Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Who Needs Books?

My recent blogs focused on resources for finding bloggers who review and promote books for middle-grade  readers and on websites promoting children's books, which buyers of children's books may find useful. But all those books require reading skills. Why do we want our children to be proficient readers? 

To quote the Executive Summary of the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts study, "To Read or Not to Read": "Americans are spending less time reading. Reading comprehension skills are eroding. These declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications."

The fact is that proficient readers usually obtain better-paid jobs, while less proficient readers have limited career opportunities. Those who have very poor reading skills or are illiterate experience a much poorer quality of life. Some states base their budgets for additional prison beds on fourth-grade literacy scores. 

Here are a few more US statistics, taken from www.begintoread.comOne child in four grows up not knowing how to read. Three out of four food stamp recipients perform in the lowest two literacy levels. Low literacy costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health-care costs. A Pfizer study put this figure much higher. 

The 2003 National Adult Literacy Survey reports the average adult American reads at a ninth-grade level. Popular novels are written at a seventh-grade level and the average newspaper is written at eleventh-grade level.

Some interesting statistics can be found at the following websites:

This website offers help in teaching children to read fluently: 
http://www.interventioncentral.org. Intervention Central also offers a tool for testing the reading level of a book or article at http://www.interventioncentral.org/tools/reading-fluency-passage-generatorComplete the boxes with the title, author, and at least seventy-five words of text from your selected book/article. Click on Compute or download a pdf report.

Microsoft Word also has a Flesch-Kincaid reading level assessment tool (the most popular tool in the USA for assessing a text's readability/reading level. Click on the Microsoft Office Button; go to Word Options; click Proofing; under  the subhead When Correcting Grammar in Word, check the Check Grammar with Spelling and Show Readability Statistics boxes. Run the Word spell check on the text you want to test. The results of the Flesch-Kincaid test should pop up after the spell check is completed. The Flesch-Kincaid test reports the grade level of the test content and its reading ease. 

For an explanation of the Fleisch reading ease formula, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesch%E2%80%93Kincaid_Readability_Test:

90.0 - 100.0    Easily understood by an average 11-year-old
60.0 - 70.0      Easily understood by average 13- to 15-year-olds
0.0 - 30.0        Best understood by university graduates

For example, the excerpt from my book Dewi and the Seeds of Doom on the book's website has a reading ease of 85.2 and a grade level of 3.9. I guess some young readers will have to look up a word or two in the dictionary, which I don't consider a bad thing.

I'll transfer the resource URLs in this article to a page of their own on this site.

Happy reading!


  1. We use Fleisch Kincaid at my school to help with the literacy program. Th trouble is, we've found, that it's not necessarily accurate. It goes not only by the length of sentences, which is fair enough, but by the number if syllables in words, which doesn't always tell you how hard it is. For example, I was once commissioned to write the story of Perseus and Andromeda for grade 2 reading level, using FK. And guess what? With three and four syllable names you couldn't change it came out much harder than it actually was. I had to change the names to single syllable ones to check the real reading level. These days we discuss the books and use our common sense to grade the books we buy.

  2. Sue, thanks so much for pointing out the drawbacks of the Fleisch Kincaid test.