Engaging English: A Targeted Way to Learn English

As school lets out for the summer, many high school graduates find themselves looking forward not only to their summer vacation, but also to entering a college or university in the fall.  However, as Dan Levin of the NY Times points out, for some upcoming freshman, their acceptance is the result of hours of preparation in addition to a significant financial investment.  This is especially true for international students.

With China sending more students to American colleges than any other country, the competition for spots at the top schools has soared… [And] as a record number of students from outside the United States compete for a limited number of spots at the most selective American colleges, companies…are seeking to profit from their ambitions.

Parents in China enroll their children in programs that offer a money-back guarantee of university acceptance (the money back amounting to upwards of$15,000).  These companies work with students starting as early as their freshman year of high school and “design extracurricular activities for the students; guide them in essay writing; tutor them for the SAT…and train them for the Test of English as a Foreign Language [TOEFL exam]….Often [students] have poor English language skills and have done little with their free time beyond homework.  Yet their parents often demand the Ivy League.”

 As students work with these companies to improve their college applications they often also turn to a variety of web-based products in an effort to improve their English language skills. Our own  EngagingEnglish.com is an example of a supplemental resource for students seeking to improve their English reading skill.  This online service provides targeted reading by matching readers to appropriately difficult texts, based on the Lexile Framework for Reading  and their selected interests.  Engaging English also provides immediate feedback and tracks users’ progress – motivating continued achievement.   Look for the new version available in early July with enhanced features and improvements.

Florida’s ‘Teacher Talk’

Teacher Talk’s April episode takes a look at various summer reading programs, including “Find A Book” Florida and also offers an interview with our own Malbert Smith.  In the interview Dr. Smith covers a wide variety of topics, including how parents and educators  access to the Lexile measure, how to manage multiple measures, how Lexile measures can be used in and outside of the classroom, and how to use “Find A Book” without having a Lexile measure.  He also talks about the many resources available to both teachers and parents.

 Teacher Talk is hosted by The Florida Department of Education and was designed to communicate with Florida teachers about innovative approaches to education. Through this venue, they make numerous resources available to help with the day-to-day challenges of teaching. “Teacher Talk” airs monthly on the Florida Knowledge Network, the JustforTeachers website, iTunesU and the Florida Education Channel on Dish Network. Episodes air the second Tuesday of every month and re-run as time slots are available.

Be sure to take a look.

Policy Brief: Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory

Written by our own Dr. Malbert Smith, our second policy brief was released Thursday.

As I’ve mentioned before, MetaMetrics is focused on improving education for learners of all ages, and we will be releasing policy briefs that cover research on a variety of educational issues, such as closing the achievement gap, next-generation assessments, and college- and career-readiness. The policy briefs will explore potential ways to address these critical issues by focusing on education as the foundation of student success and the stepping stone to social and economic growth in our country.

The second brief is titled “Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory: Instructional Strategies to Promote Reading Skills and Close the Readiness Gap.” An executive summary is below and the entire brief is available in both HTML and PDF formats:

The January 26 edition of Education Week summarizes the postsecondary readiness gap in unequivocal terms: “High school completion does not equal college readiness.” This reality is the foundation of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts which are designed to prepare students “to read and comprehend independently and proficiently the kinds of complex texts commonly found in college and careers.” But what exactly does this mean for educators, and how can they help prepare students for the reading demands of their academic and professional pursuits? Research has validated some instructional strategies—such as exposing middle and high school students to more complex text, using benchmark assessments to supplement year-end tests, and mitigating summer loss—all of which can address the velocity and deceleration of reading growth in order to enhance comprehension skills and support students on higher learning trajectories. As idealized growth trajectories are adopted in response to Common Core—and states continue to collect more and better longitudinal data—we will be even better positioned to think strategically about how we can modify instruction to support students as they progress toward college- and career-readiness.

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!

Lexile Measures Added to Saddleback’s Hi-Lo Books

Saddleback Educational Publishing has joined the growing list of publishers who offer Lexile measures for their books. By adding Lexile measures to their award-winning hi-lo titles, Saddleback is helping students at lower readiness levels enjoy reading by targeting their interests and school assignments to books at the right level.

According to Tim McHugh, Saddleback’s vice president of sales and marketing, “We strive to provide educators with the finest quality curriculum materials. The addition of Lexile measures to our hi-lo books offers educators valuable information for matching students with resources that will best support positive reading experiences and the development of important comprehension skills.”

Saddleback publishes some of the most popular hi-lo books for struggling readers, including the “21st Century Life Skills” and “Urban Underground” series. Those titles that have been assigned Lexile measures are now available in the free “Find a Book” search utility, which allows readers of all ages to build custom book lists based on their interests and ability level.

