Grade 4, 7, 8 Classrooms Needed for Mathematics Research

MetaMetrics is seeking participants for an upcoming research project investigating the difficulty of various aspects of mathematics problems.

We at MetaMetrics believe that assessment and instruction should be connected. Providing quality information about a student’s mathematics ability is a key component of one of MetaMetrics’ mottos: “Bringing Meaning to Measurement.” We continue to explore innovative relationships in the development of mathematics assessment through our research agenda.

As such, MetaMetrics is recruiting for our ongoing mathematics item difficulty research initiative. We are specifically looking for teachers of students in grades 4, 7, and 8 willing to administer a short set of mathematics items to their students using our online assessment delivery system.  The goals of the research include examining features that make items more or less challenging for students.

For more information, please visit Each teacher whose classroom participates in the study will receive a $75.00 Amazon gift card.

We look forward to working with you on this important study.

Unpacking the Complexity Within the Text Complexity Measure

By Malbert Smith III, Ph.D. and Matt Copeland

With the recent release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, there is renewed interest in her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, Brody and Maloney (Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2015) argue that teachers need to rethink how they teach To Kill a Mockingbird in light of the themes in Go Set a Watchman. The timing of this release also corresponds to the five year anniversary of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Regardless of where you land on the merits of the CCSS, it has brought a renewed instructional emphasis on the concepts of text complexity and close reading.

With the next generation of standards’ emphasis on increasing the diet of non-fiction and the number and quality of complex texts that are taught, there was concern among some teachers that many of our canonical texts (particularly fiction) taught in middle and high school did not appear to satisfy the text complexity requirement. For example, when one examines the quantitative leg of the text complexity triangle, To Kill a Mockingbird has a measure of 790L which corresponds to the recommended grade level of 4 to 5 in Appendix A of CCSS. However, when one examines the qualitative and reader/task legs of the triangle, the authors of the CCSS in Appendix B adjust the recommended level to grades 9-10 where this novel is typically taught.

Shanahan and Duffett (2013) reported that, like Mockingbird, seven of the ten most popular books taught in middle school and five of the top ten books taught in high school are not challenging enough on the quantitative index. Against this backdrop ELA teachers in middle and high school have been asking whether these classic books can satisfy the requirements of close reading of complex text. And the answer is that these books are outstanding not only on the quality and reader/task dimensions but also along the dimension of quantitative measures of text complexity. In fact, when we dig a little deeper into these individual works, we often find that there is sufficient complexity—even based upon the quantitative index alone—to warrant their inclusion in our curricula.

But beyond the consideration of what works we teach, another important consideration are the instructional practices that we use to deliver that learning to students. Certainly, close reading and the reader and task considerations within the CCSS text complexity model are essential; they provide the framework for thinking through the kinds of instructional scaffolding we might provide to help students be successful. As classrooms around the country prepare to begin another school year anew, helping practitioners to examine the complexity of a text and even the finer grain details of the quantitative index, might be a rich resource for more data-driven instructional planning.

To this end, MetaMetrics is unveiling the beginnings of a new line of research: chapter-by-chapter graphs (such as the one shown below for Mockingbird [Figure 1]) of the Lexile measures of chapters within an individual work. Our belief is that equipped with this type of information instructional leaders can make decisions on how best to focus their instruction time and thereby have an even more profound positive impact on student learning.

Figure 1. Lexile measures by chapter for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Fig1

As one can see in Figure 1, while the overall text complexity measure of Mockingbird is 790L within the entire book, there is substantial variation among the individual chapters of the novel. In fact, of the novel’s 31 chapters, 18 chapters fall above the entire work’s Lexile measure of 790L, while only 13 chapters fall below the 790L mark. And while only one chapter (Chapter 20—part of the courtroom scene) falls within the Grades 9-10 text complexity band, five more chapters come within 100L of that range. From this graph, we believe it is easy to see that there are a number of opportunities to present sufficiently complex text to students and to provide the close reading opportunities and instructional scaffolding our students may need.

Interestingly, when we have asked ELA teachers of Mockingbird to predict which specific chapters of the novel might be more complex than others, they typically predict the same ones that the quantitative measures identify. This would seem to support the notion that many practicing classroom teachers are quite adept at selecting texts that provide sufficient complexity for their students’ learning and understand—even intuitively—where the complexity resides. However, making these realities more concrete in our minds offers us a number of opportunities to reflect upon our instruction.

