Posted in Subject English

The McGuffey Readers and Reading Level

[See update at the end of this post]

McGuffeysOne of the challenges I have faced when homeschooling my children is ensuring that I am giving them age and grade appropriate materials.  While I love the McGuffey readers, they do not come labelled with a suggested reading level on them.  As a result, I searched out information on the suggested grade levels and here is what I found:

From homeschoolingbooks.com:

The Original McGuffey’s Eclectic First Reader: Ages 7-9, Grades 2-4

The Original McGuffey’s Eclectic Second Reader: Ages 8-10, Grades 3-5

The Original McGuffey’s Eclectic Third Reader: Ages 11-13, Grades 6-8

The Original McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader: Ages 14-18, Grades 9-12

Their product descriptions differ somewhat.  For example, the description for the Eclectic Third Reader states,

The four readers do NOT correspond to the first four grades, but rather are based on reading skill levels. For example, the first three books are to be used in early elementary grades. The Second Reader is generally used for upper elementary grades, the Third Reader for intermediate grades 7-9, and the Fourth Reader is an aggressive high school and college reader…After mastering this [ie. The Third Reader], the student is reading better than many high school students.

I guess the lesson to be drawn from this is that the grade recommendations are only recommendations and it is the child’s reading ability that determines which reader to use at which time.

Incidentally, both of my older children finished the Third Reader by the end of Grade 7 (by age, not by actual year they read the book).  However, although they started the Fourth Reader in Grade 8, they found it too difficult to make it all the way through.  I tested the reading level of the Fourth Reader using the Flesch-Kincaid scale on this online readability index calculator and that scale said the reading selections in the book were from Grade 9 to Grade 18 or so.  Apparently 10-12-year-olds could handle this material in the late 1800’s.

Update April 2015: Since I wrote this post, I have noticed that Mott Media (publishers of the original McGuffey’s texts) has posted information on the suggested grades for each reader.  Their guidelines are as folllows:

Eclectic Primer and Pictorial Eclectic Primer: Grades 1-2

Eclectic First Reader: Grades 2-3

Eclectic Second Reader: Grades 3-5

Eclectic Third Reader: Grades 6-8

Eclectic Fourth Reader: Grades 9-12 (can also be used with younger advanced readers)

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6 thoughts on “The McGuffey Readers and Reading Level

  1. Oh, I wanted to mention to that as I puzzled over the contradictions on grade level it seemed to me that there is no contradiction. The first 3 books mentioned are probably the 2 primers and then the first reader. This would mean that the 2nd and 3rd readers are not meant to be for early elementary…that would be way too hard! Nevertheless, this information is priceless to me…thank-you for posting it!

    1. Yes, McGuffey’s comes in different series. The original has two primers and then four readers. In other series, I think they are just numbered 1-6.

  2. My first grader (just turned 6) is reading & enjoying the Third Reader of the original series (she has finished the previous material). It is not somehow superhuman or incomprehensible that children read this stuff 100 years ago. Remember that 100 years ago, children worked in the fields and often were in school only 4 months or so a year. Modern children should be able to do better, with so much more leisure to devote to their studies. I cannot imagine a modern 13 year old with a normal intelligence only being able to read the third reader. A 13 year old a century ago was finished with school – and presumably with all 4 readers, unless she was going on for a higher education (my grandmother was a teacher at 14).

  3. Thank you, this is very helpful. I have been making workbooks to expand the McGuffey readers we own into a more comprehensive language arts course for my kids, (including handwriting, reading, spelling, grammar, comprehension, composition, etc) and wasn’t sure how to divide it up. Looking at the books, obviously the second reader was a little too advanced for the average second grader (7/8 year old) and the primer is certainly a lot of material to cover for a 5 year old Kindergartener. I think I’ll make a goal of covering half a reader each year. We have the primer and six readers, so this should cover all the books over 13 years.

    1. I have the second, third, and fourth readers penciled into my schedule from grades 3-12. I aim for about 1/3 a reader a year, since we use these as supplements. I use these for reading comprehension, vocabulary, oral presentation/speech, etc. I leave up to Grade 2 to complete the primers and the first reader since every kid learns to read at a different pace. That said, one of my kids read the second reader all in one go, so I have nothing scheduled for her again until Grade 6 :-).

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