Jan 19, 2015 by


“No Information on What a College Readiness Reading Level Really Is”


By Dr. 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: 2013-2014the 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—


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.


…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.


…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


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…





Ask your Congressman, who is considering the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), to include in the bill: “no free tuition at the post-secondary level for students who do not pass a test showing they can read at the high school level.”


Unfortunately, a part of the bill supported by Sen. Lamar Alexander seeks to continue assessments, curricula, and resources from profit making companies not necessarily education vetted, researched, or beneficial. 



The good news is that Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Rob Portman (R-OH) are supporting an amendment that “would strictly forbid the federal government from intervening in a state’s education standards, curricula, and assessments through the use of incentives, mandates, grants, waivers or any other form of manipulation…Federal interference in this area disrupts the direct line of accountability between parents and those making decisions about their children’s education.”


Please contact your Congressman and voice your opinions as a constituent.


Donna Garner

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