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Text Complexity. The inherent difficulty of reading and comprehending a text combined with consideration of reader and task variables ( Common Core State Standards for ELA ). WCPSS Elementary Principals December 1, 2011. Remember the Six Shifts?. Increase reading of informational text

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Text Complexity

The inherent difficulty of reading and comprehending a text combined with consideration of reader and task variables

(Common Core State Standards for ELA)

WCPSS Elementary Principals

December 1, 2011

Remember the Six Shifts?

  • Increase reading of informational text

  • Literacy instruction in all content areas

  • Text complexity

  • Text-based answers

  • Increased writing from sources

  • Academic vocabulary

Desired Outcomes

  • An understanding of the three features of text complexity

  • An understanding of why text complexity matters

  • Knowledge of resources to support consideration of text complexity

Why Focus on It?

As the complexity of K-12

texts decreased

The complexity of

reading demands in



Best “Sorter” within the ACT?

Not cognitive level of question…

Not questions focusing on textual elements…

Text Complexity

Not natural…

“We were never born

to read. Human beings

invented reading only a

few thousand years ago.

And with this invention,

we rearranged the

very organization of our

brain, which in turn

expanded the ways we

are able to think, which

altered the intellectual

evolution of our species.”

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Not an inoculation…

Students with Disabilities


English Language Learners

Not “if,”

but “how”

Literacy is a right, not a privilege.

Rank the titles at your table from least to most “complex”

Table Talk: What did you notice?

Text Complexity

Common Core State Standards

Three-legged Stool



and Text


Quantitative Analysis of Text

  • What is a Lexile measure?

  • How are Lexile measures determined?

  • How can you find out a student’s Lexile reader measure?

  • How can you find out the Lexile measure of a text?

Readability Measures

A way of quantifying text difficulty…

2000 +

Unique: Matching Readers to Texts

Forecasted Comprehension of Text

1500L 25%

1250L 50%


750L 85%

500L 95%

What does a Lexile measure include?

Sentence Length

Word Frequency

How are Lexile measures determined?

Most people stay away from snakes. But not Jesus Rivas. He likes to follow them. He follows a snake called the anaconda. It is one of the biggest snakes in the world. Rivas takes the anaconda from the water. He studies it. Then Rivas puts the snake back. His job makes him a snake stalker. (280L)

Everyone should stay focused at work, but if Jesus Rivas gets distracted for even a moment, he could be strangled by a 500-pount snake. Rivas, a biologist, is leading the first-ever study of anacondas in the wild. (1120L)

Staircase of Text Complexity


50 above


100 below

At the lowest grade in each band, (for example, 4th grade), students focus on reading texts within the current Lexile band. At the next grade within the band (for example, 5th grade), students must “stretch” to read some texts from the next band.

Building + Challenging

How can you find out a student’s Lexile measure?


How can you find out the Lexile measure of a text? http://www.lexile.com





Lexile Codes

  • AD: Adult Directed

  • NC: Non-Conforming

  • HL: High-Low

  • IG: Illustrated Guide

  • GN: Graphic Novel

  • BR: Beginning Reading

  • NP: Non-Prose

Where are we going?

What a Lexile Measure Cannot Do

  • Replace professional judgment of teachers

  • Determine whether or not a student can read a text

  • Measure content or quality of a text

Qualitative Analysis of Text

Qualitative Analysis

Comparing Three Titles

Sample Science Texts




Reader and Task

  • Variables specific to particular readers (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences)

  • Variables specific to particular tasks (such as purpose and the complexity of the task assigned and the questions posed)

Keep in mind…

  • A student’s ability to read complex text does not always develop in a linear fashion.

  • Students reading well above and well below grade-band level need additional support.

  • Even many students on course for college and career readiness are likely to need scaffolding as they master higher levels of text complexity.

Students need opportunities to stretch their reading abilities but also to experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading…, both of which the Standards allow for. As noted above, such factors as students’ motivation, knowledge, and experiences must also come into play in text selection.

Common Core State Standards

Key Word: “GRAPPLE”

Additional Resources

  • Common Core State Standards for ELA Appendix A and Appendix B

  • DPI Exemplar Document (contains ordering information for texts listed in CCSS and indicates which are in the public domain)

Implications for Your School?


Sherri Merritt, Ph.D.

Director of K-12 Literacy

Wake County Public School System



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