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When ‘Reading Counts’ Doesn’t Count

Last updated on August 2, 2023

Editor’s note: A ‘Lexile’ is a reading score that is correlative to the intended reading level of a given book.

When I was in Elementary school, I was a very competitive kid. This competitive behavior caused me to think that I needed to get the highest scores whenever I was doing a test. This meant that when I got an 800 Lexile reading score in second grade, I was ecstatic. I picked up a book that was around a 790 Lexile and brought it home. In the end, I ended up not understanding it and gave up on reading it, and it became something I wasted my time on.  

Schools that are a part of the Orange Unified School district depend on Scholastic’s Reading Counts program to help encourage their students to read and find books that they may like. Although this program has innocent intentions, it has become a broken website, with books taking longer than they should to be added to the program, the scores of certain books being highly inaccurate and to some degrees, inappropriate. 

One example of a book that has a Lexile which is inappropriate to the audience is Percy Jackson: Lightning Thief. The website “HMH Reading Counts – Book Expert Online,” lists the book as being a 790L, stating that the story contains “Adult Content & Themes, Violence/Suicide, Strong Language.” This might not be an issue if this Lexile was high, but on the website that created the Lexile scoring, there is a chart that puts this Lexile in the group correlative of third to fourth-grade readers. This is a highly inappropriate book for eight-to-nine-year-olds considering the themes of the book.

Another problem with the website is how long it takes for books to be added to the system. One example of this can be found in the popular series among kids, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While looking through the books they had in this series on the website “Chrome – HMH Reading Counts,” I found out that they only made the quizzes up to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End. This means that they are missing 3 books in the series with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Big Shot still not included on the website even though the book is from 2021; two years ago. This poses a problem for the book fairs and bookstores, as most kids read the new books they just bought only to find out they can’t take quizzes on them.

The last major problem is how easy it is for students to cheat on their reading counts. On the website “HMH Reading Counts – Book Expert Online,” you are able to drag the tab over to one part of the screen (minimize it) and are still able to use it. This enables you to put a different tab right next to it and just search for the answers. The answers are also not vague so it’s easy for students to just search for the answer and come up with the answer. The tests haven’t been updated which poses another problem. It’s easy to find all the answers to the tests because none of the questions have been updated since the book was put in. For students who are honest and read the books they take quizzes on, it can be frustrating when they put time into reading while other students are able to take 10 quizzes and get 100 points from them. 

The issues with the website go beyond just the screen. These issues can cause students to become less interested in the program and discourage them to continue reading. Whether they read a book that isn’t appropriate for them, can’t take a quiz on the book they just read, or are discouraged by how easy it is for cheaters to get the points they need, Reading Counts is a broken website that needs to be fixed or erased from the Orange Unified School District altogether. 

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