Thursday, October 29, 2015

Retrieving: The view of Lexiles in 2004

As a follow-up to yesterday's article, I found another by the same author.  This one was published six years later, in 2004.  It is entitled "Lexile Ratings Catch On."  This one consists almost entirely of factual information about MetaMetrics and their system.  It contains no interviews with naysayers, not a hint of the concern from Reid's earlier article.  Either Reid, his publisher, or public opinion seems to have shifted significantly in the interim six years.

The article begins, "Despite some early critics who questioned its growing use, the Lexile Framework for Reading, a reading comprehension program that measures both the difficulty of a text and individual reading ability, is becoming a popular tool for evaluating and teaching reading by educators around the country" (8).

The rest of the article consists mostly of a description of the program, similar to what I saw in the materials published by MetaMetrics.  The only other portion of note is the final paragraph, where Reid writes:
"[Malbert] Smith acknowledged that the Lexile ratings have some critics and are 'not a panacea for reading instruction.  In our missionary zeal, we may have oversold it.  But it's a technology that can assist academics and parents.  It's a tool for educators who understand how to use it'" (8).

Apparently this is Smith's answer to any criticism; the educators who criticize the Lexile system simply don't understand how to use it.

Furthermore, I find it interesting that this article was published on page 8 of Publishers Weekly, whereas the critical article was buried on page 240.  Reid describes MetaMetrics as "a privately held company, and Smith said the firm was profitable" (8).  Whereas publishers were not anxious to work with MetaMetrics six years before, now, it seems, money talks.  Frustrating.

Reid, Calvin.  "Lexile Ratings Catch On."  Publishers Weekly.  6 September 2004.  Vol. 251 Issue 36, p 8.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Retrieving: The view of Lexiles in 1998

Today I read a short but interesting article published in 1998, when Lexiles were "a new technology and instruction method" (240).  At first I wasn't sure if the article would be relevant to my study and just planned to skim it, but I soon found that it did, in fact, have some points of interest.  The article is entitled "Lexile: Will All Books Need This Reading-Level Rating" and it was written by Calvin Reid.

What I thought was so interesting about this article is that it raises concerns about the Lexile system, right there at the beginning, that I still have today.  Ever since the system began popular use, people have worried about the same things, and these issues never seem to have been resolved.

For example, one developer of the Lexile program, A. Jackson Stenner, stated in an interview that "the Lexile rating 'is not a panacea' and that it does not rate content, quality or developmental suitability" (240).  17 years after the publication of this article, many teachers and parents still don't seem to understand this concept and will hand students any book marked within their Lexile range.

The article states that initially, teachers asked "for a way to level texts and match beginning readers to the right texts" (240).  I can understand using Lexiles with beginning readers, perhaps in kindergarten and first grade as reading skills are first emerging.  But if Lexiles were initially meant for beginning readers, then it's ludicrous to think that we are now measuring high school, college, and workforce texts by Lexile, as the other articles I've read have discussed.

The article goes on to state:
"...some reading professionals are skeptical.  Betty Carter, associate professor of library science at Texas Women's University, who studies reading and has examined the Lexile Framework's claims, is critical, noting that the Lexile rating ignores 'the internal qualities of the book,' that Lexile choices are 'mechanical' and that the service provides 'a false sense of selection.'  Carter continued, 'It's important to read all over the levels map.  If we limit choices, we limit the chances of kids becoming lifetime readers'" (240).

Carter's statements align perfectly with my own experiences with the Lexile system, 17 years later.

The article also quotes "a North Carolina educational administrator who has seen the MetaMetrics presentation" (240).  The article states, "The educator, a specialist in teaching beginning reading, worried that inexperienced teachers might use it reflexively and carelessly" (240).

I would argue that the reality is worse than this administrator predicted: even experienced teachers now use this tool carelessly.  I have yet to see any teacher use the tools created by MetaMetrics to create personalized Lexiled lists as the original program intended.  Instead, students are simply instructed to "read only within their Lexile," with little regard to content or interest.

The article also included concerns from book distributors about "encouraging publishers to label their titles" and "about kids being ridiculed for having a low Lexile rating and about MetaMetrics' research" (240).  Sources also expressed concern about the focus on MetaMetrics' list of specific Lexiled titles rather than "what librarians think they need for their collections" (240).  In this early stage, many publishers expressed hesitation at allowing their titles to be Lexiled, arguing against the system.

Clearly, much has changed over the past 17 years, including the prevalence of standardized testing and the focus on Common Core Standards.  However, I find it fascinating to note that many intelligent experts and professionals worried about the Lexile system's effectiveness from the start, and MetaMetrics seems to changed very little about the program to alleviate these worries.

