are not merely extensions of classroom book collections or classroom teaching methods, but rather places where children can explore interests safely and without restrictions. 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 also notes that spine-marking reading levels means that every child's reading level is on display to everyone else the moment she picks up a book. Arranging books this way also means that students are not learning how to locate materials in a "real" library out in the world, adding one more obstacle to their progress as college students and adults.
And AASL quietly (as librarians will) calls these sorts of leveled reading programs out for what they are-- not an attempt to build reading skills or open up the world for students, but actually to restrict their reading options. And that's not what America's librarians signed up for:
It is the responsibility of school librarians to promote free access for students and not to aid in restricting their library materials. School librarians should resist labeling and advocate for development of district policies regarding leveled reading programs that rely on library staff compliance with library book labeling and non-standard shelving requirements. These policies should address the concerns of privacy, student First Amendment Rights, behavior modification in both browsing and motivational reading attitudes, and related issues.
Nobody, least of all a librarian, should be saying, "Yes, Pat, I know you love dinosaurs, and this looks like a great book about dinosaurs, but it has a blue sticker and you're only allowed to get out red sticker books, so here, read this nice book about doilies."
Kudos to the librarians for remembering what their mission is supposed to be and not allowing themselves to be sidetracked by a bad idea.