Dispelling a Few More Misconceptions

In an interview in the most recent edition of Knowledge Quest, our own Malbert Smith tackles the concern that the adoption of the Lexile Framework will require libraries to reorganize their entire library by Lexile levels:

CAH: Some school librarians have been asked to abandon the standard organization of their school libraries in favor or arrangement by Lexile levels.  What are your thoughts about schools that use Lexile levels to rearrange and organize the school library collection?

MS: We do not find it necessary to reorganize a library by Lexile range or level.  Today,  a number of computer catalog providers offer Lexile measures to help guide students to the right reading materials – without actually having to rearrange those materials by Lexile level….What’s important is that the librarian is part of this process.  Items are cataloged in the automated system, and the librarian becomes a source for ordering and organizing the leveled materials.  It may be added work, but librarians can demonstrate that they are providing leveled resources and, at the same time, protect the main library collection from being rearranged.

And in the same interview. Dr. Smith tackles one of the most common misconceptions on the Lexile Framework:

CAH:What do you think about students having free choice in selecting their reading materials?  Should they always remain in their Lexile range?

MS: A student should be able to choose what he or she wants to read, regardless of whether that book or article is in his or her recommended Lexile range.  The Lexile range (100L below and 50L above a student’s Lexile measure) should be considered as a guide to help students select books that offer an appropriate level of challenge for their reading abilities.  In no way should a Lexile measure or a Lexile range be used to dictate what a student can and cannot read.  Students certainly can read books that are above or below their Lexile range.  However, books that are below a student’s Lexile range may offer little challenge in terms of new vocabulary and advanced grammar.  Likewise, books that are above the student’s Lexile range may be to challenging and discourage the student from reading. (emphasis added)

The idea that Lexile measures narrowly constrain readers to a limited range of books is a concern that we hear quite a bit.  But as Smith indicated above, the Lexile measure is intended as a guide, as a starting point for determining if a text is at the appropriate difficulty level for a student.  After all, students selecting books at too low a level are unlikely to be challenged or grow as readers.  On the other hand, students selecting books far too complex for their ability are likely to experience frustration and may even come to associate reading with frustration.  

For a closer look at how Lexile measures do NOT limit a reader’s choice, be sure to check out our latest video.

Free Webinar on Capstone Digital’s New “myON reader”

The growing popularity of personalized learning platforms are changing today’s literacy landscape. With Lexile measures in Capstone Digital’s new myON reader, educators can take personalized learning to a whole new level and monitor student growth in reading ability at the same time.

Want to learn more? Join Capstone Digital President Todd Brekhus and MetaMetrics COO Tim Klasson for a free webinar on how myON reader is changing the way schools and districts develop reading programs and forecast student progress toward state and national standards. Here are the details:

Personalizing Learning and Measuring Reading Ability

Thursday, April 7, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT

Developing a successful literacy program can be overwhelming. Creating personalized reading plans and complementary tools to measure student growth takes resources that most school districts don’t have. That’s why Capstone Digital and MetaMetrics developed myON reader, a personalized literacy environment that connects student interests and reading ability with the largest online library of enhanced digital books with reading supports. Embedded Lexile-based assessments allow teachers and students to monitor reading progress and forecast growth.

Click here to register today.

The Big Read

Hats off to Hasbrouck Heights High School and the Hasbrouck Heights public library for sponsoring The Big Read:

The Big Read as it’s called is being launched by the high school and supported by the Hasbrouck Heights Public Library. It’s designed to bring high school students, parents, teachers and community members together to read and discuss a good book. There are contests for the students to participate in as well in order to win a brand new Barnes and Nobles Nook e-reader.

As this article makes clear, The Big Read is just one of many initiatives the district has undertaken to get students reading more, including using student Lexile measures from Scholastic Reading Inventoryto track student reading growth over time.  Congratulations, Hasbrouck Heights, and good luck!

One More Tool to Match Readers to Texts

The Lexile Framework for Reading offers a good starting point for educators and parents attempting to make decisions as to whether or not the complexity of a text is well-matched to the reading level of a particular reader.  As articulated by the Common Core State Standards, the Lexile Framework provides a good measure of the quantitative dimensions of a text.  Meaning, the Lexile measure reflects the types of words and sentences used in a particular text; and, when matched to the Lexile reading level of a student, provides useful information on the student’s likely level of comprehension.

Of course there are other things to consider.  A parent or educator should always consider more than just the Lexile measure when attempting to match a young reader to a particular text.  There are qualitative dimensions (themes and content) and reader/task considerations (context, background knowledge) that should be taken into account.  As with any tool, the Lexile Framework is most powerful when used appropriately and as intended – to help match readers to reading material based on text complexity and the reading level of the reader. 

Here is reading expert and CEO of TextProject, Freddy Hiebert offering some useful caveats to educators on using the Lexile Framework appropriately:

Children’s reading performances are heavily influenced by the vocabulary in a text.  Typical word frequency ranges for different grades are given in Table 2.  When word frequency averages are substantially lower than typical grade ranges, teachers should know that students might need some extra vocabulary support.  

