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Why No Information on what a College-Readiness Reading Level Is?

Jan 18, 2015 by

Sandra Stotsky

January 18, 2015

We know that average American students today are not ready for college from two different sources: (1) Renaissance Learning’s latest report on the average reading level of what students in 9-12 choose to read or are assigned to read, and (2) the average reading level of what colleges assign incoming freshmen to read. From these two sources that are independent of each other, we learn that average American students read at about the grade 7 level. Some high school students can read high school-level material, of course, while others are still reading at an elementary school level (even though they are in high school).

Where is the evidence? According to Beach Books: 2013-2014, the top 7 books assigned as summer reading by 341 colleges are as follows (together with a reading level, if available, based on Renaissance Learning’s readability formula—http://www.arbookfind.com/UserType.aspx):

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (RL: 8.1)

This I Believe by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (RL: 7.1)

Wine to Water by Doc Hendley

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan (RL: 6.1)

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen (RL: 7.0)

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (RL: 9.5)

The average reading level (RL) for the 5 of the top 7 books whose reading level is available is 7.56 (meaning grade 7, sixth month).

When we go deeper into the reading list, the reading level seems to get lower. Of the 53 most frequently mentioned titles listed in Beach Books: 2013-2014, the reading levels of 23 were available, with an average level of 6.8.  Based on the information available, it seems that our colleges are not demanding a college-level reading experience for incoming freshmen.  Nor are they sending a signal to the nation’s high schools that high school-level reading is needed for college readiness. Indeed, they seem to be suggesting that a middle school-level of reading is satisfactory, even though most college textbooks and adult literary works written before 1970 require mature reading skills. However, our colleges can’t easily develop college-level reading skills if most students admitted to a post-secondary institution in this country have difficulty reading even high school-level textbooks. 

As for Renaissance Learning’s own reports, its 2014 report showed that the average reading level (using its own readability formula—ATOS for Books) was 6.7 for the 25 most frequently read works of fiction by grade 12 students. This number was higher than the average reading level for the top 25 informational texts read by grade 12 students. The average reading levels at other high school grades were lower for both the top 25 works of fiction and informational texts, calculated separately.

So, to be charitable, it seems that the average American high school student going to college today reads at a 6th or 7th grade reading level. This is hardly the reading level needed for college textbooks and other readings assigned in college. No wonder our community colleges spend a lot of money on remedial or developmental coursework for entering freshmen, especially in mathematics.

Although Common Core promised to make all students college-ready, it didn’t tell the state boards of education who bought into this idea (or the public at large) what reading level that meant. Nor did any state board member (so far as we know) ask. There is no information available from any source on what college readiness in reading means, from Common Core’s own documents or from the various test developers. What can a high school student judged to be college-ready actually be able to read?

Nor has anyone supporting the Common Core initiative suggested why we should expect the Common Core project to raise the reading level of the average American high school student since Common Core’s reading “standards” are, for the most part, empty skill sets. Moreover, there is nothing in its English language arts/reading document to indicate that students are to be assigned and taught to read more difficult material than whatever they are already reading—grade after grade—in a coherent reading curriculum.

Most media outlets in this country rarely discuss these reading issues at all. They don’t find out the reading level of what students in our elementary, middle, and high school classes are reading and then ask how those reading levels can make students ready for college-level reading by grade 11. They rarely tell us the titles and authors of what they are reading so we can try to figure out ourselves if a curriculum addressing Common Core’s standards is really going to raise students’ reading levels. Unless the reading level is raised, “college ready” students won’t be able to read those textbooks and other reading materials in college, most if not all of which are written at the college level.   

Does reading level matter? The Wall Street Journal doesn’t think so, so far as I can see. All it worries about are “skills” devoid of content knowledge.

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38 Comments

  1. Jimmy Kilpatrick

    This is closed to futher comments

    • Sandra stotsky

      Evidence for what?
      After all this rigamarole, I have yet to see one statement asserting that the college readiness reading level in Common Core’s ELA document is ……., based on the following discussion of the college reading reading level:

  2. Sandra Stotsky

    Please quote exactly where the Common Core document says what the college-readiness reading level is. Don’t give us numbers for appendixes and supplements. Just quote whatever you think tells us what this reading level is.

    So far, you have not done so, but keep referring us to other material. We need to see the words “college-readiness” in what you quote, as well as a reading level or range of reading levels.

    • everyonesfacts

      “Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.10
      By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
      By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.”

