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 lexile.com/lexile-by-chapter/.

References

Brody, L.  & Maloney, J. (2014, July 14). Teachers’ new homework: a ‘Watchman’ Plan. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-new-homework-a-watchman-plan-1436917909

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 http://edexcellence.net/publications/common-core-in-the-schools

The 2015 Summer Math Challenge Added Up to Success

The 2015 Quantile Summer Math Challenge drew to a close at the end of last week. The Summer Math Challenge is a free math-skills maintenance program developed by the team behind the Quantile® Framework for Mathematics. For six weeks each summer, registered parents receive daily emails with fun activities and links to resources designed to help their students retain the math skills learned during the previous school year. This year’s Summer Math Challenge was a huge success and saw the greatest number of participants so far, with a 30% increase in registration over last year. Thousands of parents and children from all 50 states participated. We are truly grateful for all the support.

As a reward for those who completed the challenge, a personalized Summer Math Challenge Award Certificate is offered for download. The certificate celebrates students’ hard work and summarizes the concepts reviewed during the Summer Math Challenge. Additionally we provide a Summer Math Challenge Teacher Letter to pass along once school starts back. This letter provides your child’s teacher with additional information about the Summer Math Challenge, the Quantile Framework, and how to use the tools available on Quantiles.com.

Missed out on the Summer Math Challenge this year? Registration for the next challenge is always available. We’ll be working all year to make the 2016 Summer Math Challenge even better! Until then, please visit Quantiles.com to explore the many other free resources available to parents and educators. If you have any questions about the Summer Math Challenge or the Quantile Framework, please contact us by visiting quantiles.desk.com.

MetaMetrics and Departments of Education Team Up to Combat Summer Learning Loss!

This summer MetaMetrics has partnered with twenty two state departments of education to fight summer learning loss. Since 2012 MetaMetrics, in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), has offered the “Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge” to freely support departments of education in order to create and sustain state-led summer reading initiatives. A few years later, MetaMetrics launched a sister program, the “Summer Math Challenge” (SMC).

Summer learning is a beloved, annual project among MetaMetrics staffers. It’s the brainchild of Malbert Smith, Ph.D., the president and co-founder of MetaMetrics, who recognizes that providing free tools to prevent kids from going home to text and resource free environments is a vital endeavor to combating summer learning loss. Dr. Smith also serves on the National Summer Learning Association’s Board of Directors.

“Summer learning loss is not just a problem facing children of low-income families, it is an epidemic across America that affects all students,” stated Dr. Malbert Smith. “For example, all students on average lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation over the summer months each year. Such unfortunate statistics qualify a call to action. When we launched the Chief’s Challenge, it was thrilling to see state chiefs positively respond and take action in their states. Even more rewarding are my trips to states’ summer learning launch parties and promotional events. Seeing our young learners rallied and excited to kick off summer learning compels our passion to keep fighting learning loss and to continue our efforts year after year.”

One of the free tools offered for reading is the popular, Lexile-based book search tool, “Find a Book.” “Find a Book” allows readers to search for titles targeted to their reading ability and personal interests, and then to locate those titles at their local library. States can work with MetaMetrics to personalize a “Find a Book” landing page for their students to visit over the summer months. To incentivise the reading challenge, MetaMetrics posts a Summer Reading Pledge. When readers submit their reading pledge they are entered into a drawing to win a Barnes & Noble gift card.

On the math side of MetaMetrics summer learning opportunities is a free, Quantile-based resource that keeps kids practicing their math skills for six weeks over the summer. The SMC is a math skills maintenance program targeted to students who have just completed grade 2 through 6. Parents who enroll their child will receive daily emails with fun activities that are targeted to their child’s Quantile level (mathematical ability) and links to educational resources. For more information about MetaMetrics summer learning opportunities, visit www.lexile.com or www.Quantiles.com.

