Becoming a college- and a career-ready reader doesn’t happen overnight. To develop college- and career-ready reading skills, students need to work with a range of increasingly complex texts over the course of their school years.
To support the need for students to work with increasingly complex texts each school year, the WV College- and Career- Readiness Standards for English Language Arts define the Lexile range goals for each programmatic level in the section titled “Text Complexity Expectations”. Specific grade level expectations are defined in Standards 18 and 19.
Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century. Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Although legitimate questions can be raised about the tools used to measure text complexity (e.g., Mesmer, 2008), what is relevant in these numbers is the general, steady decline—over time, across grades, and substantiated by several sources—in the difficulty and likely also the sophistication of content of the texts students have been asked to read in school since 1962.
Current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. As Adams (2009) puts it, “There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. To grow, our students must read lots, and more specifically they must read lots of ‘complex’ texts—texts that offer them new language, new knowledge, and new modes of thought.
Measuring Text Complexity: Three Factors
Qualitative evaluation of the text: Levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands.
Quantitative evaluation of the text: Readability measures and other scores of text complexity such as a Lexile score.
Matching reader to text and task: Reader variables (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and task variables (such as purpose and the complexity generated by the task assigned and the questions posed).
The Lexile Framework for Reading matches reader ability and text complexity, allowing individualized monitoring of progress. There are two Lexile® measures: the Lexile reader measure and the Lexile text measure. A Lexile reader measure represents a person’s reading ability on the Lexile® scale. A higher Lexile reader measure represents a higher level of reading ability on the Lexile scale. A Lexile reader measure is usually obtained by having the reader take a test of reading comprehension. A Lexile text measure represents a text’s difficulty level on the Lexile scale. Lexile measures are based on two well-established predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: semantic difficulty (word frequency) and syntactic complexity (sentence length). When used together, they can help a reader choose a book or other reading material that is at an appropriate difficulty level. The Lexile reader measure can also be used to monitor a reader’s growth in reading ability over time.