      CCR=college and career readiness
      So, then go to Appendices A-C and especially the supplement to find out what it is. One can easily find out what it is for ATOS, Lexile, Flesch-Kinkaide, et. al. in the supplement page 4 on the row that states 11th-CCR [college and career readiness]. If you can’t figure that out using that, they actually have a list of books and readings in Appendix B that meet the CCR standards – see grade 11+12 reading lists..
      If you want them right next to each other that didn’t happen. It’s not, I think you’ll admit, much of a point you’re making. That is why books and reports use appendices. The CCSSO used the appendices to expound just upon what you’re asking. And they give a clear answer!!!!!
      If

      • Sandra Stotsky

        So, everyonefacts, the college readiness reading level is ….. Please fill in the blank.

        And then tell us who you are, where you are, and what you teach.

  3. Sandra Stotsky

    I think we need to end this chain. Common Core’s ELA document does not indicate what the college-readiness reading level is. It provides other kinds of information, and the only way we’ll be able eventually to figure out the reading level intended by the concept of “college readiness” is when we can look first at the average reading level of all the reading passages used on a grade 11 test to declare a student “college ready” before a cut score is set. We then have to work out what difference the cut/pass score made. This means finding out what is the raw number of points/correct answers that the pass score represents out of the total number of points/correct answers for all the passages constituting the test. Then, the question is to judge (and how to judge) what reading level the pass score represents.

    • everyonesfacts

      Common Core’s ELA document DOES indicate what college career readiness level is. It is in Appendix A. The supplement further clarifies the level for several different reading programs: ATOS, Lexile, Flesch-Kincade, DRP, Reading Maturity, and Source Rater.
      To me, that is not an indication but direct, explicit information that you would like.

      The tests on their own entity. Undoubtedly influenced by CC, but not CC. What their cut score will be will be either made by them or the states.

      But the CC is clear through appendices A-C and then further clarifies with the supplement: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/E0813_Appendix_A_New_Research_on_Text_Complexity.pdf

      Hey, Jimmy, what were you saying about having a misunderstanding and no references????

      It seems like Sandra is the one with a misunderstanding and an ignorance of the references….

      I stand by my initial comment: “Seems like Stotsky skipped appendices A-C in the ELA Standards”
      The supplement is helpful, but unnecessary, to rebut her argument.
      We’ve now moved the goal posts to the test consortia which are different entities than CCSSO.

  4. Sandra Stotsky

    Show us where Common Core says that, please. Or where anyone developing a Common Core-based test says that its reading selections mean that?

    We need citation information for your claim.

    • everyonesfacts

      Citations – Appendix A.
      Appendix B: “The process of text selection was guided by the following criteria:
      • Complexity. Appendix A describes in detail a three-part model of measuring text complexity based on quali- tative and quantitative indices of inherent text difficulty balanced with educators’ professional judgment in matching readers and texts in light of particular tasks. In selecting texts to serve as exemplars, the work group began by soliciting contributions from teachers, educational leaders, and researchers who have experience working with students in the grades for which the texts have been selected. These contributors were asked to recommend texts that they or their colleagues have used successfully with students in a given grade band. The work group made final selections based in part on whether qualitative and quantitative measures indicated that the recommended texts were of sufficient complexity for the grade band. For those types of texts—par- ticularly poetry and multimedia sources—for which these measures are not as well suited, professional judg- ment necessarily played a greater role in selection.” One can with most texts in Appendix B – quickly look up the Lexile level / grade level.
      See examples in Appendix C like Animal Farm and House on Mango Street. Again, Lexile levels can be found for these and other books.

      I have no idea what CC tests are doing. But based on your knowledge of CC I would not take your word for it anyways. IMHO, the assessments for CC should be a simple survey of say five questions given to parents 3-4 times a year asking if their child can do (fill in the standard). At a certain age, the surveys could ask students and parents if they have mastered the standard.

      • Sandra Stotsky

        So far, you have not shown where CC claims that college-readiness in reading means grade 12. Show us where Common Core says that, please. Or stop wasting our time.

        • everyonesfacts

          At the end of all the reading standards for grades 11-12 they state this.
          Your deliberate ignorance is shameful.

          Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
          CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.10
          By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
          By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

        • everyonesfacts

          It seems you’re doubly ignorant of 2 things:
          1) about what the CCSS state and
          2) what they mean.

          https://www.lexile.com/using-lexile/lexile-measures-and-the-ccssi/text-complexity-grade-bands-and-lexile-ranges/

          The text complexity band for grade 11-12 is 1185L to 1385L

          Texts suggested by CC for grade 11-12 include:

          Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales
          Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
          Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet
          Keats, John. “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
          Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
          Thoreau, Henry David. Walden
          McCullough, David. 1776
          McPherson, James M. What They Fought For 1861–1865
          Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things
          Can Make a Big Difference

          Again, I think you are being deliberately obtuse.

