AERA Emergent Reader Symposium, 2013

During the 2013 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California, a team of MetaMetrics® researchers along with colleagues from other institutions presented the results of a two-year emergent reader text-complexity study.

Here’s a summary of the research and the implications:

  • The research was achieved by having young students read texts and also by having teachers gauge the texts’ complexity.


  •  As a result of the emergent reader research, the Lexile® scale was enhanced; now any early-grades text can be placed on the Lexile text-complexity scale.


  • The enhanced Analyzer incorporates several text-complexity indicators, including word structure demand, word meaning demand, sentence-level characteristics, and cross-sentence features that model patterning and repetition found in many emergent texts.

What makes the Lexile scale so unique in the field is the degree to which it uses empirical data from students and educators in determining the text complexity of early grades. In comparison, most other text-complexity measures are derived solely from text analysis.

The study was completed by a team from MetaMetrics comprised of; Dr. Heather Koons, Director, Consulting and Development Services and The University of North Carolina Clinical Assistant Professor, Dr. Kim Bowen, Lexile Research Associate, Dr. Jill Fitzgerald, Distinguished Research Scientist and The University of North Carolina Emerita and Research Professor, Mr. Jeff Elmore, Research Engineer, Dr. Mary Ann Simpson, Sr. Psychometrician, Dr. Robin Baker, Director Analytical Services, Dr. Ellie E. Sanford-Moore, SVP Research and Development and Dr. A. Jackson Stenner, Chairman, CEO and Co-founder and The University of North Carolina Research Professor.

The team was joined by Dr. Elfrieda Hiebert, President and CEO of and Amy Clark, Graduate Research Assistant at Kansas University. Dr. P. David Pearson was a discussant at the AERA presentation.

The emergent reader work will be incorporated into the Lexile® Analyzer this fall.

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.

TedEd: Lessons Worth Sharing

Khan Academy has caught the attention of policy-makers, innovators, educators and students around the world.  Khan’s ability to take complex academic material and break it down into small, accessible, video-chunks of information have turned the industrialized, cohort model of education – where each student proceeds at the same pace – on its head.  Because Khan Academy lessons are offered through video, each student can proceed at their own pace, accessing information on-demand and reviewing lessons or difficult concepts as needed.  Khan Academy offers a much more individualized model of education, one where the student determines the pace and proceeds as their understanding progresses.

Now TED – the video and conference group that has long offered interesting lectures on a variety of topics – has taken a cue from Khan Academy is offering TedEd – an online forum where educators can share lessons:

TED-Ed is launching a suite of tools that allow teachers to design their own web-assisted curricula, complete with videos, comprehension-testing questions, and conversational tools. TED-Ed provides a template — think Power Point slides, with populate-able fields — that teachers can fill in with customized content: lesson titles, lesson links, student names, embedded video, test questions, and the like. Once saved, a lesson generates a unique URL, which allows teachers to track which students have watched assigned videos, how they’ve responded to follow-up questions, and, in general, how they’ve interacted with the lesson itself.

TED’s efforts are worth noting because they move the teacher from the center of the education experience and make the student the center of the learning experience.  But the content – the learning material itself – is provided by teachers through a variety of formats.  As we move from a traditional, industrialized conception of education toward an individualized model where students can proceed at different paces and in their own style, TedEd offers a compelling vision of what might be possible.

Click here to give it a try.

BiblioNasium: Social Media for Young Readers

Just in time for Summer, BiblioNasium has launched a virtual reading village for kids ages 6-12.  Using BiblioNasium, young readers can connect with peers, teachers and parents.  BiblioNasium functions as a sort of social networking platform for children, a platform where readers can exchange information about books they’ve read, offer reviews, and explore other titles that interest them.  Students can explore books based on their interests, an author, a title or series, and their Lexile reading level.  Best of all, BiblioNasium offers students a chance to interact with other readers in a safe online space.

If you haven’t yet taken a look, be sure to visit BiblioNasium and get your kids reading today.

