In yesterday’s post, we dared to brave the challenge presented by the beast, text complexity. We ended by pointing out that the new research 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 indicates that there may be a correlation between quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity. We wondered what this meant, exactly, and promised to help you make sense of their first two recommendations for implementing text complexity, which recommend “two or more quantitative measures be used to locate a text within a grade band for a more reliable indicator” yet, that “it is further recommended that qualitative measures be used to then locate a text in a specific grade.” (p.7)
What does this mean? We see it like this:
If you take a text like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web with a lexile measure of 680L and input it into the most recent guidelines for selecting text, you see that it falls within the text band for grades 2-3.
However, according to the recommendations, we should use at least one more quantitative measure to see if that places the text in the same grade band. In this case, we will measure Charlotte’s Web using the Flesch-Kincaid scale. We discover that it measures at 3.5, once again placing it in the Common Core Band for 2nd-3rd grade.
So, at this point, our combined quantitative measures indicate that Charlotte’s Web is a text that presents the level of complexity appropriate for children in grades 2-3, however, as per the second recommendation for implementing text complexity, we must now turn to our qualitative measures to help us determine whether Charlotte’s Web would be better suited for second graders or for third graders.
At this point, we must factor in story structure, language clarity and conventions, knowledge demands, and levels of meaning. Are these considerations more appropriate for children at the beginning, middle, or far end of the text band?
With regard to structure, Charlotte’s Web follows a conventional, chronological development. Because the story extends over one-hundred pages, it might be a bit unmanageable for children at the beginning of the text band nudging us toward the latter end of the spectrum.
Next, we give consideration to the language used in Charlotte’s Web. While the text is not archaic, Charlotte, the sophisticated and well spoken spider, uses words like“objectionable” and “salutations” and “anaesthetic” throughout the story. The vocabulary presents a level of challenge that once again makes it more appropriate for the latter end of the spectrum.
The next thing that we must consider are knowledge demands. While most children are smitten with stories about talking animals, Charlotte’s Web is set on a farm giving children familiar with a more rural lifestyle an advantage over readers who hail from a more urban context.
Our final consideration forces us to look at levels of meaning, and we see that there are many opportunities for children to infer meaning and think about author’s purpose and message. When faced with the sliding scale of appropriateness, ranging from the beginning of second grade to the end of third grade, once again, we lean toward placing this text at the latter end of the spectrum leading us to conclude that with regard to text complexity, giving fair consideration to ALL factors, Charlotte’s Web is best suited for use in middle to late third grade according to the newest guidelines provided by the Common Core.
When we began this post, we wondered if reducing text complexity to a one-legged monster as opposed to a three-legged beast was within the realm of possibility. The most recent research seems to indicate that while there is a correlation between quantitative and qualitative factors, it is best to use quantitative measures to find a place to start, but choosing text that fits the complexity requirements of the Common Core still requires specific attention to qualitative considerations. The bottom line: Text Complexity remains a three-legged beast, albeit a bit tame.