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TEXT COMPLEXITY. Text Complexity. Robust and Relevant 21 st Century Demands. Why Text Complexity Matters.

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Text complexity



Text Complexity

Robust and Relevant

21st Century Demands

Why text complexity matters

Why Text Complexity Matters

  • How do you know if a student is college-or career-ready? According to ACT’s Reading Between the Lines, “what appears to differentiate those who are more likely to be ready from those who are less likely is their proficiency in understanding complex texts.”

  • Over the last 50 years, the complexity of college and workplace reading has increased, while text complexity in K-12 have remained stagnant.


Road blocks to robust learning


  • K–12 Schooling: Declining complexity of texts and a lack of reading of complex texts independently

  • Not enough informational reading—too much note taking without students having to read

  • Too much copying vocabulary and just “looking” up words versus understanding and using academic language

  • Limited reading and writing connection activities

The staircase of text complexity

The Staircase of Text Complexity

In many respects, text complexity is the hallmark of the CCSS as it reveals the depth of educators’ commitment to providing American students every opportunity to be prepared to meet future global challenges.

The combination of the increased text complexity and the depth of cognitive demand within the task, such as incorporating discipline-specific questions, generates higher levels of rigor.

The staircase of text complexity1

The Staircase of Text Complexity

Providing a specific Standard 10 presence in each grade level, the Common Core’s text complexity standard provides a backward-mapped format to scaffold instruction. Notice the scaffoldedexpectations in the Staircase for Text Complexity within the standard on the next slide.

Text complexity

Specifically, within reading standard #10:

Anchor Standard:

R.CCR.10Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Example Grade-level Standard (6th grade):

RI.6.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Text complexity

The Question is…

What do the Common Core State Standards mean by text complexity?

  • What is a text complexity band?


  • How do we ensure the texts our students are reading are in the appropriate text complexity band?

Common core text types

Common Core Text Types

Literary Text

Informational Text

Informational text and literary

non-fiction for both elementary

and secondary grades includes:


Historic non-fiction

Biographies and auto-biographies


Historical documents

Technical documents

  • In elementary grades this includes stories and poetry for both read alouds and independent reading. Read alouds include chapter books, even at the kindergarten level.

  • In secondary grades this includes novels, short stories, poetry, and drama.

Measuring text complexity

Measuring Text Complexity

Quantitative measures – readability and other scores of text complexity often best measured by computer software.

Qualitative measures – levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands often best measured by an attentive human reader.



Reader and Task

Reader and Task considerations – background knowledge of reader, motivation, interests, and complexity generated by tasks assigned often best made by educators employing their professional judgment.

Where do we find texts in the appropriate text complexity band

Where do we find texts in the appropriate text complexity band?



Use the Georgia

Text Complexity


Choose an excerpt of text from Appendix B:

How will you get there what steps should i take

How will you get there? What steps should I take?

A Four-step Process:

Determine the quantitative measures of the text.

Analyze the qualitative measures of the text.

Reflect upon the reader and task considerations.

Recommend placement in the appropriate text complexity band.

Text complexity

Step 1: Quantitative Measures

  • Measures such as:

    • Word length

    • Word frequency

    • Word difficulty

    • Sentence length

    • Text length

    • Text cohesion

Text complexity

The Quantitative Measures Ranges for Text Complexity

The following chart outlines the suggested ranges for each of the text complexity bands using -Rigor Expectations of the CCGPS: Lexile Alignment to College & CareerReadiness to Close the Gap:

Source: Susan Pimentel, November 3, 2010

Text complexity

Step 1: Quantitative Measures

Let’s imagine we want to see where a text falls on the quantitative measures “leg” of the text complexity triangle, using the Lexile text measures. (Video)


For illustrative purposes, let’s choose Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Text complexity

Step 1: Quantitative Measures

Lexile Text Measure:


ATOS Book Level (a measure used in the state of Kansas):


In which of the text complexity

bands would this novel fall?

Text complexity

Quantitative Measure Ranges for

Text Complexity Grade Bands—Taken from Kansas Common Core State Standards

* The K-1 suggested Lexile range was not identified by the Common Core State Standards and was added by Kansas.

** Taken from Accelerated Reader and the Common Core State Standards, available at the following URL:


Text complexity

Remember, however, that the quantitative measure is only the first of three “legs” of the text complexity triangle.

Our final recommendation may be validated, influenced, or even over-ruled by our examination of qualitative measures and the reader and task considerations.

Step 2 qualitative measures

Step 2: Qualitative Measures

  • Measures such as:

    • Levels of meaning

    • Levels of purpose

    • Structure

    • Organization

    • Language conventionality

    • Language clarity

    • Prior knowledge demands



Reader and Task

Text complexity

Structure:Complicated text-structures (chronological, problem-solution, cause-effect, etc.) will add to a text’s complexity level.

