Text Complexity Enters the Mainstream. Finally.

I was absolutely delighted to read Catherine Gewertz’s recent blog post, “New Research Expands Thinking on Text Complexity”.  Admittedly, my wife often reminds me that the subjects that interest me induce narcolepsy in others.  But as Gewertz points out, the esoteric subject of text complexity is now part of the national conversation.  The Common Cores State Standards has done a great deal to shine a light on this important topic and text complexity is one of the ten anchor standards within Common Core.  Consequently the conversation on text complexity has moved from the “wonks’ dinner tables to a dinner table near you”.

For a person who has devoted most of his professional life to this topic it is especially gratifying to finally see long overdue attention and recognition given to the importance of text complexity.  When Jack Stenner and I received the initial federal grant in 1984 to begin research around our vision of placing readers and texts on the same scale there were very few researchers focused on this topic.  Fortunately, over a decade of research and support from federal grants we were able to create and develop The Lexile Framework for Reading, a Framework that is now utilized by educators, administrators, and families all over the world.  As vitally important as the need to measure text complexity was the imperative that we build a psychometric model which would allow for the measurement of reading ability on the same scale.  Today, in addition to the millions of articles and thousands of books that have been measured, millions of students get a Lexile reading measure from one of the over 50 assessments that report Lexile reader measures.  For a more thorough overview of our work in this area, please see our recent paper, “Not So Common”.

While we began this research journey began in the early 1980s, we are excited about the currently ongoing research and the advancements that we are continuing to make. We are also doing our part to reach every dinner table by making all of our resources and tools freely available and parent friendly.  For example, over 150,000 educators have used our Lexile Analyzer to measure the text complexity of millions of articles and books.  And, each day thousands of educators, parents, and students use our Find A Book application to build personalized (based on interest and reading level) reading lists and connect to their closest public library.  With more attention being given to this important topic, it’s our hope that educators around the world will be able to utilize the Lexile Framework to ensure that every student is successfully reading grade level material and that every student graduates ready for the rigors of the post-secondary world.

Kentucky Helps Support the Transition to Common Core

Laura Devaney’s recent article How Secondary School Principals Can Master the Common Core in eSchool News offers suggestions for implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and supporting each site’s classroom teachers.  By recognizing the transition to CCSS as a unique and momentous opportunity, principals can more effectively advance the transformation of classroom instruction and student attitudes toward learning.

Devaney references Kentucky’s efforts to equip school districts with skills and resources that will aid in their transition efforts. Measures suggested include:

  • identify engaging instructional resources
  • align instruction to the CCSS
  • revise curriculum maps and pacing guides
  • prepare samples of instructional units

In addition, principals can signal their support and help lead their school’s transition to the Common Core standards by taking a number of critical steps:

  1. Actively participate in all available trainings
  2. Use available tools offered by the state and district
  3. Build capacity within your school
  4. Assure vertical alignment from kindergarten to high school graduation
  5. Use free apps, such as the Common Core Standards app
  6. Provide professional learning opportunities and peer networking
  7. Build in quality time for teachers to use and implement the CCSS for instruction and assessment
  8. Monitor progress continuously
  9. Provide time for teachers to analyze data and make appropriate decisions
  10. Become thoroughly educated on the CCSS

Kentucky is also working hard to stay up-to-date on current research-based data.  For example, consider Kentucky’s alignment to the Lexile Framework® for Reading and The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics. Their partnership with MetaMetrics in assuring their educational community has access to these developmental measures has been incomparable. Kentucky continues to encourage their staffs to understand the meanings of the measures and how they may be utilized to guide classroom instruction and track growth toward college and career readiness.

Kentucky is to be commended for their efforts to lead the way in transforming education in their state and to ensure that each student graduates college and career ready.

Less Than Prepared

Here’s an interesting new study out from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) examining the preparedness of Texas students for college-level reading.  Researchers used the Lexile measure to gauge both student reading level and the demands of entry level college reading in English.  Unfortunately, they found that many 11th grade Texas students, particularly among a number of sub-groups, are unprepared for the rigorous requirements of college level work.  Most striking in the report was the depth of the analysis and its meticulous drill down on the readiness of a wide variety of sub-groups.  Though the report found a wide pattern of unpreparedness, a few findings stand out:

  • Economically disadvantaged students were less prepared than those who were not economically disadvantaged.
  • At risk students were less prepared than those who were not at risk.
  • Students taking at least one career and technical education course were slightly less prepared than those not taking such a course.

Read the whole report for a more detailed analysis. 

It’s worth noting that one of the benefits of the Lexile Framework – as the study authors acknowledge – is its easy accessibility as a tool for measuring growth toward college and career readiness.  Because we know the typical reading level of college level text , we have an end point in mind by which to assess growth.  And the Lexile Framework is an especially useful tool for establishing an aspirational trajectory and then responding with increased instruction and remediation for students on a trajectory to fall short of college preparedness.  The Lexile Framework – when coupled with sound instructional practices is not only a tool to measure growth, but to match students to targeted, though challenging, text as well.  Let’s hope teachers across the nation can put this tool to use for all students, particularly those on a trajectory to be unprepared for life after high school.

