Getting Beyond Frustrated

Recently, distinguished Professor Emeritus Timothy Shanahan responded to an article written in the Washington Post on his blog, Shanahan on Literacy ( The article tackles the problem of “frustration” level reading texts that the Common Core State Standards stipulate are necessary for students to be college and career ready upon high school graduation.  In his blog post, Shanahan addresses a few misconceptions about what the Common Core demands, what “frustration” level reading really means, and what he believes teachers can do to help their students.

The goal of the Common Core State Standards is to prepare students for life after high school graduation. The standards stipulate the level at which students in grades 2-12 should be reading in order to meet the expected reading demands they will encounter in college or the workplace. Instead of highlighting reading skills as previous state standards have done, the Common Core highlights text levels. Unfortunately, the reality is that in classrooms across the country, many students are reading below grade level. For example, many students in 6th grade are actually reading at 5th grade level or lower. This makes texts at the Common Core-recommended level even harder for students to comprehend.

Much of the Washington Post article’s comment feed focuses on “frustration” level reading. Teachers everywhere are trying to find ways to mitigate the fact that many of their students are reading below grade level, and the Common Core demands.  To this, Shanahan responds: “The confusion evident here is a common one: the point is not to frustrate kids. The point is to teach students to make sense of texts of particular levels of difficulty.” He then asserts that teaching texts at multiple reading levels is the best way to reach students.

The Lexile Framework for Reading suggests that, for independent reading, students read books focused at 75% comprehension. This means students should select books in the Lexile range of 100L below to 50L above his or her Lexile measure. Texts in this range provide sufficient challenge to encourage students’ growth without frustrating or alienating them.

-Kate Pringle

TextProject: Bringing High Levels of Literacy

An exciting new series of webinars is now being offered thanks to the efforts of TextProject, a site developed by Dr. Elfrieda Hiebert, leading reading researcher and educator.  Devoted to bringing beginning and struggling readers to high levels of literacy through a variety of strategies and tools, particularly the texts used for reading instruction, TextProject now makes available to all of us the insights of influential educational experts.

From the TextProject site: This series of webinars on the Common Core State Standards offers educators the chance to hear from, and talk with experts who served in advisory roles to the CCSS development team.  In their webinars, experts will discuss the knowledge base of the original CCSS report, ancillary documents, reports of foundations and policy groups, current implemation projects, and newly published research.  The webinars will give educators the opportunity to focus on the core goals of the CCSS and to chart a course that supports literacy levels needed for the 21st century.

The first webinar, Research and the Common Core: Can the Romance Survive? by award-winning researcher P. David Pearson took place on January 25. Both audio and presentation slides are available at the webinar site.

Make sure to schedule these upcoming web sessions to schedule on your calendar now:

February 27, 2013

CCSS and Education Policy

Dr. Timothy Shanahan, University of Illinois at Chicago

March 26, 2013

Quantitative Measurement of Text Complexity

Dr. Elfrieda H. Hiebert, TextProject, & University of California, Santa Cruz

April 24, 2013

Key Shifts in Assessment and Instruction Related to CCSS-ELA

Dr. Karen K. Wixon, University of Michigan

May 30, 2013

Informational Text and the CCSS: Pitfalls and Potential

Dr. Nell K. Duke, University of Michigan

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.

Math Differentiation in a Common Core World

Just last week, I was invited to speak at the CCSSO Rural Chiefs Conference in Kansas City on the topic of “Supporting Math Differentiation in a Common Core World”.  While there is much written and discussed on the idea of differentiated instruction, in practice there are limited tools and resources to support math differentiation, a deficiency well-documented in this recent Ed Week article, ‘’Educators in Search of Common Core Resources”.

A theme permeating much of my presentation was the seemingly benign but pernicious neglect of math in our country.  By almost any measure, e.g. instructional time, professional development, number of assessments ,instructional programs, etc… math runs a distant second to reading in the amount of instructional attention given.  At least part of the challenge we face in addressing our math crisis in k-12 education will require that we remedy this neglect.

In my suggestions for addressing this imbalance I focused on four critical strategies. While the adoption of the CCSS is a huge first step in the right direction, its real success will rest upon how effectively we implement these standards.  Along with the implementation of these standards, it is critical that we recognize that math – like any other skill – can be learned.  Too often we subscribe, consciously and unconsciously, to the notion that math achievement is an inherent ability, as if math achievement was based on a “math gene”.  If we take more of a Carolyn Dwek growth perspective, as opposed to a fixed mind set, we will go a long way toward promoting the idea that math achievement is possible for all of our students.

Secondly, we need to build math tools and resources that support differentiated instruction.  Once, when leading a math workshop for a school district, the head of the math department informed me, tongue in cheek, that all math teachers know how to differentiate instruction:  “We say it louder and we repeat it”. This RV (repetition and volume) model is likely to only work if the student is hearing impaired.  Yet I suspect we have all seen variations of this model, this when we continue to drill a student on a math problem or concept to no avail.  Meaningful differentiated instruction is really only possible when we are able to measure a student’s math level and the difficulty of the math concepts and skills on a common scale.  This possibility is now a reality with the Quantile Framework for Mathematics.  Once you know a student’s Quantile measure you know what math skills they are ready to learn.  And just as importantly, one can make sure that the learner has acquired the necessary pre-requisite skills.  Unfortunately, we often continue to employ the “RV” model and fail to drill down and provide differentiated content and instruction to meet the unique needs of the learner. (more…)

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.

Useful Assessments

This recent Education Week Teacher article, “Survey: Teachers Place Little Value on Standardized Tests” prompts the consideration of the purposes of standardized testing in the United States. A recent report published jointly by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations states that only 28% of educators believe the state-required standardized tests inform or gauge student achievement.

Additionally, survey respondents worried that many students fail to take standardized test seriously and therefore, do not perform as well as they do on quizzes and test administered during classroom instruction.

It’s important to point out, however, that standardized testing can actually be used to inform instruction if those assessments have been linked to The Lexile® Framework for Reading and The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics. When standardized tests are linked to these frameworks student score reports can identify their levels of ability, monitor growth over time, and inform instruction that in a way that allows educators to target student ability levels for both reading and mathematics.

The Lexile framework offers a developmental scale that teachers can use to match text to a student’s reading ability. The Lexile Find a Book site offers an abundance of book titles with Lexile measures so that parents and teachers can match the material appropriate to the student’s interest and reading ability level. The Quantile framework is another developmental scale that teachers can use to match student’s mathematics ability to the difficulty of mathematics topics at the introductory level. These various topics in mathematics can be found at the Quantile website where most major skills and concepts have been aligned to state standards.

If standardized tests are linked to The Lexile Framework for Reading or to The Quantile Framework for Mathematics, the assessment allows educators to differentiate in meaningful ways.  If you haven’t already check out these valuable resources, be sure to take a look.

Implementing the Standards

Uh-oh.  The EPE Research Center is reporting that, of the 46 states and D.C. that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, only seven have fully developed plans to put them into practice in the three key areas of: instructional material, professional development, and teacher evaluation systems.  Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and New York have reported finalizing plans across all three areas, but other states are reporting only partial completions.  As the report notes, budget cuts and funding issues are most likely the cause of the delay in most states.  With the new assessments scheduled to be released for the 2014-15 school year, let’s hope those plans are implemented soon.

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, 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 and click on Register in the top right corner. Be sure to check the box next to News Releases!

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!

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.