Dr. Malbert Smith speaks to North Carolina students at Give Five—Read Five summer 2015’s kick off event. Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Dr. Malbert Smith speaks to North Carolina students at Give Five—Read Five summer 2015’s kick off event. Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Summer Learning Initiatives

It is no secret that our school systems face serious discrepancies in student achievement. But it is not just what goes on during the school year that contributes to this. In fact Dr. Judy Blankenship Cheatham, Vice President of Literary Services at Reading is Fundamental, reports that most of this achievement gap actually takes place in the summer months when a significant proportion of kids are “opportunity poor”. During the Summer Learning Story Ideas Webinar, Dr. Cheatham joined forces with Jessica Lahey, writer for The Atlantic and New York Times and Sarah Pitcock, CEO of National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), to explore summer learning opportunities and ways to combat what has been coined as “summer slide” for students. The webinar provided information and resources on the importance of summer learning, especially now that half of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. This level of poverty is a driving factor behind the lack of access to diverse, interesting, and informational texts during the summer months. The consequence is that students are regressing in literacy skills during the summer, losing up to three months worth of progress. According to Dr. Judy Cheatham the cumulative effect of this summer slide is that students without access to summer reading materials are on average two and a half to three years behind their peers by fifth grade, and four years behind by twelfth grade.

How do we work to address this issue at a time where many students are living in isolated, rural areas or do not have the monetary means to access resourceful books? Fortunately, according to Dr. Cheatham, it does not take extensive lessons and lecturing to overcome this problem. One of her studies found that just an hour of reading with a volunteer twice a week is enough to at least maintain literacy level, and oftentimes even progress. Sarah Pitcock also provided information on several growing summer learning programs. Specifically, school libraries and public housing authorities have recently taken initiative for summer learning, offering low-cost or free programs for kids. Public school libraries across the country are implementing volunteer based programs where, for just $7 a summer, students can access their school libraries twice a week. While public libraries are often a good resource, those in low income places are the first to close for the summer and even if they are open, can be miles away from the students who need it most. Alternatively, keeping school libraries open can help provide more options. Additionally, and even more surprising, is the summer learning initiatives taking place by public housing authorities. An excellent example of this is in Tacoma, WA where they have implemented cost-free learning programs for local students during the summer.

While the aforementioned programs mark progress, two-thirds of children in the United States still aren’t involved in any kind of summer learning. A major contributor to this, outside of cost, is the inability to get informative texts to students at their reading level that also interest them. Malbert Smith, NSLA board member and President of MetaMetrics® , explains in his paper Stop Summer Academic Loss that “The best predictor of summer reading is whether books are in the home. Unfortunately, many students go home to text-free or text-poor zones.” But it is not enough to merely provide children with books, as Dr. James Kim, Harvard University professor, found through more than a decade of research. His study shows that children’s reading abilities can actually grow over the summer when they read high-interest books in their Lexile® range. But, he remarks that we need to make sure students are “finding books at their reading level that really interest them. Young people have to want to read a book and they have to be able to read it.”

Dr. Kim’s findings inspired a tool that helps combat summer slide nationwide – The Lexile “Find a Book”. “Find a Book” actualizes Dr. Kim’s research in a fun, easy-to-use interface for educators, parents and children. With “Find a Book,” you can build targeted reading lists for students based on their Lexile measure. This enables students to find books that are at their reading level, but also lets them choose their own books based off of individual interests. Being able to choose their own books significantly increases the rate at which students finish them and can ultimately work to overcome summer academic loss.

MetaMetrics® also provides other free resources for educators, parents, and students to access year round and has their own initiative: Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge that works with state DOEs to promote reading and math over the summer.

Promoting and Selecting Diverse Texts for Classroom Use

At the Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) last week in Washington D.C., the Board of Directors and Other Members of the Council passed a resolution supporting the inclusion of more diverse literary and informational texts in classrooms. The resolution will be presented to the full membership of NCTE for ratification by early January.