And, always remember:  There are big differences in the styles and vocabulary of stories (narratives) and informational texts (content-area texts)…

…Teachers should use the lexile rating as an initial piece of information, much like a check of someone’s temperature.   A temperature can be high or low for lots of different reasons.  The average sentence length and average word frequency gives teachers more specific information that is useful for decision-making.

Hiebert’s cautions are well-taken.  Educators and parents should always consider context when using Lexile measures to assign texts.  Additionally, they should take genre and concept density into account as they seek to match readers to texts.  As Hiebert reminds us, Lexile measures are an excellent starting point when considering the level of text that is appropriate for readers; and the Lexile Framework is a worthwhile addition to the various tools that educators bring to bear in the classroom.

MAP Assessments Continue Lexile Reporting

NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) assessments are used by nearly 5,000 U.S. school districts and educational agencies worldwide. And each of them will be glad to know that the tests will continue to report Lexile® ranges.

Today, Lexile-developer MetaMetrics® and NWEA announced that they have extended their partnership that dates back to 1999. Since then, MAP reports have included a reading range score that correlates a student’s MAP test score with a Lexile range. The Lexile range is used to provide the student with a pre-developed booklist intended to support growth by providing the right level of challenge for his or her reading ability. And, for those who are familiar with our free “Find a Book” search tool, the student’s Lexile range can also be used to build a custom reading list based on his or her ability and interests, and then locate the selections at a local public library.

When asked about the value of Lexile ranges from the MAP assessments, NWEA President and CEO Matt Chapman noted, “… we are committed to providing not only data, but meaningful instructional tools to appropriately help kids learn and teachers be more effective—Lexile measures help us towards that goal.” 

MetaMetrics President and co-founder Malbert Smith III added, “We are pleased … to maintain the continuity of Lexile data that so many educators trust to guide their classroom instruction. More than ever, educators must continually assess how much reading growth is required for students to achieve state and national proficiency standards, and as they prepare for the reading demands of their college and career goals.”

MAP adaptive assessments provide valuable information about students’ learning level and growth, as well as their progress toward state and national standards. They are computer-adaptive and adjust with each item, giving a precise and accurate measure of student learning and growth, based on NWEA’s RIT scores. For more information, visit www.nwea.org.

A Simple Prescription: Write More, Read More – And Often

A tip of the hat to the Marshall Memo for pointing to this recent article by Deborah Hollimon in Reading Today.  In “It’s Simple: Read More, Write More, Teach Vocabulary”(subscription required), Hollimon’s suggestions are right in line with the research of Anders Ericsson.  Here’s Hollimon getting straight to the point:

What our students need are opportunities for voracious reading in classes brimming with engaging materials of all sorts, at many different levels… Reading means reading something engaging in every class, every day.

We could not agree more.  We’ve written extensively on the importance of students reading more.  First, Ericson’s research on what it takes to move from novice to expert is informative here.  Critical to the development of expertise is time on task, or practice.  In other words, if students wish to become better readers, they then obviously must spend more time engaged in reading.  Second, the Common Core State Standards has established a proposed ‘staircase’ of text complexity.  That document recommends that students face the challenge of increasingly complex texts as they progress from grade to grade.  Third, Nell Duke, among others, including, again, the Common Core State Standards, recommends that students must learn to grapple with a wide variety of texts.   To put it another way, a student brought up on a steady diet of fiction will find himself ill-prepared to face the challenge of real-world, informational text as they move into college or the workplace.  Duke, like Hollimon, recommends that students be exposed to informational text from a much earlier age.

On writing, Hollimon is even more succinct:

Writing more means writing every day, in every class, mostly without fear of red ink… Content teachers can easily incorporate quick-writes, exit slips, learning logs, or journals into daily lessons. What better way for teachers to check for understanding than to peruse the writing thoughts of their students?

We would echo Hollimon’s point on writing more.  Targeted and deliberate practice applies across a range of human activities, including writing.  Our personalized learning platforms, Oasis and MyWritingWeb were built around the very simple idea of allowing students to engage in daily, deliberate, and targeted practice in reading and writing.  Hollimon’s ideas on easy ways to incorporate writing into the content areas mirror our own belief that writing should occur across content areas and need not be limited to full-length, 3-5 page essays.  MyWritingWeb and Oasis, for example, allow students to write essays of any length, giving students plentiful opportunity to practice and teachers an easy and administratively painless way to keep students writing more.  And because both Oasis and MyWritingWeb are based on the Lexile Framework for Writing, educators have the added benefit of being able to monitor student growth in the domain of writing. 

If you haven’t yet checked out these platforms, be sure to take a look.

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.