 

Text Complexity Takes Hold

Given the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity, an increasing number of educators are paying more attention to the complexity of the texts they assign.  Here at MetaMetrics, our focus has always been on understanding the relationship between the reader and the text and utilizing a common metric (Lexile) to characterize that relationship.  That’s why we’re so excited to make two related announcements: first, over 100,000 users have registered to use our free, publicly available Lexile Analyzer tool.  This tool allows users to analyze the complexity of small bits of texts to obtain a Lexile measure.  We’re thrilled to see that so many educators are focused on the complexity various pieces of text and are utilizing this wonderful tool.  If you have not yet tried this tool, click here to register and start using.

On a related note, we’re also happy to announce that 50 new publishers adopted the Lexile measure in 2011.  With the recent shift from proficiency to college and career readiness, school districts around the country are focusing on what it means to be college and career ready, specifically what it means to graduate prepared to read college level text.  With all the recent emphasis on college and career readiness, it is vital that students be introduced to increasingly sophisticated levels of complex texts.  Which is why it’s refreshing to see so many new publishers begin to recognize the significance of text complexity.  These new publishers add to a growing roster of hundreds of publishers that now routinely measure their books using Lexile measures.  Some of these new publishers include American Girl, Black Rabbit Books, Medallion Press, Nomad Press, and many, many more.  To all of our new publisher partners, welcome aboard.

Policy Brief: Achieving Success in Mathematics

MetaMetrics recently released a policy brief on the mathematical education issues now facing our nation’s students.  Written by MetaMetrics President and Co-founder Malbert Smith, and Director of Professional Development,  Jason Turner,  A Mathematical Problem: How to Help Students Achieve Success in Mathematics Through College and Beyond examines what it means to be college and career ready in mathematics and the dire consequences of being unprepared for the mathematical demands of life after high school:

Many U.S. students graduate unprepared for the challenges they will likely face in college and careers. This unpreparedness not only portends significant academic challenges, but increasingly dire consequences at both the individual- and macro-economic levels. At the individual level, students may find themselves unable to compete academically and miss out on employment opportunities in some of today’s fastest growing career sectors. At the macro level, poor mathematics performance suggests an alarming outlook for our country’s competitiveness in the international arena.

We encourage you to read this policy brief as it details more than just the problems we face — Smith and Turner also discuss the solution. The Common Core State Standards provide a map for getting students college-and-career-ready. Forty-seven states already adopted these standards. The next phase is implementation. How will educators apply the Common Core State Standards in the classroom? Smith and Turner discuss the wealth of free resources available at http://www.quantiles.com/, one such resource is Math@Home. We welcome you to explore The Quantile Framework for Mathematics and learn about all the online tools it has to offer.

Want to subscribe to our policy briefs? Visit www.Lexile.com and click on Register in the top right corner. Be sure to check the box next to News Releases!

America’s Report Card: Quality Counts 2012

On January 12th, 2012 Education Week released the annual Quality Counts grade report for all 50 states and D.C. Our nation averaged a C. The Quality Counts report card grades on six distinct areas of policy and performance.  Unfortunately, with so much recent discussion focused on comparing US students to their international peers, this latest news does not bode well. 

Alarmingly, almost half of the states received a grade of C or lower. Maryland received an overall grade of a B+. This is the fourth consecutive year that Maryland is the top-ranked state. Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia each earned a B average.

One explanation for these disappointing results may be found in the Quality Counts 2012 Press Release, The teaching profession grade is comprised of 44 individual state indicators. Arkansas and South Carolina received B+ averages—the highest grades awarded. The District of Columbia and four states received D- averages. Overall, the U.S. received a C average.

We encourage you to check out the Quality Counts 2012 Press Release for details on the national report card. This Press Release is an informative report on the grades issued for all 50 states and D.C. Find your state’s grade and national rank on the “Grading Summary” Table on page 5.

An Inspiring Example

We were pleased to read this article this morning on student success in our own backyard.  High school sophomore, Alfredo Altnor, has experienced significant reading success this year, and his teachers are amazed at the tremendous gains in reading they have seen from Alfredo.  Alfredo’s Lexile measure during freshman year was a 1400L, and yet this year, as a sophomore, he continued to grow as a reader with a current Lexile measure of 1529! 

The Common Core has helped shift the focus from proficiency to college and career readiness.  And we know that students reading at 1300L and above are much more likely to be able to comprehend university level texts (1355L +) and are thus much more likely to be prepared for the demands of college and career.   Which is why we are thrilled to see that students, like Alfredo, are on a trajectory for college and career readiness.  It is our continued hope that all students will be as invested as Alfredo in their own reading growth and ensuring they are prepared for whatever path they choose after high school. Kudos to Alfredo and his wonderful teachers!

