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Saturday, March 16, 2013

CCSS - Measuring Text Complexity: Three Factors

ELA Standard 10 of the Common Core State Standards deals with range, quality, and complexity. Three factors to measuring text complexity are suggested: qualitative evaluation of the text, quantitative evaluation of the text, and matching reader to text and task. To me, this is the starting point when choosing a novel for my class. The CCSS gives me clear guidance in selecting text at an appropriate and challenging level.

A supplementary document provides a much more detailed information and examples on choosing an appropriate text. Section IV, "Key Considerations in Implementing Text Complexity," has been most helpful to me. It details four important points:
  1. Look at quantitative measures first. Numeric values such as those provided by the Lexile Framework help teachers pinpoint texts with appropriate sentence lengths, word frequency, and so on.
  2. Analyze the text qualitatively. Think about the book's structure, clarity, language conventionality, knowledge demands, levels of purpose, etc. 
  3. Qualitative considerations will sometimes "trump" quantitative measures. For example, a novel written in a straightforward, conventional style is much easier than a novel requiring constant inference or written in archaic language.
  4. These measures don't always work for every text. Poetry and drama, for example, are difficult to analyze for sentence length and word frequency.
My team and I work with high ability fourth grade readers. Before this school year began, we reevaluated our novel choices. Quantitative measures revealed what we already knew: some of our novels were too easy. The Lexile "Stretch Bands" suggested for the Common Core State Standards range from 740L to 1010L for fourth and fifth grades. Here's how our novels measured up:
  • Because of Winn-Dixie (610L)
  • Holes (660L)
  • Number the Stars (670L)
  • Ella Enchanted (670L)
  • Elephant Run (750L)
  • The Westing Game (750L)
  • Chasing Vermeer (770L)
  • Paddle-to-the-Sea (840L)
  • Strider (840L)
  • Shiloh (860L)
  • The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1000L)
  • Hatchet (1040L)
In the end, we abandoned two of our favorite books, Because of Winn-Dixie and Number the Stars. They just weren't pushing our students to become better readers. Holes and Elephant Run were moved to morning book club options. Although Ella Enchanted was measured at 670L, its unconventional cadence and word choice make it much more challenging to read. It fit well with our Cinderella unit as well, so we kept it as an instructional novel. Hatchet, as you might have noticed, was measured above our "Stretch Band." Because of its conventional writing style and motivational story line, it also remained on our list.

In order to directly address the Common Core State Standards, I spent the winter months writing new curriculum units for Ella Enchanted and Hatchet. Both can be found in my store at Teachers pay Teachers.

I hope you find CCSS's Three Factors to Measuring Text Complexity to be helpful in your classroom too!