Much has already been written on the dangers of graduating unprepared to face the reading demands now found throughout universities and the workplace. There’s been ample research demonstrating that many of today’s high school seniors are graduating ill-prepared to tackle the rigors of the post-secondary world . Even those students who qualify as ‘proficient’ within the boundaries of their own state find that proficiency does not necessarily entail readiness for the reading demands of life after graduation. Declining levels of text complexity at the high school level translate into less rigor and many students are unfamiliar with richer, more complex texts, which is why so many universities have witnessed an increase in the number of freshmen enrolled in remedial, first-year courses.
Fortunately, the Common Core State Standards Initiative offers a clear trajectory toward college and career readiness, though a recent report from ACT shows just how much work many states have to do to place their students on a track toward college and career readiness. A sample of 250,000 high school juniors, for example, found that the students were unprepared for the standards proposed by the Common Core. Within English/Language Arts, only 38 percent were proficient in reading and a little more than half were proficient in writing and in language. Students were especially weak in science literacy and only 37 percent showed proficiency in statistics and probability. The weakest area in math was number and quantity. The ACT report goes further than just analysis, however, and offers some suggestions on how states, districts, and schools can support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
Another recently released study, REL Southwest’s How Prepared are Students for College-Level Reading? Applying a Lexile®-Based Approach, offers a real-world perspective for measuring the effectiveness of preparing students for post-secondary success. Using The Lexile Framework for Reading, the study matched student scores on an exit-level Texas English language arts and reading assessment with college English textbooks to gauge students’ ability to read and comprehend the books used in entry-level English courses throughout the University of Texas system:
A common understanding among researchers of college readiness standards is that students who struggle with English language arts will also struggle with other core subjects, such as social studies, science and mathematics (ACT, 2006; Conley 2007). This awareness is echoed in the TAKS-ELAR exit-level information booklet (Texas Education Agency 2004). Demonstration of the skills and strategies required of students to comprehend the range and variety of reading materials encountered in entry-level college courses is indicative of college readiness (Conley 2007). Reading is “an essential component of college” readiness (ACT 2006, p.3).
Unfortunately, the REL Southwest study showed that just over half (51 percent) of students can read the majority of first-year English textbooks used in freshman classes in the University of Texas system.
The REL Southwest study is commendable for a couple of reasons. First, the study goes beyond the issue of ‘proficiency’ and looks directly at the sample’s current status, which it then compares to reading demand at the university level. Second, the REL Southwest study used a common scale – The Lexile Framework for Reading – which offers a common measure for comparing student reading level to the text complexity of post-secondary texts. Having access to a common scale allows policymakers and education leaders to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to align high school curriculum and instruction with requirements for post-secondary success.
Both studies give education departments an idea of “what their student’s achievement looks like relative to the common core,” so that they know what their strengths/weaknesses are and “what they can focus on now to get a leg up to move forward with implementation,” said the president of ACT’s education division, Cynthia B. Schmeiser.
MetaMetrics’ has developed a collection of resources to help state consortia, Departments of Education, Educators, Test Publishers and Text Publishersnavigate the Common Core Standards and explain how The Lexile Framework can assist in getting our students College and Career Ready.
In addition to our Common Core Toolkit, our own Lexile site offers a host of free tools and utilities for classroom teachers and district leaders, including our Lexile Find a Book site. Find a Book allows students, parents, and teachers to build customized reading lists based on both a student’s individual preferences and their reading level. This functionality is built around the idea of getting students to read more and research that indicates that by reading text at a targeted level, readers have the ability to ‘grow as readers’, to increase their ability to handle increasingly sophisticated texts.
It’s our hope that tools, like Find a Book, as well as many others, will play a role in helping prepare students for the demands of the post-secondary world.