In Readers Front and Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts, Dorothy Barnhouse makes the point that, while the creators of the Common Core Standards advise teachers to “employ professional judgement to match texts to particular students and tasks,” “the reality in classrooms is that the role of the students and teachers has been marginalized.” Dorothy elaborates: “Classrooms all over the country are bursting with boxes of curricular materials filled with ‘Common-Core-aligned’ texts, none of which the teachers were asked to professionally judge or match with any of their students” (p. 6).
Like Dorothy, we find that the text complexity triangle (above), which had such promise for informing text selection, has been largely overlooked in making instructional decisions. What remains is the quantitative variable, which works mathematically, but often misrepresents a text. We have had this point come home to us of late.
As we have mentioned, we are in the process of developing Who’s Doing the Work lesson sets for Stenhouse. In the process, we have read stacks and stacks of children’s books, in an effort to find texts that fit our project. We made a point to read all the texts before ever looking at their Lexile or guided reading levels.
This choice to wait to look at text level proved quite eye-opening! When we finally gathered Lexile levels, we were shocked. At least 40% were what we would consider inaccurate. We are familiar with the common examples of Lexile inaccuracies, such as the fact that Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is on the same Lexile level as Charlotte’s Web (680L). We thought, however, that such inaccuracies were rare, extreme examples.
We are discovering that texts that befuddle the Lexiler algorithms are widespread. These “Lexile Confounders” have idiosyncrasies that fall outside the norms of Lexile formulas. Later this week we will offer a couple of specific examples. Meanwhile, we would love to hear about texts that are decidedly off in the Lexiler system. Are you running into this?