Text Complexity & the Common Core

There has been quite a bit published recently on the Common Core State Standards and what they will mean for teachers in the classroom.  In this recent video, Tim Shanahan argues that it’s not what students are being asked to do with a text that presents the difficulty, but the complexity level of the text itself.  As Shanahan and others have argued:

So why is the common core making such a big deal out of having kids read hard text? One of the most persuasive pieces of evidence they considered was a report, Reading: Between the Lines, published by American College Testing (ACT; 2006)…In Reading: Between the Lines, ACT demonstrates that student performance cannot be differentiated in any meaningful way by question type. Students do not perform differently if they are answering literal recall items or inferential items (or other question types like main idea or vocabulary, either). Test performance, according to ACT, is driven by text rather than questions. Thus, if students are asked to read a hard passage, they may only answer a few questions correctly, no matter what types of questions they may be. On the other hand, with an easy enough text, students may answer almost any questions right, again with no differences by question type.

And here’s ELA standards writer, Sue Pimentel, providing some historical context on why change was needed in ELA and what she considers the key shifts in the ELA standards.  Of particular interest, is the shift in text complexity.  Students will now be expected to read increasingly sophisticated levels of complex text in order to graduate prepared for college and career materials. 

Both videos are worth checking out and provide a succinct explanation on the importance of text complexity in the common core state standards.

Expecting Success

Writing in the latest issue of Kappan, Robert Maranto and James Shuls (subscription required) argue that KIPP schools, particularly in the Arkansas Delta region, have been undeniably successful in educating students and preparing them for college.  They contend that KIPP’s success is a result of a few key ingredients: explicitly defining the mission, hiring the right teachers for the mission, paying specific attention to classroom routine and management.  All KIPP hires are trained in maintaining the focus on instruction and learning and they all use the same cues and practices to address discipline problems.

In addition to a strong committment to classroom management, KIPP teachers work continually to create a culture of learning  – a culture that emphasizes the academic mission of getting each student to and through college.  I had the privilege of attending the KIPP ELA/Humanities Summit this past weekend in Austin, Texas and even got a chance to visit classrooms at KIPP Austin.   While the summit was stimulating, the real inspiration came in visiting the active classrooms at KIPP Austin.  A few observations worth sharing:  .

  • The culture of college preparedness permeates all aspects of KIPP: The halls and classrooms throughout the school are filled with college pennants.  And almost every classroom contained the teacher’s college degree in a frame above the desk.
  • Each classroom has signs that reiterate core KIPP values.  In particular, I noticed signs in most every room encouraging personal responsibility, indicating only interest in things that students can control.  The school motto, ‘Work hard. Be Nice’ is also displayed prominently in every classroom.  There are also signs discouraging the use of the phrase, ‘I don’t know’ and urging it to be replaced with statements like, “I need more information’.
  • The teachers speak to students constantly about what they can expect in college, using phrases like, ‘at the university…’ ‘in college you will be expected…’  Teachers also speak openly about their own experience in college.
  • Classroom management appears to be systematized across the entire school and classroom expectations are made very clear.  Teachers maintain control over behavior the entire class period.
  • They use phrases like:
    • “Miguel is speaking, all eyes are tracking Miguel”
    • “With a college-prep hand, Miguel is about to speak”
    • “All eyes are tracking me on 3-2-1-…”
    • Many of the students use standardized hand signals: thumbs-up to signal agreement, waving hands to signal passionate agreement.
    • To encourage classroom participation, teachers often use phrases like “I’m only seeing 30% of you answering.  Let’s try again.”  Or, “I want to hear your thoughts, but I can only take two…”
    • Teachers rely heavily on timers to manage time and classroom transitions: “You have 1 minute to move to the rug”.  You have 90 seconds to discuss.  You have 2 minutes to write your response.  And many utilized large, visible timers to constantly keep things moving. 
    • Teachers use student nicknames and other devices to indicate personal knowledge of students. 

What was clear from my visit to KIPP Austin and the time spent at the summit was that KIPP has done an excellent job of explicitly formulating a mission and methodically building a culture in which nothing is taken for granted – every aspect of the culture is built around the idea of sending each student to college.  Classroom management- far from an afterthought to instruction – is a central part of the instructional process and KIPP teachers effortlessly blur the distinction, blending instructional and behavioral expectations. 

For any individual who gets an opportunity to visit a KIPP classroom, it’s worth the time and is an inspiring look at the admirable work being done to ensure that so many low-income students have a chance for success in the post-secondary world.

Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core

Our own Malbert Smith just released a new policy brief: Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core.  Smith outlines some of the major challenges facing educators, including the imperative to ensure that students are graduating college and career ready.  An important component of ensuring steady progress toward college and career readiness is facilitating student reading growth throughout a student’s entire academic career.  Otherwise, students unable to handle grade-level material by high school face an enormous challenge in trying to ‘catch-up’ by time of graduation. 

Smith outlines two important strategies for ensuring students remain on track for life after high school – extended instructional time and personalized learning:

The “New Normal” requires us to find innovative solutions to eliminate the readiness gap. There are two promising, cost-effective strategies that can help us achieve the Common Core within today’s financial and time parameters: personalized learning platforms and summer reading. Both approaches support “blended learning,” which Michael Horn defines as: “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (Horn, 2011).

Be sure to read the whole thing.

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.