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Why Measuring Text Complexity Isn't Enough

Randi Bender | Nov 16, 2017 at 02:00 PM
Randi Bender

You may have heard about recent changes to The Lexile Framework for Reading. MetaMetrics, the folks behind Lexile, announced that they are revising how they determine Lexile measures for certain texts. What do these changes mean for your students?  

MetaMetrics will now measure text complexity by looking at additional variables related to vocabulary and cohesion (how a text holds together grammatically and lexically). In addition, MetaMetrics is now providing “early-reading indicators” that highlight specific challenges in low-level texts, such as challenging sentence structure or hard-to-decode words.   

We agree with MetaMetrics that texts require quantitative analysis. Analyzing sentence length and vocabulary frequency, among other text factors, offers one perspective on the level of difficulty of a text, although it’s narrow in scope. Including additional variables that can be quantified helps provide data that can help serve students’ needs. We believe that a Lexile measure can serve as a basic first step when leveling texts. However, it takes a lot more than computer algorithms to tell you if a text is a good fit for a particular student.

Reading Plus has always said that looking at a Lexile measure in isolation does not provide a full picture of a text’s complexity, or a student’s ability to read and understand a text. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Albert Camus’ The Stranger share the same Lexile measure. Would you say these books are equally complex? Would your students approach these books in the same way? Would you lead classroom discussions about these books using the same lesson plan? Of course not. You would need to take into consideration numerous factors, such as your students’ motivation to read the text, their capacity for challenging concepts, and their background knowledge, among many others.

Lexile measures will continue to serve an important role in text leveling, but it’s a role that is specific to the quantifiable aspects of a text. The new Lexile shines a light on some text variables that have not been examined in the past. But the revised Lexile does nothing to measure how students develop fluency and stamina, nor does it ensure that a text is building the confidence and motivation needed to transform a struggling reader into a proficient reader.

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