    • everyonesfacts

      Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.10
      By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

      By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

  5. Teacher with a Brain

    I commented on this when it was initially published. Where is my comment?

  6. Ginger Ferrer

    Why is Wall St. or any other money making entity the only opinion provider of these reading level concerns. Their perceived agenda is and had always been control. The education level of a potential future contributor has to be held back by the perceived conrruptive mindsets of those who have been in control for centuries.

    Reading or any other level of expected ability has to come from each and every individual who strives to become educated. Whether in a learning institution of at homeor both.

    Dictatorships should not be the yardstick by which a student be measured as to this/her accumulative ability to prosper educationally.

    Students are many. They should fight back vigorously and demand their rights to a full and total education from beginning to end.

  7. everyonesfacts

    Seems like Stotsky skipped appendices A-C in the ELA Standards

    • Sandra Stotsky

      There is nothing in Appendices A-C that addresses any of the questions or concerns in my blog. If you think there is, tell us what is there and how it addresses the questions I raise.

      • everyonesfacts

        Sure Miss Charlatan,
        Appendix A: “Various readability measures of The Longitude Prize are largely in agreement that the text is appropriate for the grades 9–10 text complexity band. The Coh-Metrix analysis notes that the text is primarily informational in structure despite the narrative opening. (Recall from “Why Text Complexity Matters,” above, that research indicates that informational texts are generally harder to read than narratives.) While the text relies on concrete language and goes to some effort to connect central ideas for the reader, it also contains complex syntax and few explicit connections between words and sentences.” There are others too. See the bibliography, especially.
        Appendix B is a list of reading materials based on grade level. For instance, Dava Sobel’s _Longitude_
        Appendix C is a list of writings often with students responding to grade level texts, for instance _Animal Farm_.
        You are welcome.

        • Sandra Stotsky

          So, what is a college-readiness level?

          • everyonesfacts

            Are you being deliberately obtuse?
            Entering freshmen can read at or above grade level.

        • Sandra Stotsky

          And what does this tell us about the college-readiness level?

          • everyonesfacts

            That we (people who creates of approve of the CC)think that students should read at or above grade level when they graduate from college and be able to use their reading when writing or speaking.

            Seems clear in the appendices…

          • everyonesfacts

            That college readiness means at the least reading at the college level – grade 12 at the end of grade 12.

          • everyonesfacts

            That students read at or above grade level when they leave high school. This is written in plain English for educational writing:

            Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
            CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.10
            By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
            By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

            As someone who is a leading detractor of the standards it would be nice if you had read the standards closely even if you haven’t benefitted from CC’s close reading strategies.

          • Sandra Stotsky

            I’m afraid you have not made your case. Nowhere does what you have quoted say anything about what the college readiness reading level should be. What you have quoted talks about a “text complexity band.”

          • Sandra Stotsky

            You have not made your case. There is nothing in what you quote that indicates what the college readiness level is. What you quote is about text complexity bands.

          • everyonesfacts

            Oh, I’ve made my case, actually it isn’t my case. It is just saying that your case is wrong. And I’ve proved it. I’ll prove it some more.

            It seems you’re doubly ignorant:
            1) about what the CCSS state and
            2) what they mean.

            https://www.lexile.com/using-lexile/lexile-measures-and-the-ccssi/text-complexity-grade-bands-and-lexile-ranges/

            The text complexity band for grade 11-12 is 1185L to 1385L

            Texts suggested by CC for grade 11-12 include:

            Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales
            Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
            Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet
            Keats, John. “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
            Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
            Thoreau, Henry David. Walden
            McCullough, David. 1776
            McPherson, James M. What They Fought For 1861–1865
            Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things
            Can Make a Big Difference

            Again, I think you are being deliberately obtuse.

          • Sandra Stotsky

            You need to show what the college readiness level is by quoting something in CC’s ELA standards that talks about it. You can list dozens of titles of books, but that doesn’t tell us what the college readiness level is.

            Let me put it in different words for you. What titles/books should a student be able to read (in their entirety) in order to be declared “college ready?” List a few and then show where the CC ELA document indicates that being able to read these titles/books (or similar ones with respect to quality and difficulty level) constitutes college readiness. This issue is far more important than you may think.

            What guidance did SBAC and PARCC test developers get about the average reading level of the passages used on the grade 11 test? Did they get any at all? Where were they to draw their passages from? This is before a cut/pass score is set.

