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3rd Grade Reading Level
By Debbie Lopez Updated on January 2, 2024
Rick Lopez, M.Ed. Rick Lopez, M.Ed.

3rd Grade Reading Level

Our all-encompassing guide to the third grade reading level, including a survey of teachers, discussion of Lexile levels, and recommended books

We wanted to know what third grade teachers thought about their students’ reading abilities, as well as the job that parents are doing to help their children. The results were very interesting (and concerning). Our survey found that third grade teachers believe 48% of their students are reading below the third grade reading level. What’s more, teachers also believe an overwhelming majority of parents aren’t doing enough to help their children. 

Teacher Survey: 3rd Grade Reading Level

Here are the key findings from our survey of over 400 third grade teachers.

Key Finding #1: 48% of third grade students are reading below the third grade reading level

To be clear, this is not a formal measure of a student’s reading level based on any quantitative metric, but is rather the opinion of third grade teachers based on anecdotal evidence and years of experience. Nonetheless, trusting the collective opinion of experienced teachers can be telling, and these results were eye opening. According to this group of third grade teachers, nearly half of American third graders fall below the minimum threshold for reading ability.


Key Finding #2: Only 31% of parents are sufficiently involved in developing their child’s reading skills

Once more, the term “sufficiently involved” is a subjective measure and is based on the perceptions of individual teachers. Yet, once more, the results are telling. Less than one-third of the parents of third graders are doing enough at home to help improve their child’s reading abilities. Whether this is because parents rely too heavily upon educators alone, or are simply too busy, our survey does not explore the underlying reasons. However, it is clear that parents must become more actively involved in the development of their child’s reading skills.


Key Finding #3: 59% of teachers believe setting aside a fixed amount of time per day to read with a child is the best means of improving their reading abilities

As part of our survey, we asked teachers what they believed was the most effective method for parents to work with their children to improve their reading skills. We presented the teachers with a list of five options covering a diverse set of strategies. Overwhelmingly, our group of surveyed teachers believes that setting aside a fixed amount of time per day to read with a child is the best means of improving their reading abilities. The consensus seems to be that time spent practicing is more effective than tutoring, vocabulary expansion, increasing engagement with more interesting books, and reducing distractions.

3rd Grade Reading Level Explained

Third grade is a bit of a transitional year for reading skills. By third grade, students should be beyond practicing letter sounds, and the classroom curriculum has moved past direct phonics instruction.

At this stage, third graders should be more confident reading alone, but will still need some help. By the end of third grade, students should be relatively comfortable reading simple chapter books on their own. These books should include more complex story lines, include simple compound sentences, and contain a more challenging vocabulary.

To be clear, third graders will continue to need significant help with certain words (particularly those with irregular letter sounds) and sentence structures. They will need practice with parents and educators, as well as plenty of time reading aloud.

In terms of measuring a child’s reading level, schools conduct frequent reading assessments throughout the year, though the exact number per year varies by state and school district. These assessments measure a student’s reading level based on one of several widely used scales.

There are four popular and widely-used systems across the US, with each having its own formula for determining a score. In some school districts, a child may be given a score for multiple reading level systems.

The four major reading level systems are Lexile, GRL, ATOS/AR, and DRA, with Lexile being the most popular. To gauge the books that underlie these scoring systems, the various systems generally consider average sentence and word length, the vocabulary grade level, and the number of words in a book. They also factor in student phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency.

3rd Grade Lexile Level

The Lexile system is probably the most commonly utilized and widely understood reading level system. The levels within the system are indicated by a number followed by the capital letter L. The scale ranges from 10L for the most basic readers to 2000L+ for advanced readers.

Though there is no general consensus among educators or governmental agencies, it is widely believed that third graders should score between 520L and 820L on the Lexile level. Moreover, by the end of the third grade school year, students should be scoring near the higher end of that spectrum.

In selecting books for third graders, to properly challenge them and improve their Lexile score, you should choose books that are 50L to 100L above their current reading level. The goal is to select books that mildly challenge them without overwhelming or discouraging them.

3rd Grade Reading Level Books: Teacher Top-10 Recommendations & Examples

The final component of our survey asked each teacher to recommend one book to the parents of third graders. Though some respondents did not write in an answer, most did. Here is the list of the top 10 books for third graders:

1. My Weird School by Dan Gutman

my weird school

2. Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones

3. Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

Magic Tree House

4. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Captain Underpants

5. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

Flat Stanley

6. Brave Dave by Giles Andreae

Brave Dave

7. The Ocean is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk

The Ocean is Kind of a Big Deal

8. Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski

Whatever After

9. Don’t Blow Your Top! by Ame Dyckman

Don't Blow Your Top!

10. The Last Firehawk by Katrina Charman

The Last Firehawk

Most all of these books can be found on Scholastic or Amazon.


All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by TestPrepInsight.com. In total, 422 third grade teachers were surveyed across 36 states (working at both public and private schools).

All respondents were asked to answer questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities, with assurances that their identity would remain confidential. Any questions can be directed to info@testprepinsight.com.