Understanding Text Complexity – Quantitative Measures

The new Common Core standards have called for using text with increased complexity. In this short post, we will look at the various elements that help determine how complex a text is judged to be. First there are the quantitative measures such as looking at the text length and cohesion, the sentence and word length, the vocabulary difficulty and how often difficult words appear in the text.  The word frequency, called “semantic difficulty,” coupled with the sentence length, called “syntactic complexity” are the two factors that can predict how difficult a text will be to understand.  There are formulas that use these key textual features to determine how difficult the passage is to read or the passage “readability.”  In decades past, teachers have used such quantitative measures as the Fry or Chall Readability scales to match text to student.While there are several elements that make up text complexity, in this post, I will discuss the quantitative  measures that should be considered to judge text complexity. In future posts, I will continue this discussion to explain the other elements that should be used to determine the text complexity of a passage.

Currently, most reading teachers are using the Lexile text analysis tool  ( http://www.lexile.com) to match readers and text. Typically, students would be expected to read in the following lexile ranges: K-1: 100-500 Lexile range; 2-3: 450-790 Lexile range; 4-5: 770-980 Lexile range; 6-8: 955-1155 Lexile range; 9-10: 1080-1305 Lexile Range and grade 11-12: 1215-1355 Lexile range. To find the Lexile measure for a specific book, you can use the “Look up a Book” feature on the Lexile website. You can also find lists of books that are considered good matches for students in your grade level here too. For shorter text passages up to 1000 words in length, you can also use the free tool called the Professional Lexile Analyzer. When you cut and paste your text into the Analyzer window, the program will return the Lexile value for this text passage. This is just the first element that will need to be considered when matching text to the readers in your class. I will be discussing the other three measures in upcoming posts so be sure to check back frequently for more information on this topic.