Reid, Calvin.  "Lexile: Will All Books Need This Reading-Level Rating?"  Publishers Weekly.  10 August 1998.  Vol. 245 Issue 32, p 240-241.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Retrieving: Text Demands on Students

Today's article was a shorter one.  It's entitled "Text Demands on Students Don't Meet Life's Demands" and was written by Melissa Ezarik.

The article's main argument rests on a statement from Gary L. Williamson from MetaMetrics.  Responding to concerns from the workforce and colleges, Williamson concludes, "not only is the typical end-of-high school text lower in its text demand, but the vast majority of high school texts require less reading ability than most of the reading material students are likely to encounter after high school" (76).

This chart demonstrates what Williamson is saying:

The article was published in 2005, and I wonder how much its findings were responsible for the push in recent years to introduce more nonfiction and technical writings in the classroom.  This has been a definite shift since I started teaching.  But I'm not sure that it's truly "helping" students.  While we may be challenging high school students to read texts that have higher lexiles, these texts also tend to have lower interest levels.  

In my last few years of teaching, my high school students complained bitterly about assigned classroom texts.  While meeting state and district requirements, I rarely got the chance to introduce texts that would capture their interest--or mine.  I graduated a generation of students who never knew what it felt like to love reading, and I left the classroom for the library, convinced that I needed to get out of education if I wanted the chance to actually teach kids to like books.  What kind of backwards logic is this?  But it's what happens when we force-feed kids a diet of all high-lexile, low-interest texts.  So while adults with low reading levels may indeed be a problem, the methods that we've employed over the past 10 years are not, in my opinion, the solution.

Ezarik, Melissa. "Text Demands on Students Don't Meet Life's Demands."  District Administration.  June 2005, Vol. 41 Issue 6, p 76.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Retrieving: Beyond the Classroom

Today's read is entitled "Beyond the Classroom."  It was written by Malbert Smith, Anne Schiano, and Elizabeth Lattanzio, all of whom were employed by MetaMetrics, which makes me wary of the article's slant.  However, the article was published in a journal published by the American Library Association, which legitimatizes it for me.

The article explains the growth of Common Core State Standards and how the Lexile Framework for Reading supports these standards.  Smith, Schiano, and Lattanzio write:

"First and foremost, we need to take a more longitudinal perspective s we prepare all students for the reading demands post high school.  Secondly, every grade, every subject, and every education professional is important in growing the literacy skills of our students.  Too often we have viewed only a subset of our educators (K-3) as responsible for the reading growth of students.  A third point is that we now have a quantitative measure to evaluate whether a student is reading on grade level, a measure that is consistent across districts, states, and our nation" (23).

The chart that the authors are referencing matches the one provided in the Hiebert article.  Here is their rendition:

Later in the article, I was surprised to find this section:
"Unlike some qualitative text-complexity tools that are just 'text-centric,' the Lexile Framework was created through a conjoint measurement model of both reader and text.  In the creation of the Lexile Framework, the importance of the qualitative portion of the triangle was also recognized.  These qualitative features are important and include such characteristics as developmental appropriateness, intended audience, purpose, and even factors such as the book's jacket art.  When matching readers to books, it is important to pay attention to all of these features.  In trying to address some of these qualitative features, MetaMetrics also provides a series of codes.  These codes, while not exhaustive, are intended to capture some of this information that is outside the quantitative measurement of Lexile measures" (24).

Recognition of these qualitative qualities and use of these codes had not been mentioned in any other article I had read, published either my MetaMetrics or any other publisher.  As I reviewed the codes, I realized that I had seen books marked "BR" and "GN," but never with any of the other codes.  I wonder how prevalent use of these codes is.  It seems like it might be complicated to get students to understand them, particularly since I'm not sure I completely understand some of the definitions myself.  However, if used properly, they might address some of my concerns about content and maturity.

I think it's also important to note that the authors provided somewhat of a disclaimer on their own work, similar to what I've been arguing all along.  They write:

"Many factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book.  The Lexile measure is an important tool in the book-selection process.  However, no tool can replace the professional judgment of a teacher, parent, or librarian in helping students select books for educational and recreational reading" (26).

Yes.  Lexile is a tool, only a tool.  This part, I agree wholeheartedly with. But as teachers face the growing demands of Common Core, will they use the tool correctly?

Smith III, Malbert, Anne Schiano, and Elizabeth Lattanzio.  "Beyond the Classroom."  Knowledge Quest.  Jan/Feb 2014, Vol. 42 Issue 3, p 20-29.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Planning: Feedback from Professor

Today I received from feedback from my professor about my proposed project.  Professor Kramer also supports the idea of research into lexiles.  Having worked in school media centers and with curriculum development for many years, she is certain of her own opinion on the matter.  Via our course tools, she told me, "I personally DO feel that this is an argument to research, perfect and have with the principal.  There is NOTHING good about restricting kids to books at their level exclusively and they are ultimately harming readers."

