One issue that we encounter as teachers is finding material that actually suits our reading audience. Even more challenging is finding different levels of accessible text for differentiation within the classroom. What if the reading levels of your students vary quite a bit within 1 class?
One option is to try to figure out what the reading level actually is. This is pretty complicated -- the most accurate results are probably found by checking with reading specialists & librarians. However, what if you are using web-based content? There are a couple of free web-based services that will help you determine the reading level.
EditCentral has a box to paste in text and it will run the selection through an algorithm to determine the readability scale. This site uses the Flesch-Kincaid scale and the Gunning fog index, as well as some others. Some nice features are that it color codes the results of the different reading scales and it also underlines words that might be considered complex or difficult.
If you just need to quickly check the readability scale of
a particular website, you can paste the URL into this website's readability test, and it will run the page through its algorithm to figure out the reading level. This free service also tabulates how many words & sentences are in the page, as well as counting how many words have 1, 2, 3, or 4 syllables. There are explanations for what the different reading indexes reveal.
What's interesting about this site is that it is designed for web page designers. This is supposed to help webmasters see if the content of their site or page is too difficult for the "average" reader.
Finally, if your district has a subscription to Nettrekker (like we are fortunate enough to have in CCSD), you can do a search for a subject in nettrekker, and it will give you a readability scale for the different sites that match your search. Honestly, I don't find the readability numbers in nettrekker very intuitive (it's on a 1 - 5 scale), but it is based on a combination of many different readability indexes. Here's a quick overview: a "5" means grades 11-13, a "4" equates to grades 9-10, and a "3" should indicate appropriate reading for grades 7 - 8.
Any literacy or reading specialist will tell you to use these types of tests with caution. Obviously, a mathematical formula can't account for much more than syllables, word count, and number of sentences. However, if you just need a filter to make sure that a resource you've found isn't over the heads of your students, these services can be pretty helpful.