I am all about being age appropriate. I get that in ninth grade you do not want to be ready Junie B. Jones or in seventh grade reading sentences like “I have a doll” and “I have a pear” with little pictures next to them. Not only is it humiliating and can separate you from your peers (which is the last thing you want in middle school), it often does not reach the student because it is not engaging. It is much cooler reading about the Hunger Games than it is apples and oranges.
But here is another problem.
It is so difficult to find high-interest low-readability books in a school. It is for sure difficult to find some that can be read throughout the entire school year. I know that some teachers go on ahead and give students the “coolest” book at the lowest reading level possible, but care more about their ego than them reading. Other teachers just give them low reading text and hope that they understand and make it through to make progress as quickly as possible to start reading more age appropriate text. It is a difficult task and you definitely want to read with the student at their instructional level (wherever that be) and be as age appropriate as possible.
For students who are very low, emergent level readings, that are in the middle or high school – I think that Tarheel Reader is a great resource. The teacher or student could make books that interest the student based off of a topic that he/she likes. The sentences would be very simple, but that is also where the student is at and what they need to learn before they can move on. The other books already there are also a great place to explore and have a student read over and over. I could also see an older student enjoying the process of making a book. None of their peers would know that it is a pre-primer text level because it is on a screen.
Overall I think it is important to think of a student’s confidence and to see them as mature students, but I also think that you are treating them falsely if not truly believing they are capable of reading if not starting from the beginning.