I am encouraged by this feedback, as it fits with my own feelings and with what I am finding.  Proceeding onwards....!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Retrieving: Beyond Single Readability Measures

Today's reading was heavier than the other articles I have tackled.  It is a study entitled "Beyond Single Readability Measures: Using Multiple Sources of Information in Establishing Text Complexity" and was written by Elfrieda H. Hiebert.

Hiebert explains that:
"...the Lexiles have been recalibrated from longstanding recommendations of Lexiles for particular grade levels to a "grade-by-grade" 'staircase' from beginning reading to the college and career readiness level." (CSS Initiative, 2010, p. 8).  Beginning with the grade 2-3 band text complexity levels have been increased to ensure that readers will acquire text levels of college and career by the end of high school.  The explicit parameters for Lexiles by grade bands, the ease of obtaining Lexile scores, and the lack of ready access to validated qualitative rubrics mean that policymakers and educators could place considerable weight on Lexiles in choosing texts for instruction and assessment" (33).

Here is a copy of the chart of recalibrated lexile ranges from Hiebert's article:
If we are trying to "ensure" that students reach a certain reading level, though, would ask--what happens to the students who are left behind?  I know there are plenty of students at my school who do not measure up to these ideals.  What are we to do for them?

Hiebert takes issue with the way lexiles are measured in the first place.  She argues:
"In narrative texts with substantial amounts of dialogue, average sentence length can be influenced by the author's awareness that people typically use relatively short sentences in conversations.  As a result, the difficulty of narrative text is typically underestimated.  Such underestimations are most evident in texts such as the classic Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway, 1952) that has a exile of 940 (which falls into the grade 4-5 band of the recalibrated Lexile levels)" (34).

This is an excellent point.  No educator would give fifth graders Old Man and the Sea as an exemplar text.  As an English teacher, I taught this novel to a talented group of freshmen, many of whom still struggled with the novel's larger concepts.  Clearly, lexile measures cannot stand alone.

Hiebert goes on to examine MetaMetrics' methods for examining text complexity.  Through using charts, exemplars, and detailed analysis, Hiebert convincingly argues that MetaMetrics' methods are flawed.  Hiebert concludes that teachers must rely on their own skills and "in-depth knowledge that comes from their experience with students and books" (39) rather than the Lexile system to match students with appropriate reading materials.

Hiebert sums up by writing:
"The important fact to remember is that a readability formula can only provide a rough estimate of a text's difficulty.  Quantitative data must be followed by qualitative analyses that examine the complexity of themes and style, and texts should be considered relative to the strengths and needs of the students who will be reading them and to the contexts in which they will be used" (40).


Hiebert, Elfrieda H. "Beyond Single Readability Measure: Using Multiple Sources of Information in Establishing Text Complexity."  Journal of Education.  2010/2011, Vol. 191 Issue 2, p 33-42.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Retrieving: Reading in the Wild

For one of my grad courses, I'm currently reading Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller.  I absolutely LOVE this book.  It is filled simply fantastic, revolutionary, hands-on ideas about changing the way we teach reading that really resonate with me.  While reading this week, I was surprised and pleased to run across a section where Miller shares her thoughts on lexile.

Echoing my own feelings, Miller writes:
"I have no issue with assessing students' reading levels and identifying text complexity.  As a teacher, I find such information helpful when determining my students' reading ability and what books might fit them.  What concerns me is that in many situations, Lexile measures become the sole factor in book selection and recommendation" (63).

Miller goes on:
"While identifying readability can be useful when evaluating textbooks, guided reading texts, or other teaching materials, selecting books for classroom instruction and recommending books for independent reading are two different processes.  Avid readers do not always read at the edge of their competence, traveling through increasingly more difficult texts as leveling systems prescribe.  Given free choice, readers select reading material according to their interests, preferences, background knowledge, purposes for reading, and personal motivation" (63).

This description matches my daughter perfectly.  Indeed, it accurately describes nearly all of the children who come into my school library, seeking books that will interest them.  Very rarely do I have a child ask for a "hard" book.

Miller writes:
"I hear horrifying stories about teachers and librarians who rigidly enforce Lexile bands, preventing children from reading books that aren't at their Lexile level; for example, they won't let students read an entire series because every book isn't at their Lexile, or students can't use sections of school and classroom libraries because the books are too easy or too hard according to Lexile measures" (63).

Yes, these stories are true.  I've seen these things happen myself, sometimes at my own school.  When we turn students away from books that they truly want to read, what kind of message are we sending them?  Are we fostering a love for reading or squelching it?