          • everyonesfacts

            I have no idea what you’re talking about. I am less clear that you know what you are talking about.

            1. You are asking CC to be what it is not. It is not a curriculum. It is a set of standards for college and career readiness.
            2. That said, they expect students to be reading a range of texts around grade level.
            3. The reading/lexile level is stated in my last post: 1185-1385
            4.I have provided what CC thinks are appropriate readings for grade 11-12. There are more in Appendix B. CC suggests that these books or similar ones are read in their entirety. See first page of Appendix B.

            I doubt the issue is that important.
            And I have no idea what if any advice the testing consortia received.

          • Sandra Stotsky

            So, what is the college readiness reading level, according to CC’s ELA document? Quotation,or page number, please.

          • Jimmy Kilpatrick

            Dr. Stosky, Interesting how opposing views of yours have such a misunderstanding and no references but taking points from the establishment of status quo.

          • everyonesfacts

            Jimmy and Sandra,
            Sandra: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/E0813_Appendix_A_New_Research_on_Text_Complexity.pdf in its entirety, esp. p.4 (chart)

            That said, it would seem to you since we don’t have Hitler ever signing anything authorizing the Holocaust that he had nothing to do with it. I would argue that there is enough evidence without that to prove that Hitler had not only something to do with the Holocaust, but a very big part. But you’re arguing “but we don’t have his signature!”

            There is plenty of evidence that CC has reading ranges (without the link provided which has the range for several different systems) – see Appendix A, Appendix B, and Appendix C. Lexile – the company – has changed their levels to reflect what is in Appendices A-C. The evidence is overwhelming on what CC expects, but you need a direct quote. If not, you are claiming it doesn’t exist even if the evidence is overwhelming it does. This was before a quick google search gave me the link.

            Jimmy,
            Talking Points? Please. I would guess you don’t know what the term means. Can you cite anywhere where I could’ve picked this up? Is there a talking points for reading level and CC? I just read to understand and analyze when necessary. Perhaps, my talking point is a liberal arts degree that means something and a well developed bs detector?

          • Sandra Stotsky

            You have yet to tell us where the college readiness reading level is even discussed in Common Core’s ELA document. Stop Googling and try reading through the document itself.

          • everyonesfacts

            Sandra, I already showed you that is in Appendix A. To quote again:
            ppendix A: “Various readability measures of The Longitude Prize are largely in agreement that the text is appropriate for the grades 9–10 text complexity band. The Coh-Metrix analysis notes that the text is primarily informational in structure despite the narrative opening. (Recall from “Why Text Complexity Matters,” above, that research indicates that informational texts are generally harder to read than narratives.) While the text relies on concrete language and goes to some effort to connect central ideas for the reader, it also contains complex syntax and few explicit connections between words and sentences.”

            There are others too. See the bibliography, especially.

            I just linked to a supplement to Appendix A which further clarifies what you need to know. It shows what the reading levels are for various scales. Again, this seems like deliberate ignorance.

            You get paid for this crap (as a professor of education). I am just a history teacher. I should not be showing you where it says this. You should be telling me!

            Unlike, Jimmy, whose idea of “evidence” seems to be shaky. Appendices A, B, and C and the Supplement to Appendix A seem to be evidence enough. Pages of the supplement break down text complexity explicitly for one book. You could do the same for other books on the list in Appendix B, if you wish.

          • Sandra Stotsky

            You really need to figure out why everything you have been quoting doesn’t address my basic question. What is the college readiness reading level in Common Core’s ELA document?

            The college readiness reading level should be the reading level of many of the passages on the grade 11 college readiness tests that are being given, before the cut/pass score is determined. (We don’t know all the passages are, nor their reading levels.) Try to understand what is at stake here. Stop copying references to appendices in CC. Ask why there is nothing similar to the way in which the college readiness level in the math standards has been determined. All topics that are to be tested on the college readiness mathematics level are clearly unmarked, in contrast to the topics that are marked and will not be part of the test. That is how the readiness level in mathematics can be understood. People who can understand high school math know what topics are to be taught (in some way) for the purpose of the test and know what level of math that means.

            Can you tell me what texts a “college-ready” student should be able to read, based on something specific to the topic in the ELA document, and what their reading level is, using ATOS for Books which gives you a grade level readability score? Don’t keep telling us about the “text complexity bands” for the high school grades. That is something different.

          • everyonesfacts

            The ATOS level was on the supplemental link.
            Page 4, like I wrote.
            11.20 – 14.10

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