Many of the questions I respond to are read by upper elementary and middle school level students in my state. I know that an older reader will read the story with more insight, but the reading levels on most of these choices (ie Tales of Despereaux, Bridge to Terabithia, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Number the Stars) is elementary level.
Remember that students will not necessarily be accurate on their profiles. Part of the joys of this technological age is the ability to create a myriad of alternate selves or avatars. Also, you may get people (like me) who can't work out how to get enotes to display accurately what they do. I couldn't find a way to get it to select the different levels that I teach so just had to settle with officially being a Grade 10 teacher though I teach through High School.
It seems to me that reading lists and curriculum run the whole gamut of difficulty, depending on which state and school district the student is in. Some of these curriculi are no doubt too easy, and some are too hard. There isn't really a good way to address this issue nationwide though. It has to be dealt with at a local level.
I would agree that a lot of the online profiles are inaccurate, to say the least.
I've wondered about a few of the postings. On the other hand, I suppose that if a student is struggling with reading, a book that maintains interest yet is at a slightly lower level is appropriate. I know that the resource room teacher in my building (although this was middle school) at pulling high-interest books from the elementary school lists.
Perhaps these books are what they are reading for pleasure and not so much assigned in class. If that's the case, then any reading is good reading. Whatever keeps kids reading--even it it's Captain Underpants--I'm all for it. I know the level of reading the 9th graders in my school are required to read is considered more than adequate (Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities, Odyssey, Iliad, etc.).
In my past teaching experiences with ninth graders, I often found them choosing selections several years below their grade or reading level. I imagine they just feel more comfortable with a book closer to their personal comfort level of understanding. However, many other ninth graders chose higher level books of their choice, so it can't be said of all freshman.
I can't say that I've noticed a large number of students who classify themselves as 9th graders asking questions about lower level works. Once in a while, I see a couple, but for the most part, many of the high school students seem to be asking questions about classic works that we study in those grades at my school (i.e., Scarlet Letter, Othello, Of Mice and Men, etc.).
- There's no truth in labelling on these profiles -- I've seen people claiming to be in grad school asking about The Giver, for example. And I've had people say "I'm in 7th Grade..." in their questions when their profile doesn't say that.
- Maybe all the higher-level questions are getting answered. It seems to me that I see a lot of Fahrenheit 451, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Great Gatsby, things like that.
- So I guess I don't know. I feel like I don't have enough evidence to know if this is really a trend.