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Text Complexity

by david.shelley@browardschools.com

As we move forward with our newly adopted ELA resources and evaluate the novels that will be incorporated into the curriculum, it is important that we revisit the method in which we select texts for our students.  The Florida Standards take a three-pronged approach to determining the complexity level of a text: the quantitative evaluation, the qualitative evaluation, and the matching of the reader to text and task.  This approach takes into consideration the readability measures and other scores of complexity (ex: Lexile, ATOS) without forgetting about the levels of meaning, structure, clarity, and knowledge demands of the selected text.  Additionally, the tasks being asked of the students before, during, and after reading also play a critical role in determining the overall complexity of a piece of text.

Some examples:  John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath has a Lexile score within the 2-3 grade level band.  If we only used the quantitative measure for this text, we would be teaching it in elementary school.  However, when looking at the significant knowledge demand and levels of meaning within this novel (qualitative evaluation), it is easy to see that this is a text that belongs in the high school.  Add to this a series of performance tasks for students revolving around research and historical documents dealing with the time period and we have built ourselves a highly complex text.

It is recommended that teachers read the research article about text complexity found in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for a deeper look into this area.

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