As an extension of this work, we have gone a step farther and also begun to examine each paragraph within a particular chapter. Just as we see variation among the Lexile measures of individual chapters, we see even more variation among the paragraphs within a chapter. For example, when we examined the complexity within Chapter 13 of Mockingbird [Figure 2], it became clear to us that although the overall measure of this chapter is 1020L—just below the text complexity grade band range for Grades 9-10—there does exist a sequence of about 20 paragraphs that overwhelmingly do fall in the text complexity grade band and, in fact, even exceed that grade band in one instance. The opportunities to engage students in close reading of text at the appropriate level within these 20 paragraphs seem rich on the surface. An examination of the content of those paragraphs—the scene where the young narrator of the novel, Scout, comments on the arrival of her Aunt Alexandra, the relationship Alexandra maintains with her brother, Atticus, and her staunch belief in the importance of family and social traditions—confirms the importance of the passage to the novel as a whole. And, perhaps, becomes even more important now given the narrative presented in Go Set a Watchman.

 Figure 2. Lexile measures by paragraph for Chapter 13 of To Kill a Mockingbird. fig2

As a former high school ELA teacher, I (Matt) now see how examining and unpacking the empirical text complexity measure of books could have helped me greatly in planning for instruction. For example, I see more clearly now where the opportunities for close reading exist within the novel. I would rethink the reading schedule I typically hand to students at the beginning of the unit to highlight these “peaks” of complexity within the work and spend more time focusing my efforts on providing my students—particularly my struggling readers—the instructional scaffolding they need in order to be successful with these chapters. The possibilities seem endless.

If we desire to meet the ideals embodied in the next generation of standards, educators need time, tools, and resources. Even within the text complexity model itself, such opportunities do exist. Our challenge is to harness these opportunities, embrace them, and empower changes to our curricula and—even more importantly—to our instructional practice.

As we think about the needs of our students and re-think some of our curricula and instruction, Scout’s wisdom and insight from the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, when she finally stands upon Boo Radley’s front porch, seem all that much more relevant: “I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle.”

For more information and to view the collection of available Lexile by Chapter Guides, please visit


Brody, L.  & Maloney, J. (2014, July 14). Teachers’ new homework: a ‘Watchman’ Plan. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Lee, H. (2015). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins.

Lee, H. (2015). Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins.

Shanahan, T. & Duffett, A. (2013). Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments. Washington DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Retrieved from

Doing More With Less

The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a report analyzing the amount of testing administered across city schools.  According to the report, students spend roughly 20-25 hours per year on a variety of mandated assessments – some federally mandated and some mandated by a particular state of district.  Over a student’s lifetime that adds up to hundreds and hundreds of hours spent testing.

If that strikes you as excessive you’re not alone; and on Saturday the Obama administration argued that standardized testing should take up no more than 2% of class time:

‘‘Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,’’ President Obama said in a video posted on Facebook. ‘‘So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.’’

Obama said in “moderation, smart, strategic” tests can help assess the progress of children in schools and help them learn. But he said that parents are concerned that too much time is being spent on testing, and teachers are under too much pressure to prepare students for exams.

The President’s call to reduce the amount of standardized testing reflects the concerns of parents and educators around the country, that students are spending far too much time in high stakes tests.  That being said, it would be far better to do more with the tests we already have rather than testing more.  Assessments linked to developmental scales, like the Lexile Framework for Reading, provide educators a range of possibilities.  Having access to a student’s Lexile measures means being able to not only monitor the student’s reading growth, but being able to differentiate for and target that student in an appropriate way.  As Obama argued, there’s a place for smart, strategic tests, assessments that equip teachers with the information they need to keep students learning.

More Math at Home, Better Performance at School

Few would argue that our society privileges mathematical and the scientific disciplines over the humanities. Yet, well before studies concluded reading to your children will help them learn phonetic and phonemic awareness parents’ have been reading to their children. How many have done algebraic equations or recited times tables as they settle their children down to bed? Simply, we may all agree on the importance of mathematic and scientific skills in the 21st century, but at home thoughtful and concerned parents continue to just promote linguistic and reading skills.

It might be time, though, for parents to begin encouraging their children in math as with literature. A new study by Talia Berkowitz and other faculty at the University of Chicago— featured in Sciencesheds light on how parental math talk can greatly improve a student’s ability. In fact, just putting aside a few times a week for high-quality math discussion can significantly help students learn.

Of course, one of the reason’s reading is something many parents share with their children is many people have access to books. Reading with your kids is something most parents can do. But math is something many people feel less adept at sharing with their children. Fortunately, MetaMetrics has material to assist! Math@Home is a free resource targeted at assisting parents to develop meaningful lessons matched to students’ Quantile scores. It even offers instructional assistance which parallel many math textbooks assigned to students.