Promoting the inclusion of diverse voices in K-12 classrooms is an important element of curricular design and instruction. Supporting this idea is a new tool from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts.

An editable PDF that educators can download, complete, save and share, this tool promotes a multi-dimensional model for text selection, one that prioritizes critical literacy and cultural responsiveness as well as text complexity. Appendix D considers four distinct—but interconnected—dimensions of text selection: complexity (including both qualitative measures and quantitative measures such as the Lexile Framework for Reading), diversity and representation, critical literacy, and reader and task.

Appendix D offer a unique model for culturally responsive text selection that, when paired with a tool such as “Find a Book,” educators can use to explore, locate, and select more diverse literary and informational texts for their curricula while keeping an eye on the staircase of text complexity each student needs for college and career readiness.

Jumpstart’s Read for the Record: Otis

Join MetaMetrics®, We Give Books, Jumpstart, and record-breakers everywhere on October 3 as together we read Otis by Loren Long for Jumpstart’s Read for the Record®.

By taking part, you will not only help to set a new world record for the Largest Shared Reading Experience, but also help to model and encourage reading aloud to our children. Within The Lexile® Framework for Reading, Otis is an AD840L book. The AD code designates Otis as an “adult directed” book because such picture books are typically read to a child rather than a child reading them independently. Although seemingly easy reading, many picture books often make for a challenging independent reading experience to an age-appropriate reader for reasons of text complexity and book layout or design. Otis, then, presents a wonderful opportunity to share a great story with children and, at the same time, model for them how good readers navigate complex vocabulary and sentence structure.

The story of a fun-loving tractor and his unlikely friendship with a frightened young calf, Otis explores the themes of courage, determination, nostalgia, and usefulness. The story and its satisfying conclusion likely will appeal to readers both young and old. More information about Otis can be found by visiting the “Find a Book” feature on our website.   To read the book online, click here.

The beautiful illustrations and wonderful story provide readers the opportunity to engage the language, vocabulary, and close reading skills necessary for building success in early education and literacy. 

For example, younger readers might examine the use of prepositions as relationship words as the characters travel over the farm’s rolling hills, or through its haystacks, or even around Mud Pond. Older readers might consider the use of vivid, active verbs as the characters “leapfrog” rather than jump, or “explode” rather than run, or even “skirt” rather than avoid. And all readers can be more active in their close reading and re-reading of the story as they might:

  • keep track of and look up any vocabulary words they do not know;
  • note or mark key phrases or anything that strikes them as confusing or important;
  • keep track of the story as it unfolds;
  • note the repetition of words, phrases, ideas, images, events, etc.; and
  • write down questions they have about the text.

Read for the Record is a campaign that brings together millions of Americans to celebrate literacy by breaking the world record for reading the same book on the same day. This year, October 3 is the official Read for the Record day. More information about Read for the Record can be found here.

New Global Section: Now Available on Lexile.com

We are thrilled to share our brand new global section on Lexile.com: www.Lexile.com/global.  The section highlights the ever growing global presence of MetaMetrics®.

We’ve divided the Global section into three main categories:

  • Global Partners– Features several of the largest global education companies that use Lexile® measures, including; ETS®, Pearson, and Scholastic International. 

 

  • In Country Partners– Details each country’s testing, book retailer and publishing partners, translated resources and local press.

 

  • News Around the World– Includes hundreds of articles from around the globe that feature MetaMetrics and Lexile measures.

Our new global section is your source for latest news. Keep your eyes open for weekly global press updates, new partner additions (like our recent partnership with Amazon.co.jp) and our translated global resources.

In addition to the updated global pages, we’ve just released a brand new Lexile overview video, accessible in English, Japanese and Korean.  All videos are also available on our YouTube Channel.

And don’t forget to like our Lexile and Quantile Facebook pages and follow us on Twitter!

