Friday, August 24, 2012

What's the Deal with Text Complexity?

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris:

In every grade level, the span of acceptable lexile measure has widened. It is now appropriate to include texts with quantitative measures both higher and lower than were allowed only a year ago. This indicator sends a signal warning educators to use caution when relying solely on quantitative measures to determine text complexity.It is an imprecise and volatile science despite new research indicating that there may be a correlation between quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity.

One might get the impression that a greater emphasis on text complexity in the Common Core ELA standards comes with some sort of breakthrough in the precision of understanding and measuring complexity. Not really.

In fact, grades 6-8, all of middle school, are considered one band, and in the revised alignment of the 6-8 grade band with Lexile scoring, 85% of the band overlaps with either grades 4-5 or 9-10. That's without taking into account qualitative measures. Within the Common Core's rules, you can still have a fourth grader and 7th grader reading the same text. Or a 7th grader and a 10th grader.

I would note that all that seems perfectly reasonable, it just doesn't seem to be what is described by Kathleen Porter-Magee.

So what's going on? Porter-Magee, Pimentel and Coleman are grinding an axe about literacy instruction that doesn't have much to do with the Common Core. Yet, text complexity is central to the design of the Common Core standards. How?

Here's the thing: the Common Core standards have to produce more vertically aligned scores throughout the whole K-12 range than previous standards. Otherwise you can't generate proper value-added scores for teachers, and teacher evaluation is what's wagging the dog here.

So you have a system where there is a narrow range of textual analysis tasks applied at all grade levels with relatively little variation, especially after elementary school, and the main difference is the complexity of the texts to which the tasks are applied. Just use your adaptive testing system to scale the complexity up and down until you come up with a score which will fit tidily into the value added formula. Text complexity in Common Core is about calibrating the assessments and the scores. It isn't about curriculum at all.

No comments: