Lectical® Levels

(A.K.A. skill levels or orders of hierarchical complexity)

On this page we describe the levels of our developmental scale (Lectical Scale) and scoring systems (Lectical Assessment System and CLAS). We use this scale in several ways. This scale makes everything we do here at Lectica possible—and it makes our work unique. Here are a few ways we use it:

  • to study how a wide range of skills and ideas develop over time;
  • to establish the complexity demands of curricula and jobs; and
  • to establish the complexity level of assessment responses. 

The video below provides a "plain English"

The following table provides descriptions of Lectical Levels 6-12. If you'd like to learn more about the principles behind the Lectical Assessment System, see our hierarchical complexity page.

Level Concepts Logical structure

Single representations
26-40 mos
Concepts are 1st order representational sets
These coordinate symbolic systems. In responses to the Joe dilemma, for example, the concept of camping coordinates activities like swimming, sleeping in a tent, and painting, and the concept of a paper route coordinates activities like riding a bike, delivering papers, and receiving money.
The logical structure is definitional
It identifies one aspect of a single representation—as in "Camping is fun," in which fun is an "aspect" of camp.

Representational mappings
4-5 years
Concepts are 2nd order representational sets
These coordinate or modify representational sets (the concepts constructed at the single representations level). The very popular representational mappings Lectical™ level concept of having favorites, for example, can be employed to rank camping and fishing. "Camping is my favorite, and fishing is my next favorite." Concepts like being mean, keeping a promise, changing one’s mind, and sharing also become common at this Lectical™ level. "[Joe’s father] is just being mean; he is taking the money away from his kids."
The logical structure is linear
It coordinates one aspect of two or more representations—as in, "If you do not do what your father tells you to do, he will get really mad at you," in which doing what your father says and not doing what your father says are coordinated by his anticipated reaction.

Representational systems
6-7 years
Concepts are 3rd order representational sets
These coordinate elements of representational systems. For example, the concept of trust, articulated for the first time at this Lectical™ level, can be used to describe the system of interactions between Joe and his father. "Joe trusted [his Dad] that he could go to the camp if he saved enough money, and then his father just breaks it, and the promise is very important." Concepts like to turn against, to blame, to believe, and being fair are also infrequently observed before this level. "[If you break a promise] they will not like you anymore, and your friends will turn against you."
The logical structure is multivariate
It coordinates multiple aspects of two or more representations—as in, "If Joe’s Dad says Joe can go to camp, then he says he can’t go to camp, that’s not fair because Joe worked hard and then his Dad changed his mind," in which two conflicting representations of Dad’s authority are evaluated in terms of his changed mind and Joe’s hard work.

Single abstractions
9-11 years
Concepts are 1st order abstractions
These coordinate representational systems. For example, the concept of trustworthiness, articulated for the first time at this Lectical™ level, defines those qualities that make a person trustworthy rather than describing a particular situation in which trust is felt or not felt. It is composed of qualities that produce trust, such as telling the truth, keeping secrets, and keeping promises. "It's always nice…to be trustworthy. Because, then, if [someone has] a secret, they can come and talk to you." Concepts like kindness, keeping your word, respect, and guilt are also rare before the this level. "If you don't do something you promise, you'll feel really guilty."
The logical structure is definitional
It identifies one aspect of a single abstraction—as in, "Making a promise is giving your word," in which giving one's word is an "aspect" of a promise.

Abstract mappings
Concepts are 2nd order abstractions 
These coordinate or modify abstractions. For example, the abstract mappings level concept basis can be employed to coordinate the elements essential to a good relationship. "To me, [trust and respect are] the basis of a relationship, and without them you really don't have one." Concepts like coming to an agreement, making a commitment, building trust, and compromise are also rare before this Lectical™ level. "I think [Joe and his father] could come to an agreement or compromise that they are both comfortable with."
The logical structure is linear
The most complex logical structure of this Lectical™ level coordinates one aspect of two or more abstractions—as in, "Joe has a right to go to camp because his father said he could go if he saved up the money, and Joe lived up to his commitment." Here, Joe's fulfillment of his father's conditions determines whether Joe has a right or does not have a right to go to camp.

Abstract systems
Concepts are 3rd order abstractions
These coordinate elements of abstract systems. For example, the concept of personal integrity–which is rare before the abstract systems level–refers to the coordination of and adherence to notions of fairness, trustworthiness, honesty, preservation of the golden rule, etc., in one’s actions. "[You should keep your word] for your own integrity. For your own self-worth, really. Just to always be the kind of person that you would want to be dealing with." Concepts like verbal contract, moral commitment, functional, development, social structure, and foundation are also uncommon before the abstract systems level. "A promise is the verbal contract, the moral commitment that the father made to his son. It is the only way for the child to…develop his moral thinking—from watching his parent's moral attitude."
The logical structure is multivariate
The most complex logical structure of this level coordinates multiple aspects of two or more abstractions. "Following through with his commitment and actually experiencing camp combine to promote Joe’s growth and development, not just physically but psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually." Here, multiple facets of Joe’s personal development are promoted when he both keeps his commitment and accomplishes his goal.

Single axioms/ principles
Concepts are 1st order axioms/ principles
These coordinate abstract systems. The notion of the social contract, for example, results from the coordination of human interests (where individual human beings are treated as systems). "Everybody wants to be treated equally and have a sense of fair play. Because this is so, we have an obligation to one another to enter into a social contract that optimizes equality and fairness." Concepts like autonomy, fair play, heteronomy, higher order principle, and philosophical principleare rare before the single axioms/ principles level. "The only time we’re justified in breaking the social contract is when a higher principle, such as the right to life, intervenes."
The logical structure is definitional
It identifies one aspect of a principle or axiom coordinating systems—as in, "Contracts are articulations of a unique human quality, mutual trust, which coordinates human relations." Here, contracts are seen as the instantiation of a broader principle coordinating human interactions.
*Skill levels were first described by Dr. Kurt Fischer in 1980.


Selected funders

IES (US Department of Education)

The Spencer Foundation


Dr. Sharon Solloway

The Simpson Foundation

The Leopold Foundation

Donor list

Selected clients

Glastonbury School District, CT

The Ross School

Rainbow Community School

The Study School

Long Trail School

The US Naval Academy

The City of Edmonton, Alberta

The US Federal Government

Advisory Board

Kurt Fischer, Ph.D. Harvard Graduate School of Education, Emeritus

Antonio Battro, MD, Ph.D., One Laptop Per Child

Marc Schwartz, Ph.D. and former high school teacher, University of Texas at Arlington

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., University of Southern California

Willis Overton, Ph.D., Temple University, Emeritus