In case you haven't noticed, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA and Content Area Literacy place a heavy emphasis on text complexity (R.CCR.10). In short, the developers of the CCSS believe that college and career ready (CCR) students are able to read and make use of complex texts independently.
Why the Obsession with Complex Texts?
Appendix A contains the argument for emphasizing complex texts. In short:
- The text complexity of required readings K-12 has gotten easier over the last 50 years.
- The text complexity of required readings in college/career settings has remained stable or increased over the last 50 years.
- There is a significant gap (up to 4 Lexile grade levels) between the average reading ability of a high school graduate and the text demands of postsecondary life.
This is enough to make me crazy. If our students leave high school with a significant gap between their independent reading ability and the text demands of postsecondary life, it's going to be very difficult for them to flourish. Postsecondary student flourishing is the lifeblood of my mission as a teacher.
So, what should be done about this? That's where the 10th anchor standard in the reading strand comes in (R.CCR.10). Students need consistent practice with reading complex texts on their own. This requires using a simple literacy teaching model like the kind Mike Schmoker lays out in Focus. If you'd like me to write more on that literacy model and my experiences with it, just leave a comment below!
So, moving on to text complexity. How do we know if a text is appropriately complex for the grade level that we teach?
First, Check Out Appendix B
When I first began engaging with the CCSS at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, I consulted Appendix B because this document is basically a list of exemplars sorted by grade level and genre. If you're looking for examples of complex texts that are appropriate for your setting, start with Appendix B.
Next, Understand the 3 Key Factors in Determining Text Complexity
The CCSS uses a balanced approach to determining whether a text is appropriately complex for a group of students. As you can see from the infographic above, text complexity cannot be solely determined by computer, nor can it be solely determined by people outside of your classroom, nor can it be solely determined by you.
To me, this makes sense. The teacher has to be valued as a key professional in the evaluation of text appropriateness for his/her particular students, but there also has to be some objectivity, both offered through algorithmic analyses of texts (quantitative measures) and offered by professional qualitative analysis of texts.
At the time of this writing (5/23/12), no agreed-upon methods for determining qualitative text complexity exist, but we can be sure that the midnight oil is burning in offices around the country towards this end. Unfortunately, profiteers will likely step forward and offer paltry methodologies for measuring qualitative text complexity, but I believe it's only a matter of time before some reliable qualitative text measurement tools become usable for classroom teachers like me.
And finally, the “reader and task” portion of the text complexity recipe allows for an appropriate amount of local flexibility and professional judgment. As I mentioned yesterday, such room for flexibility was a key principle in developing the CCSS, and I pray it is one that makes the standards viable for many years.
CCSS Anchor Standards Mentioned in this Post:
- R.CCR.10: Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
- Until a widespread consensus is developed on which texts are appropriately complex within the qualitative and quantitative measurements, I highly recommend checking out Appendix B of the CCSS ELA for a list of exemplar texts and tasks. I used it for at least two texts in the 2011-2012 school year — Oedipus Rex and Things Fall Apart — and my students enjoyed reading both books when they were appropriately scaffolded.