The Bell Curve and the Virtue of Fidelity

Recently, I have been reflecting upon the work of Atul Gawande.  Gawande is a physician by training, but is also the well-known author of The Checklist Manifesto and Complications, both which deal primarily with topics and trends in medicine.   In 2004, Gawande published an important article, “The Bell Curve”, in the New Yorker.  While educators and researchers in the social sciences often use the term “bell curve” the term is used less frequently by physicians or those in the medical field.    Gawande’s observations and findings cut across disciplines, however, and are just as applicable to the world of education as they are to medicine.

In “The Bell Curve”, Gawande describes the medical community’s efforts to successfully treat cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease which thickens the body’s secretions and slowly fills the lung’s airways with hardened mucous, leaving those afflicted with severely reduced lung capacity – effectively smothering the ill from the inside out.  In 1966, the average life expectancy for a child with cystic fibrosis was 10 years.  Fortunately, we have made great strides over the last few decades; continuing research and enhanced treatment methods have increased life expectancy to 33 years.

Still, each year about 1,000 American children are diagnosed with the disease and there are now 117 treatment centers in our country.   To qualify as a treatment center, each center must undergo rigorous certification, follow the same standardized guidelines for treatment, and become ultra-specialized.  Each center must implement the same specialized treatment protocol.

Based on the fact that cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease and that all treatment centers are certified and follow same treatment protocols, one would surmise that most of the treatment centers have the same success rate in treating the disease.  Said differently, one would not expect average life expectancy to differ significantly across treatment centers.  That assumption is incorrect.  And I was stunned to learn that, in terms of average life expectancy, the success of the treatment centers is represented as a bell shaped curve.

How can that be?  How can a genetic disease that has a standardized treatment protocol have a health care outcome that looks like a bell shaped curve?    As the article makes clear, success is a product of aggressive implementation, or what I would label “treatment fidelity”.  The best performing centers did not passively implement the treatment protocols.  Instead, they were maniacally focused on implementing each and every component of the treatment, aiming at 100% fidelity in each and every visit with each patient.  Site visits revealed that success takes more than the knowledge and skills to succeed.  As Gawande makes distressingly clear, “even doctors with great knowledge and technical skills can have mediocre results”.

Now think of the profound implications the treatment of cystic fibrosis has for education.  If a genetic disease that has an agreed upon treatment protocol and is delivered by 117 certified treatment centers is subject to a bell shape distribution due to “fidelity of treatment”, then is it any wonder that we have uneven outcomes in reading and math achievement  across the 100,000+ schools around the US?   Like the treatment of cystic fibrosis, when it comes to the teaching of reading and math skills it is not a matter of how we do it, but how well we do it.  Passionate and unwavering fidelity of treatment would be a big step in ensuring that students continue to climb the ladder toward college and career readiness.  Lessons, like those found in ‘The Bell Curve’, resonate as we look toward education policy and should shape how we think about the educational outcomes across schools, districts, and states.

An Inspiring Reminder

We’ve long-known that, despite socioeconomic differences, all students have the ability to learn and often proceed at the same rate of growth in reading and math during the academic year.  Unfortunately, there are a number of factors – language learning differences,  summer learning loss, lack of differentiation – that can stall or derail a student’s learning progress.  With intensive remediation or intervention, however, most students have the ability to catch back up with their peers, to regain a foothold on the trajectory toward college and career readiness.  For all of us that work in education, this story offers an inspiring reminder on the importance of targeting each and every student and on each student’s tremendous capacity to learn, despite a host of disadvantages and diverse backgrounds.

More Choice, More Books, More Growth

We’ve written before on the remarkable success of myON reader and Capstone Digital’s intent to provide myOn through mobile devices like the Kindle Fire.  Well that initiative has taken off and it appears to be paying dividends for students around the country.  Students in Cheatham County, Tennessee, in particular, are excited about being able to access targeted reading material on their Kindles:

At ACES, Jonet Williams has been thrilled with the response of her students, who look forward to activating their Kindles each day.

Williams likes being able to manage her class work through the Internet.

“I can find out what they’ve read, how much time they’ve spent reading, and see their assessment scores,” she said.

The teachers are also able to see their students’ successes and challenges, using the myON reader as a tool for flagging needs and reflecting ability levels.