Similarly, many parents may be familiar with the “Summer Slide” in reading. This slide affects mathematical skills as well. To keep Math skills fresh and sharp instead of atrophy, MetaMetrics offers the Summer Math Challenge! The Summer Math Challenge is a free opportunity from June to July to help keep students learning instead of losing math skills over break!

First Grade Classrooms Needed for Reading Research

MetaMetrics is seeking participants for an upcoming research project investigating early reading ability.

We at MetaMetrics believe that assessment and instruction should be connected. Providing quality information about a student’s reading ability is a key component of one of MetaMetrics’ mottos: “Bringing Meaning to Measurement.” We continue to explore innovative relationships with the development of literacy through its groundbreaking research agenda.

As such, MetaMetrics is recruiting for our ongoing Early Reader research initiative. We are specifically looking for first grade teachers willing to administer a short set of reading items to their students.  Many of these items include illustrations. The goals of the research include reliably assessing the complex connection between visual illustrations and reading abilities.

For more information, please visit . Each teacher whose classroom participates in the study will receive a $75.00 Barnes and Noble gift card.

We look forward to working with you on this important study.

Should Student Education Encompass “Life Skills”?

There is no denying that discussions on Common Core and standardized testing, which have nearly monopolized education news in recent months, are warranted and in need of special consideration. But in the midst of these extensive debates have we overlooked other critical aspects of education, specifically the teaching of non academic skills?

While there is not yet a concrete name for these skills, they are commonly referred to as “non cognitive skills” or “skills for success”. They include abilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, self-control, grit, persistence, emotional competence, punctuality, and numerous others. These skills cannot be measured by standardized testing, yet are essential for students to learn in order to be successful in higher education and the work force.

There has been an increase in support for teaching these types of non academic skills to students as studies have shown that a number of employers are growing more and more discontent with new employee skill sets. Particularly in a number of key areas such as oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, and being creative, students are more than twice as likely as employers to think that students are being well-prepared. This demonstrates a weakness in how we educate and prepare our students for the future. Students are not being taught the necessary skills that are vital for success and have thus created a gap between them and the workplace.

The implementation of these skills into school curriculums has gained momentum through avenues such as the 84.215H grant which is a Skills for Success Program that “supports Local Educational Agencies 1 (LEAs) and their partners in implementing, evaluating, and refining tools and approaches for developing the non-cognitive skills of middle-grades students in order to increase student success.” While programs and grants like the aforementioned have been implemented with success, there is still a looming barrier preventing progress for expanding the teaching of these skills — there is no widely accepted name for them. Because of this, policies have been hard to write and enact since the wording and intent are often vague and broadly interpreted. This has resulted in a lack of student preparation as well as the loss of time and resources — all because of simple terminology. So while it is still important to address educational issues such as standardized testing, maybe it’s time we dedicate more attention to defining and teaching these non cognitive skills. Skills that can provide a foundation for all other academic learning.

The Myths of Silent Reading

If you’ve opened up this blog to read it, chances are you aren’t doing it aloud. But have you ever wondered when silent reading became the norm? According to Paul Saenger in his 1997 book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, ancient and early medieval European manuscripts were written in  scriptura continua. Inotherwordstextslookedratherlikethis. If that was hard to understand, imagine if, assuming you were one of the few fortunate enough to be literate, every text you encountered looked like that. Simply, it was hard to read without sounding out the syllables. Throughout early medieval Europe, however, Irish monks, and later British and continental monks, began to spend hours in tedium parsing out words in what we would now do with a space bar. Saenger argues it was with these spaces that scholastic philosophers began a novel practice: silent reading.

Now, before we ebulliently sally forth thinking that in the days before spaced words, all Europeans went around reading every text out loud, we must remember that with all historical debates (particularly on how people in history lived in a quotidian sense), there is debate. Quite a lot of debate. And often copious evidence for both parties to make a case. The Cambridge classicist, M.F. Burnyeat, has spent ample time cataloguing evidence in antiquity where people were reading in silent contemplation, not always in groups or muttering to themselves. Almost 50 years ago, the august scholar Bernard Knox offered great evidence that reading silently and to oneself was known and practiced in antiquity. However, as A.K. Gavrilov claimed, the idea that people have always read silently is rather less dramatic than centuries of people reading only aloud.

