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

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