“We can choose libraries for them that correlate with what we’re studying,” said Williams, citing a recent reading assignment on Benjamin Franklin and American symbols to reinforce what her students are learning in social studies.

MyON seamlessly blends assessment and instruction for young readers in a digital environment, allowing students to receive updated Lexile measures through their reading experiences.  Based on those updated Lexile measures, students continue to be presented a wider range of targeted texts.  Not only do students receive targeted text, but they exercise choice as well.  MyON allows students to self-select topics of interest to them and students can choose from a long list of subjects.

On a related note, the world of education software has also recognized Capstone for the contribution they’ve made to reading.  MyON recently won a Bessie for the ‘Best Reading Website’ award for upper elementary students.  Congratulations to Capstone on achieving so much in such a short period of time.  We’re proud to partner with an organization so dedicated to getting more students reading everywhere!

Hand’s-On Math

Every mathematics teacher wants to be able to help their students learn more math and learn math better.  The typical mathematics classroom contains a diverse range of students who differ in their readiness to learn.  Quality mathematics teachers seek new strategies to reach their students and help them grow.

Differences in learning occur for a variety of reasons.  Some students may have academically encouraging homes.  Some students may have academic learning disabilities. Other students may have physical differences.  And just as with physical growth, some students may simply grow in their mathematical abilities at different rates. 

Regardless of the reason, mathematics educators often strive to find tools and resources to help meet individual student needs and differentiate instruction.  Handheld, mobile technologies may offer just the means to do that.  As this recent article from SmartPlanet, details there are new opportunities for the visually impaired learner using “haptic” technology. 

Haptic means relating to the sense of touch.  Through a research project at Vanderbilt University, an android app is being developed to help learners who have difficulties with their vision to learn mathematics – a subject where visual data such as graphs, charts, and symbols are relied upon for communication.

Many learn better through doing rather than speaking or hearing. Mathematics can be difficult to teach to these learners.  In addition to assisting the visually impaired, such technology may open the door for the kinesthetic learner.  With handheld devices becoming downright commonplace, this seems like an opportunity with a lot of promise.


There’s a new trend in the world of libraries: the miniature library, DIY reading rooms, and other micro book depots. Built around the idea of readcycling, these miniature libraries offer new methods for obtaining books. The micro library’s system is simple: take a book, return a book. This recycling of books is the foundation to hundreds of “little, free libraries” that exist all over the world—from the streets of New York to the malls and residential areas of Sweden.

Micro libraries can take many forms; old phone booths, miniature houses, and a number of other novel (pardon the pun) constructions. The Book Booth, pictured by the Department of Urban Betterment,is especially popular. Phone booths, no longer relevant for their intended use, offer an ideal micro library for urban areas, such as New York City, where there is an abundance of empty booths. In Sweden there is a book equivalent to Red Box, the well-liked movie rental system in America, called the Bokomaten.  Bokomatens are book-filled, automated machines with the capacity to handle book loans and returns.

Popping up in communities all over the world, micro libraries and readcycling makes books easily accessible. Check out The Atlantic and get the full scoop on micro libraries.

You Can Take It With You

We’ve written before on the amazing success of Capstone Digital’s myON reader.  MyON seamlessly blends assessment and instruction for young readers in a digital environment, allowing students to receive updated Lexile measures through their reading experiences.  Based on those updated Lexile measures, students continue to be presented a wider range of targeted texts.  Not only do students receive targeted text, but they exercise choice as well.  MyON allows students to self-select topics of interest to them and students can choose from a long list of subjects.

Just last month Capstone Digital announced that this targeted reading experience now has even greater flexibility – it can now be experienced in a mobile environment:

The personalized literacy environment that provides access to the largest integrated library of digital books with multimedia supports is now available on Kindle Fire. myON reader users can securely login through and have full access to the platform using the popular Amazon tablet. This is the first of many mobile initiatives to launch from Capstone Digital in 2012.

It’s great to hear that this is just one of many mobile initiatives set for this year.  As more students have access to mobile devices, like e-readers, smart phones, tablets, and iPads, offering a wide variety of texts in multiple platforms becomes essential.  We applaud Capstone for making the reading experience so accessible for so many young readers.

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.