Coming of Age Novels: Differentiation by Lexile/ATOS Level for Independent Reading

Carrie Eneix wanted to differentiate her independent reading groups using students’ ATOS levels from STAR for her “Coming of Age” unit.

Here is a quick summary of the planning work required to do this.

Finding Books by Theme

Good Reads is a website where books can be searched easily by theme/topic.  This is helpful for finding books for independent reading based on thematic units.

Finding Lexile/ATOS Levels for Books

Here is the website to look up Lexile levels.  You can search books using the “Quick Book Search” bar in the top right corner.  I was not able to find all of the books we wanted, so for some, I would use the Central’s Media Center website and under “A Brief Description,” you will see the reading level of books.  For example, here is the description listed under Catcher in the Rye:

  • Accelerated Reader AR UG- Level=4.7- Points=11.0 5978

The AR level is a grade level reading equivalent.  Lexile/ATOS levels can be converted to grade level.  Here is a link to a PDF with the conversion chart.

On a sub-note, the ATOS level and Lexile level are technically different measures; however, they are similar in that each provides a grade level equivalent.  For finding independent reading levels, I used ATOS and Lexile interchangeably because lists of ATOS levels are much harder to find.

Finding Students’ Reading Levels

To see students’ ATOS levels, teachers can login to STAR and go to “REPORTS,” select “SUMMARY REPORT,” and then select “SHOW ATOS 2000 SCORES” and sort by “RANK.”  From there, the report can be printed.

This report will show the students ATOS and Independent Reading Levels (IRL).  Using this information, teachers can determine tiered groupings based upon level.

Creating Groups

Eneix’s students were reading from a fifth grade to a post-high school level.  We chose the following tier groups based upon this information:

  • Tier 1: 3-5 grade reading level
  • Tier 2: 6-8 grade reading level
  • Tier 3: 9-10 grade reading level
  • Tier 4: 11-PHS reading level

We decided that students in each group would get only the book list for their tier.

Creating Final Book Lists for Groupings

We did not use only ATOS/Lexile level to choose books.  This is consistent with the suggestions made by Common Core because these levels do not take into account the content, engagement or length of the resources.  In addition, to get to eleventh grade and beyond, students would be reading Hamlet independently and very little else.  It is difficult to reach these higher reading levels using ATOS/Lexile alone.  Professional judgement must take a role when choosing texts appropriate to students.  We considered factors such as making sure that there were texts that appealed to males and females on each list, considering the length of the texts, and applying our own experience of the books difficulty and intended audience.

Final Book Lists

Tier 1- Grade 3-5

  1. The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  2. Tears of a Tiger
  3. Stolen
  4. Thirteen Reasons Why
  5. The Fault in our Stars

Tier 2- Grade 6-8

  1. Nothing but the Truth
  2. The Book Thief
  3. Life of Pi
  4. My Sister’s Keeper
  5. The Bean Trees
  6. Postcards from No Man’s Land

Tier 3- Grade 9-10

  1. Kite Runner
  2. Diary of Anne Frank
  3. Glass Castle
  4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  5. All the Pretty Horses

Tier 4- Grade 11-PHS

  1. The Bell Jar
  2. Into the Wild
  3. Little Women
  4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


The process of determining groupings based upon reading levels is time consuming.  In addition, once we saw the Lexile levels of the books, it seemed as if it would be difficult to find appropriate texts for the higher tiers that would foster a love of reading and also stretch the skills and abilities of the students.

This being said, once professional judgement was applied, we were both happy with the results.  The lists of books did vary greatly from the lowest to the highest tier of students, and we both agreed that this would better meet the needs of the populations in her classroom.

Also, once these book lists are created, the job becomes much easier.  Next year, Eneix would only have to print her reports and decide which book list the students would get, modifying and adding to the possible choices as needed.

Here are some resources created through this process:

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