Lectical® Levels

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

The main score on a Lectical Assessment is its Lectical Score. A Lectical Score is a score on the Lectical Scale, which is a refinement of Dr. Kurt Fischer's Skill Scale, a developmental scale that goes from birth to the highest levels of development we know how to measure. It is a scale of increasing complexity, so a score on the scale represents the complexity level of a particular performance.

It's possible for people to keep developing on the Lectical Scale for as long as they're learning new things and connecting what they learn to their existing knowledge. On this page you will find:

  • a video and slide deck about Lectical levels, which are a good place to begin;
  • a description of the ways in which we represent Lectical Scores;
  • a table showing how Lectical Levels relate to educational and workplace demands, with a few descriptions of the decision-making skills associated with different score ranges; and
  • an academic description of Lectical Levels with an interactive slide deck.

We use Lectical Scale in several ways. In fact, this scale makes everything we do here at Lectica possible—and it makes our work unique. We use it to:

  • study how skills of all kinds develop over time;
  • document the development of meaning over the course of the lifespan;
  • investigate the effectiveness and psychological impacts of different approaches to learning and teaching;
  • study the roles of emotion in learning;
  • establish the complexity demands of curricula and roles;
  • examine how meaning and the complexity of thought have evolved over time (historically), and
  • establish the complexity level of assessment responses.

The impact of continuous improvement on Lectical Scores

The Lectical Assessment System becomes increasingly accurate over time. This means older Lectical Scores occasionally need updating.

The Lectical Assessment System (LAS) and CLAS, the Computerized Lectical Assessment System are updated continuously, based on what we learn from each assessment taken. This means scores become a tiny bit more accurate every single day. This is wonderful. It means we can deliver increasingly accurate and useful information to individuals using our assessments. But it also means that some older Lectical Scores need to be updated from time to time.

Usually, the difference between a score provided with an earlier version of the scoring system and a score provided with a newer version is so small it isn't noticeable, but occasionally—especially if several years have passed between assessment events—differences can be large enough to interfere with our ability to accurately track growth over time. To address this issue, we rescore affected assessments with the latest version of the Lectical Assessment System. By leveling the playing field in this way, we can consistently provide up-to-date information about individual growth trajectories.

A plain English description of Lectica Levels (video)

Another plain English description of Lectical Levels (slides)

A more academic description of Lectical Levels

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.

Please note, none of the examples shown below would be evidence of a certain level. The examples represent the kinds of things people performing in a level are likely to say but are not necessarily evidence of the level. To determine Lectical Level we need to see the structure of the larger arguments in which a concept is embedded.

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 attribute of a single representation—as in "The tent is blue," in which "blue" is an attribute of the tent.

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 camping, then he says he can’t go camping, 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
8-11 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 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 camping 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 camping.

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. A single principles notion of the social contract, for example, would result from the coordination of human interests (where individual human beings are treated as systems in interaction with other individual and collective systems).
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.

How we represent Lectical Scores

There are several ways in which we represent Lectical Scores.

  • Whole-level scores: These are used primarily in descriptions of Lectical Levels or when making generalizations like, "Adults typically perform in levels 10 and 11."
  • Zone scores: Zones represent 1/2 of a Lectical Level. Adult zones are advanced linear thinking, early systems thinking, and advanced systems thinking. Zones are most often used when explaining Lectical Levels to the public, as in the illustration below, which provides broad benchmarks for management levels.
  • Phase scores: Phase scores represent 1/4 of a Lectical Level. In level 11, the phases are 11a (1100–1124), 11b (1125–1149), 11c (1150–1174), and 11d (1175–1199).
  • Decimal scores: Decimals scores (11.34, 10.99, etc.) are primarily used in academic publications.
  • Four-digit scores: Four-digit scores are decimal scores without the period. This is the most common way we represent Lectical Scores in reports and non-academic publications.
Lectical Zones
Lectical Zones for three leadership levels

Rough benchmarks for Lectical Levels, roles, & educational attainment

The following table shows how Lectical Levels typically relate to the complexity level of coursework demands in schools and role demands in organizations. It also includes a few examples of decision-making skills people are likely to exhibit in different score ranges. Keep in mind that these are descriptions of skills people demonstrate in assessment responses, not things they say.

When using this table as a reference, please keep in mind that several factors play a role in the actual complexity demands of both coursework and roles. In organizations, both size and sector matter. For example, there can be a difference as large as one-half of a level between positions in construction and IT. If you would like more precise estimates for your school or organization, please contact us.

When using this table in educational contexts, keep in mind that in level 11, annual growth ranges from 0–5 points per year, with slower growth at higher levels.

Lectical Range When making decisions, individuals should be able to... Coursework demands Role types
  • identify and leverage patterns across multiple systems to simplify decision-making under complexity
  • employ a wide range of strategies and tools that optimize solutions while mitigating human limitations
18+ multinational CEO, very large org
  • identify patterns across multiple systems
  • embed iterative, distributed decision-making processes,
  • reduce impediments to good decision-making under complexity
16+ corporate CEO, larger org; executive, very large org
  • take into account the numerous nested interconnections among variables that characterize highly complex situations
  • expertly employ iterative, distributed decision-making processes
  • deftly determine the level of collaboration or perspective seeking that's optimal for a given context
14+ CEO medium-size org; executive, larger org
  • identify multiple relations between nested variables
  • take into account change over time
  • consider the level of collaboration and perspective seeking that is optimal for a given context
  • maintain awareness of common impediments to good decision-making in organizations
13+ CEO small organization, senior leader, larger org
  • work with both individual and group perspectives
  • identify and attempt to reconcile competing factors, such as human needs versus organizational needs
  • identify implicit and contextual causes
  • identify common impediments to good decision-making in organizations
  • shift frame of reference to explore alternate ways of seeing a problem
13+ Executive, small org; upper-level leader, larger org
  • identify and seek the perspectives of relevant stakeholders
  • identify multiple relations between variables
  • identify own frame of reference
  • maintain self-awareness
12+ Senior leader, small org, mid-level leader, larger org; highly-skilled professional
  • identify and avoid basic forms of bias
  • attempt to remain objective or impartial
  • identify several psychological or interpersonal causes
  • weigh multiple perspectives or factors
grades 12–18 Mid-level leader, small org; entry-level leader, larger org; professional
  • consider the motives or biases behind perspectives, evidence, or actions
grades 12–16 pre-management; highly skilled labor
  • compare evidence
  • try to keep an open mind
grades 9-14 skilled labor
  • listen to or understand two sides of a disagreement
  • distinguish between facts and opinions
grade 7-10 semi-skilled labor
  • think about facts, evidence, or opinions
  • compare opinions
grade 6-7 unskilled labor
  • try to understand other people's ideas
grade 5-6  
  • find out what people want, like, or think is right
grade 4-5  
  • try to figure out why a problem has happened
grade 3-4  
  • try to figure out the best thing to do or who has the best idea
  • think about what makes sense
grade 2-3  
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

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