October 20, 2014

Braving the Complexity Beast

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As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, The More You Know: The Appendage to the Appendix,  understanding text complexity is one of the greatest challenges of the Common Core.  Reconciling quantitative, qualitative, and reader and task considerations when selecting text is, well, a complex process. Educators are charged with determining whether a text’s structure is conventional or unconventional, measuring the qualities of language, gauging how much experience students have had with the topic, and evaluating how much meaning is layered within the lines of a text. Such decision making requires not only good judgment but also an investment of time.  Add to that considerations of reader and task variables and forget it! The text complexity beast can feel unmanageable.

In an effort to simplify the inherently complex process of selecting texts, educators are tempted to look only at quantitative measures, which spell out text parameters in seemingly objective ways. But is this narrow attempt at text selection enough?

When we look at the table of updated text complexity grade bands for Lexile, we notice a very interesting shift in numbers.  The first table reflects the updated span of acceptable lexile range and the second table is the table originally published in Appendix A at the time of its release.

In every grade level, the span of acceptable lexile measure has widened.  It is now appropriate to include texts with quantitative measures both higher and lower than were allowed only a year ago.  This indicator sends a signal warning educators to use caution when relying solely on quantitative measures to determine text complexity.It is an imprecise and volatile science despite new research indicating that there may be a correlation  between quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity.

The data reported in the Supplemental Information for Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy: New Research on Text Complexity  found some alignment between the objective and the subjective determinants of text level. In their “Key Considerations in Implementing Text Complexity,” the researchers recommend that educators and test makers use a combination of quantitative measures to locate text within a band of complexity, but caution that it is important to use qualitative measures to make final determinations about grade level band assignments. (p.7)

What does this mean? It is a bit confusing. We will talk about the implications tomorrow.

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