Of course, this debate to be made between tweed clad classicists and medievalists misses another side the polygon that is consciousness. That is, does silent reading really exist at all? When we read, is there anything silent? All of us who have read, which is to say, all of us reading this blogpost, know that to read means to contend with the other boisterous noises in our head. In a recent piece in the New Republic, John Biguenet recalls that the losing of his home after Katrina left him to a state where reading became impossible (though writing was not, as he wrote 15 columns on Katrina for the New York Times). Biguenet concludes that silent reading does not exist, that to silently read is to silence ones self, and to hand over consciousness to someone else. He cites numerous articles in the field of neurology which have illustrated how reading, itself, is processed similarly to auditory sounds. In other words, we read similarly to how we hear. However, if greatly condense and simplify the thoughts of the 20th-century Gilles Deleuze, all Ideas exists in the swarm of differential thoughts within the fractured I. Perhaps then, there is no silent reading as their is no silent thought (and how we read is really not quite through hearing, per say, but in thinking through the text). As Biguenet points out, when we are sick or in a state of great shock, it may be too hard to push our reading self through other worries. At the very least, this should remind us that reading is a dynamic and active use of time, not merely passivity nor escape. Even is if it done quietly.

Sunday, September 6th is National Read a Book Day!

As holidays go, Read a Book Day can be celebrated with minimal effort. Step one: Find a book. Step two: Read. Step three: Enjoy. For anyone interested in less solitary festivities, here are a few ideas:

  • Find a Free Little Library in your neighborhood. Maybe you have books to donate, or perhaps you’ll find one for yourself. If there is no Free Little Library in your area, it’s easy to start
  • September is Library Card Sign-up Month. If you don’t have a library card, this is a great day to get one. Many libraries also accept donated books.
  • Join (or begin) a book club. Start one with your friends, or engage with your fellow readers online.
  • Walk to your shelf. Find a book you love. Give it to someone who will love it.

Of course, we always recommend that students and parents looking for books targeted to both reading ability and interests access the free Lexile “Find a Book” search tool.


Happy reading!

National Library Card Sign-up Month

September is Library Card Sign-up Month. The event serves as a reminder that our public libraries continue to celebrate and encourage the act of reading, particularly among young people.

Libraries regularly offer readings for toddlers and preschoolers. Reading aloud to children is an activity that groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics have long recommended. Now, a recent study has offered biological evidence of the positive effects of early exposure to reading, including increased ability to form mental images.

Reading to the very young also correlates with increased reading later in life. However, reading for pleasure usually declines as children enter their teens, due to increased demands on their time. For those without the time to wander the stacks, peering at miniscule numbers taped to the spines of books (a ritual many of us still enjoy), library websites now allow digital texts to be downloaded directly to e-readers.

Modern libraries are more than inexpensive book delivery systems.  Patrons are often unaware of all that libraries have to offer, including Internet services and educational events. September is the time to find out.  And, should students need book recommendations before they sign up, the free, Lexile-based “Find a Book” search tool helps readers discover titles that match both their interests and reading abilities.

Sign up for a card at your local library. Tell them Snoopy sent you.

The New Reading

The experience of reading is expanding and the idea that only the act of processing words on the printed page (or screen) qualifies as ‘reading’ has been upended in the face of interactive technology that blurs the distinction between reading and other modes of processing information.   Greg Toppo writes in The Atlantic how new technologies are allowing students a more immersive experience.

Today, publishers are opting for works that combine video and audio components as part of the reading experience.  Rich graphics and embedded URLs are as much a part of the reading experience as the printed words on the page.  The most compelling example of the way new technology is transforming the reading experience is Inanimate Alice:

Created by the British novelist Kate Pullinger and British-Canadian multimedia artist Chris Joseph, Alice is a book that blinks, buzzes, hums, sings, jitterbugs, plays games, and, on occasion, rains and snows. Using her laptop, Fleming projected the first Alice story onto a library whiteboard … and her fifth-graders went nuts. The story was immersive like little else, the first piece of fiction that helped them see life through a character’s eyes. A few students approached her afterwards to thank her, tears glistening in their eyes.

Welcome to the brave new world of reading: the clickable, interactive future of books. Just as digital technology is transforming people’s work, social lives, and family ties, it’s naturally transforming the slow, solitary act of reading. Think beyond paper versus pixels—this technology cuts to the very core of what it means to read a book.

There is still much debate on whether such enhancements actually support the text or simply serve as flashy distractions.  But as more research emerges on the specific features that best support a text, we’re more likely to see an increase in the number of interactive texts.  That’s a good thing.  For reluctant readers, anything that brings them to the page and keeps them there is likely to do more good than harm.  And these new text types may just help reluctant readers become passionate about books, or more precisely, information.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.