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Staircase of Complexity

Texts align with the complexity requirements outlined in the standards. Reading Standard 10 outlines the level of text complexity at which students need to demonstrate comprehension in each grade. (Appendix A in the Common Core State Standards gives further information on how text complexity can be measured.)1 Research makes clear that the complexity levels of the texts students are presently required to read are significantly below what is required to achieve college and career readiness. Far too often, students who have fallen behind are given only less complex texts rather than the support they need to read texts at the appropriate level of complexity. The Common Core State Standards hinge on students encountering appropriately complex texts at each grade level to develop the mature language skills and the conceptual knowledge they need for success in school and life. Instructional materials should also offer advanced texts to provide students at every grade with the opportunity to read texts beyond their current grade level to prepare them for the challenges of more complex text.

All students, including those who are behind, have extensive opportunities to encounter and comprehend grade-level text as required by the standards. Materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards must provide extensive opportunities for all students to engage with sufficiently complex text, although some will need more scaffolding to do so. Curriculum developers and teachers have the flexibility to build progressions of more complex text within grade-level bands that overlap to a limited degree with earlier bands (e.g., grades 4–5 and grades 6–8). In addition to classroom work on texts at their own grade level, some students may need further instruction, which could include approaches such as instruction on grade level texts, fluency practice, vocabulary building, and additional practice with texts from the previous grade band. However, this additional work should not replace extensive classroom practice with texts at or above grade level, and all intervention programs should be designed to accelerate students rapidly toward independent reading of grade-level text. Materials for students’ independent reading within and outside of school should include texts at students’ own reading level, but students should also be challenged to read on their own texts with complexity levels that will stretch them.

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