Egg Cartons and Collaboration

Very, very early in my teaching career a more seasoned colleague shared with me his lamentation on the profession: As teachers, we are the eggs; the school is our egg carton. Each of us is separated off into our own little protective compartment—our classroom—never touching, never interacting, never discussing.

A new report from the National Center for Literacy Education, Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works, appears to suggest that little has changed in the last 20 years in that regard. According to its findings, only 40% of educators have the opportunity to co-plan with colleagues more than once a month. And yet, co-planning is the one professional learning experience survey respondents value the most. In fact, a majority of educators have less than one hour per week to work with other members of their learning teams. (A one-page infographic summarizing the report’s findings is also available.)

For a profession firmly focused on developing a love of life-long learning, this reality may seem counter-intuitive. However, the pressures of time and available resources too often dictate policy. The good news, as the report also states, is that many of the building blocks to begin to rectify this problem may be already in place: educator teams, online professional networks, smart use of student data, and—perhaps most importantly—instructional coaches and school librarians.

Changing the climate and culture of our schools to embrace collaboration may seem a daunting task. Policymakers at the school, district, state, and national level all have a role in the kind of systemic remodeling for which the report calls. But, as classroom teachers, we must be that change. Now, as classrooms across the country begin the heavily lifting of implementing new standards and striving for college and career readiness, the work becomes more important than ever. This may the time to finally break free from our Styrofoam sarcophagi, to escape our egg-carton mentality, and model for our students the kind of life-long learning we desire to see in them.

Coming Soon: The New Quantiles.com Website

MetaMetrics®  is pleased to announce that the redesigned Quantiles.com will be released on March 14, 2013. The site has been given an all-inclusive makeover, complete with a brand new look and feel, improved navigation and tablet and mobile compatibility.

The new Quantiles.com will feature:

  • A slick, crisp, design
  • Tablet and mobile compatibility
  • New content and images
  • Redesigned tools such as the “Math Skills Database” and “Textbook Search” featuring improved functionality

In addition to these new site features, we are excited to announce “The Summer Math Challenge” a six-week, e-mail-based initiative designed to combat summer math loss. The initiative, based on the Common Core State Standards, will target students who have just completed grades 2 through 5. Parents will receive emails with resources and activities designed to help their kids retain the math skills learned during the previous school year.

We’d like to invite you to witness the unveiling of the new Quantiles.com first hand. Join us March 14, from 3 to 4 PM EDT, and you just might win free pie! Three lucky people who participate in our “Happy Pi Day… Introducing the New Quantiles.com” webinar will receive gift certificates for a free pie shipped nationwide from Porch Pies in Los Angeles, CA. For more information about the webinar, click here. Register today!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

New York Makes Finding Lexile-linked Resources Even Easier

Students and teachers in New York will have yet another way to access Lexile-linked information in their school library.  Schools that use OPALS (Open Source Automated Library System) will now be able to search and access material based on Lexile measures:

The collaboration between MetaMetrics and BiblioFiche/Media Flex will provide New York school libraries that use OPALS (Open Source Automated Library System) with access to Lexile measures. According to the MetaMetrics Web site, “A Lexile measure is a valuable piece of information about either an individual’s reading ability or the difficulty of a text, like a book or magazine article. The Lexile measure is shown as a number with an “L” after it — 880L is 880 Lexile.” The Lexile Framework looks at students’ reading ability based on assessment results, and teachers can then select materials based on students’ reading abilities…

For this project, the OPALS support team created a utility that allows Lexile measures to be added to more than 140,000 titles, allowing teachers and librarians to know the reading difficulty of each title. The utility, which supports Common Core State Standards, schedules regular updates.

This link provides another way that teachers can locate and utilize instructional materials within a range of reading levels, helping make differentiation that much easier.  Students will also be able to locate a wide variety of resource materials and books at the appropriate reading level.  As schools across the U.S. shift toward an increased focus on text complexity and helping ensure that all students graduate college and career ready, it’s good to see that New York educators will have the resources they need.

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.