*Holes, by Louis Sachar

QuantitativeMeasurement: 660 L


Structure: Story continuously jumps back and forth between three

different time periods/settings, and character groups.

Adjusted text-complexity value: 5.9 – 7.5 for independent reading.

  • Possible “Stretch-Text” : In order to challenge students’ reading capacity—stretching them to grow to a higher reading level--teachers might have students read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,(7.9) describing the effects of racism during the slavery period.

  • Scaffolding needed: Teacher should provide critical backgound knowledge, along with teacher-directed reading of the text.

Text complexity

Levels of Meaning or Purpose:Texts that contain multiple levels of meaning or purpose (connotative or implicit language, satire in narrative texts; informational texts with implicit purposes) have a greater text complexity than texts with a singular meaning or purpose.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Quantitative Measurement : 610 L

Qualitative Measurement: Hemingway uses images and word choice to convey emotion rather than describing it; words are sparse but and have multiple connotative meanings; the novel as a the story contains multiple themes.

Adjusted text-complexity value: 11.5+

Similar “stretch-texts”: The poems of Emily Dickinson (11.5+) and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (12+) also use sparse, precise word choice with multiple connotations.

Text complexity

Language Conventionality & Clarity:Texts that rely on literal, clear, contemporary, and conversational language tend to be easier to read than texts that rely on figurative, ironic, ambiguous, purposefully misleading, archaic or otherwise unfamiliar language or on general academic and domain-specific vocabulary.

  • Examples:

    • Shakespeare

    • Arcane classics

    • Medieval, Puritan, or other dialects/ language patterns

      The actual reading level is not difficult, but due to unfamiliar language patterns and old-fashioned language, the reading becomes more difficult.

Text complexity

Knowledge Demands:“Texts that make that make few assumptions about the extent of readers’ life experiences and the depths of their cultural/literary and content/discipline knowledge are generally less complex than are texts that make many assumptions in one or more of those areas.”

*A Raisin in theSun, byLorraineHansberry

Quantitative Measurement: 6.8 (Fry Readability value). (NP)

Qualitative Measurement:

Knowledge Demands: To fully understand and appreciate the play, students require a knowledge of the following: assimilationist debate

Pan-African Movement, the Great Migration, racial tension of

the time period, race/real estate issues

Adjusted text-complexity value: 9-11

  • Possible “Stretch-Text” : In ordertochallengestudents’ readinglevels and “bridge

    the gap” tothenextreadinglevel, teachersmightalsowant

    students to read Black Boy by Richard Wright (10-11) or

    Black Like Me by John Griffin (10-11)

  • Scaffoldingneeded: Teachershouldprovidecriticalbackgoundknowledgealongwith

    teacher-directed reading of the text.

Jigsaw expert groups


Four Corner Jigsaw Activity:

Teacher Perspectives

Levels of Meaning


Language Conventionality

Background Knowledge



Reader and Task

Qualitative dimensions discussion

Qualitative Dimensions Discussion

Four Corner Jigsaw Activity: Directions

  • Levels of Meaning

  • Structure

  • Language Conventionality

  • Background Knowledge

    Step 1: Move to your assigned color station.

    Step 2: Discuss and become experts about your assigned qualitative dimension.

    Step 3- Return to your original table, use the qualitative dimensions flip-book graphic organizer to write down key points that you learn from colleagues about their expert areas of study.

Text complexity


The Georgia Text Complexity Rubric allows educators to evaluate the important elements of text that are often missed by computer software that tends to focus on more easily measured factors.

Use the qualitative section of the georgia rubric with the to kill a mockingbird example

Use the qualitative section of theGeorgia rubric with the To Kill A Mockingbird example.

Text complexity

From examining the quantitative measures, we knew:

Lexile Text Measure:



ATOS Book Level:

But after reflecting upon the qualitative measures, we believed:

Step 3 reader and task considerations

Step 3: Reader and Task Considerations

  • Examples of variables specific to readers:

    • Motivation

    • Knowledge

    • Experiences

  • Examples of variables specific to tasks:

    • Purpose for reading

    • Complexity of task

    • Complexity of questions asked

YOU are the best judge of what your students can manage.

Text complexity


are best evaluated by teachers employing their professional judgment, experience, and knowledge of their students and the subject.

Text complexity

Based upon our examination of the Reader and Task Considerations, we have completed the third leg of the text complexity model and are now ready to recommend a final placement within a text complexity band.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4 recommended placement

Step 4: Recommended Placement

Based upon all the information—all three legs of the model—the final recommendation for To Kill a Mockingbird is….

Text complexity

In this instance, Appendix B

confirms our evaluation of the novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is placed within the grade 9-10 text complexity band.

Text complexity


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