What Is Text Complexity and Why Do We Care?

It sounds so complex—all this talk about text complexity! Why is it such a buzz phrase right now?

TCM-Angel-GameThe Importance

The creators of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) discovered something interesting. While the difficulty of the types of reading required in college and career settings has steadily increased, the difficulty of the texts students are reading in K-12 classrooms has steadily decreased. (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 3) Furthermore, a study done by the ACT, determined that the main factor differentiating those who achieved a benchmark score or better on their test was their “ability to answer questions associated with complex texts.” (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 2) So, simply put, we have to help our students deal with complex texts in order to be college and career ready. (Another phrase you’re hearing constantly, right?) Thus, the Standards have grade-by-grade reading level expectations which increase in difficulty through the end of high school. This has become known as the “staircase of complexity.”

Three-Part Model

To decide what constitutes complex text for a particular grade level, the CCSS suggests a three-part model, consisting of quantitative, qualitative, and reader-and-task determinations.* The following steps can be done in any order, but are all necessary for choosing appropriate complex texts for your students.

  1. Choose high quality texts that further knowledge-gathering for a particular unit of study in science, social studies, language arts, etc. (Qualitative)
  2. Choose texts that are appropriate for the particular students you teach that will further what you wish them to accomplish. (Student and Task Considerations)
  3. Choose texts that fall into the CCSS/ELA grade level band of your students. (Quantitative)

Once the texts are chosen, guided close-reading lessons will need to be developed to help students access the complex texts. Watch for a future post on this topic.

* Since the initial release of the Standards, new research on determining text complexity compares several methods for determining the quantitative level of a text. It also provides a matrix for assessing the qualitative aspects of a text. (http://www.corestandards.org/assets/E0813_Appendix_A_New_Research_on_Text_Complexity.pdf)  

For more posts in this series click on the links below:
Post # 1: How Do We Help Students Access Complex Text?
Post # 3: Use Text-Dependent Questions to Guide Close