Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Matching Readers to Texts"

I just read this in a technology e-newsletter I get:
"The Arizona Department of Education has inked a deal with MetaMetrics to link the state's "Instrument to Measure Standards" (AIMS) to the Lexile Framework for Reading. The agreement will impact about 500,000 students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 beginning in the 2007/2008 school year"

For the lucky, uninitiated among you, lexiles are supposed to measure a text's difficulty and are used in leveled reading programs to, as their slogan proclaims "Match Readers to Text." Grade levels are assigned to lexile score ranges. Visitors to their website can search the database for the lexile score for a particular book.

Just for fun, assign these titles a grade level:
1. Stargirl
Midsummer Night's Dream
3. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
4. The Outsiders
5. The Giver
6. Memoirs of a Geisha
7. The Bad Beginning
8. Hatchet
9. Hamlet

Answers further down. . . . . .

The titles are already listed in ascending order. Stargirl and MND are tied at 590 (3rd grade); Sisterhood - 600 (also 3rd grade); Outsiders - 750 (4th grade); Giver - 760 (5th grade); Memoirs - 1000 (6th/7th grade); BB - 1010 (7th/8th grade); Hatchet - 1020 (7th/8th grade); Hamlet - 1390 (college junior/senior)

The scary thing is that I did not pick and choose, listing only the most ludicrously inappropriately "leveled" titles. There are the only titles I searched. This is matching readers to text? Readers waiting 4-5 years before enjoying or appreciating The Bad Beginning, Hatchet or Hamlet? Third graders reading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? The Giver may be appropriate at the word, sentence, and plot level for 5th graders, but even students in later grades struggle with, sometimes even rebel at, the ambiguity of the ending.

A contrast: I just finished reading Nancie Atwell's The Reading Zone. If Arizona really wanted to make an impact on a half-million kids, the Department of Education should buy every English/language arts/reading teacher a copy and should also make sure each teacher has an adequate classroom library. Nancie wields some authoritative studies to back up her basic assertion that giving time and choice is the surefire way to skilled readers who continue to read. (remember Mark Twain's quote?)

If you're looking to match kids with texts, s
croll down the Kids Recommend page on her school's website and you will find an impressive array of authentically challenging and enriching reading, all nominated by the students and updated each year.

If the Arizona Department of Education officials were especially perceptive, I'd also suggest they buy those teachers a subscription to Voices from the Middle for Kim Ford's Student to Student book reviews and Teri Lesesne's column Books for Young Adolescents.

But I know it's a pipedream. If education officials were that wise, they'd never "ink" deals like this in the first place.


Teri Lesesne said...

Of course matching kids to books is one of my passions. Lexiles and reading levels cannot possibly do the job a well-read teacher or librarian or parent can. I wonder why we allow folks from outside to tell us so much about our profession?

Instead of spending monies on programs to level our books, how about spending money on books themselves?

Kate Rogers said...

Lexiles are not about "grade levels". Lexiles are meant to put readers and text on the same scale, which is something that most reading "programs" do not do. Lexiles are not a reading program, simply a tool to help teachers and librarians find text that students can comprehend, based on independent reading. Lexiles are not meant to take the human touch out of book selection or instruction. Lexiles are meant to show what a student can understand based on their Lexile score, as reported on an assessment (ALL major test publishers are now offering Lexile scores as part of their reporting), and match it to text that they can comprehend, while still promoting reading growth.

Lexiles CANNOT tell a teacher anything about the text support, the appropriateness of a text, the quality of a text, or the reader interest, motivation, or reading purpose. Just as we would never assume that all 5th graders would wear the same size and type of shoe, why would we assume that all 5th graders would be able to read and comprehend the same books?

While Lexiles do provide a Text Demand Levels chart, this is simply to show that students in a particular grade will be faced with textbooks and literature within that text measurement range. It is not meant to say that students in seventh grade cannot enjoy books above or below that level, simply that the textbooks, assessments, and other literature for seventh grade will fall within that range.

In addition, the support that a student is given is not taken into account. The Lexile measures of text simply show the difficulty of the text, as is measured by the semantic difficulty and syntactic complexity. It says nothing of how much teacher support is given, how work is scaffolded for a student, or whether the student has any background knowledge of, or interest in, the text or its contents. It also says nothing of the concepts introduced. The text difficulty based on vocabulary and sentence length are all that are measured.

The tools available for use on the website are free for teachers, parents, and educational personnel. It is not meant to be a “cure all”. It is not meant to take teachers, parents, and librarians out of the picture. It is meant to help them.

As a company made up of former educators, librarians, and researchers, we are trying to bring meaning to the measurement that students are being forced to endure. We are trying to find ways to link instruction, curriculum, and assessment in ways that best help students. We are also trying to ensure that all students encounter the information on a level that they can understand to ensure their success. Isn’t that what you all want as well?

Lexiles are meant as way to help teachers monitor student progress and growth, differentiate their instruction, and set goals for their students. All texts should still be previewed, and student interest, reading purpose, and motivation should all be taken into account.

Sandy Hayes said...

The lexile grade designations came directly from grade level bands provided on the website. You can't have it both ways. If it's not about grade levels, then there should be no designations provided by the company itself.
Do you seriously think that Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl and Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream are of the same "semantic difficulty and syntactic complexity"?
Of course the major textbook companies would be offering lexiles. They want to sell textbooks.
I loved your shoe size analogy. Let's take it further -- how about using the same technique to make sure the size is right: let the readers try on the books, walk around in them and see if they fit?

writingchick said...

I read Nancy Atwell's In the Reading Zone this summer and loved it. I have had more readers this year than I've ever had. I used the following ideas from Nancy this year. First I have a huge book collection and I continue to add to it. Usually using Scholastic Monthly book orders. Second, I use a file system where the students put their name on an index card. Each time they check out a book they put the date and title down. When they return the book they show me the book and I cross out and sign that the book was returned. This has really saved me time. Third, I provide time during class for reading workshop. Fourth, (I don't recall this in Nancy's book) we review the 5-finger rule. Pick any page and if you come across five words you don't know then it's most likely that the book is too difficult for you. Students know which books are too easy or difficult and don't need a lexile to tell them. Lastly, students are allowed to pick what book they want to read and if they start the book and are not liking it for any other reason they can stop and pick a new book that does interest them and they like.

If you as a teacher really know your students and know or read many books than you can easily match students to books that they will enjoy.

Jeanne said...

Readers and text should not always be on the same scale! Very often powerful messages are written in a very user-friendly manner. The Giver, Walk Two Moons, and Stargirl are three excellent examples. Sharon Creech, Avi, Spinelli, and Karen Cushman amont others have several books in this category. I find it especially frustrating that young readers are reading these book with little or no concept of the real story. Yes, they can read the words but the grit of the story doesn't register. It is also frustrating to choose such a book for a class novel only to have two or three students who have already read the book or to hear that a lower el teacher used it as a read-aloud.
I have little luck using lexiles to match books to students! Rather I need to talk to the student about interests and have a wide selection of books in my classroom which I have read and can share. Sometimes my personal interest in the student is enough to help make the choice!

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