Miller continues her argument:
"According to MetaMetric's website, 'Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book.  The Lexile text measure is a good starting point in the book-selection process, with these other factors then being considered.'  With Lexile measures touted as one key indicator of text complexity as defined by Common Core State Standards, we must critically consider what Lexile bands offer teachers and students and what they don't.  Overreliance on reading level systems hinders children from learning how to self-select books.  Bookstores, [public] libraries, and Grandma's bookshelf aren't leveled.  Beyond students' and books' reading levels, we must consider content and interests when selecting materials and recommending books for independent reading.  Slavish devotion to numbers doesn't benefit readers.  We can't shortcut or disregard knowing books and knowing readers, and then building connections between them" (64).

I believe that Miller is absolutely right.  Even if we were to execute the Lexile system effectively in our elementary schools (which we are currently not doing), it is not a system that can follow students through their lives.  If we teach students to rely on picking books only from a leveled list, they will lack the ability to select books based on interest and content, which is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives.  Isn't this the skill we should be teaching?

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley.  Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 2014.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Retrieving: Teaching Students to Use Lexiles

One of the articles I found through my EBSCO search is entitled "Teaching Students to Use Lexiles."  It was written by Marty Arrington, an elementary school librarian in Georgia.

At first I wasn't sure that this article would be helpful.  It described how her school was low on funds for Accelerated Reader and, as an alternative, she taught students in her school to search the Destiny Quest database for books within their own lexiles.  The last paragraph, however, really got me.

Arrington writes:
"Watching students discover and be excited about books on a diverse range of topics is immensely satisfying.  One second grader told me, 'You dont know how happy you've made me now that I know how to find books in the media center!'  I shared a fifth grader's excitement when he showed me his list, saying, 'I found these books on Destiny last night that I want to read.'  I overheard to boys looking at books on Destiny and saying, 'This is cool!'  All this tells me that these students are now empowered users of information and the world of discovery is just beginning to open up for them" (38).

Now this, I can get excited about.  This whole school year, I've been working with students and teachers to teach to the kids library skills.  I want them to understand how to search for and find books that they will truly enjoy, not just grab random books off the shelves.

The more that I look at the lexile system, the more frustrated that I get.  I don't think that it's actually a bad system.  I just think that we're using it completely wrong.  It wasn't designed to be used as the be-all and end-all of book selection, but rather as a guide.  MetaMetrics points out in all of their literature that their system doesn't take student interest into account; a computerized program can't do that.  This is something the teacher, the librarian, and the parent have to do for and with the student, but we've stepped so far away from the way this system was meant to be used that we just set kids loose in the shelves and assume that any book the the right number on it must be fine.

But if we're going to use the lexile system, we need to do it the right way.  Arrington is the first person I've read about who has actually done it the right way.  She used the Destiny Quest database to inspire students to find books they were actually interested in.  She kept them within their lexile levels, but she also inspired a love of reading.... AND she taught a library skill that will serve them throughout their lives.  This sounds like a huge WIN to me!

I wondered if it would be possible for me to reproduce this activity at my school.  We use the Follett Destiny program, but I had never opened Quest.  (I was hired after my predecessor retired, and no one actually trained me for my job.  Everything that I've learned, about both Destiny and the rest of the job, I've picked up on my own.)  So I signed into Destiny, located Quest, and opened it up.... and was immediately blown away by what a cool program it is!  This is definitely something that I need to use with my teachers and students!

After exploring for a while, I figured out how to search by lexile level as Arrington had described.  I searched within my second grade daughter's lexile, 465L to 615L.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive 876 results.  Even as the librarian in charge of this collection, I had no idea that we had such a wide selection.  Scanning through the choices, I recognized many titles that my daughter has enjoyed and even more titles that her classmates have checked out.  Using Quest to help students make reading selections would be an incredibly valuable tool.

Next I searched within my fourth grade daughter's lexile, 1023L to 1173L.  As I expected, she had far fewer results, only 96.  While still very heavy on nonfiction and Lemony Snicket, there were some other choices as well.  And still, knowing that she could find every single choice on our library's shelves is a huge plus.

If our school continues to use the lexile system, this is definitely a tool that I will be teaching all my classes to use!

Arrington, Marty.  "Teaching Students to Use Lexiles."  School Library Monthly.  Sep/Oct 2012, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p37-38.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Retrieving: EBSCO Search

The "retrieval" stage of the Alberta Inquiry Model includes:

  • develop an information retrieval plan
  • locate and collect resources
  • select relevant information
  • evaluate information
  • review and revise the plan for inquiry

I began this "retrieval" process by questioning my colleagues and reading the materials from MetaMetrics.  I am now in a stage where I need to seek further resources.

I began my search by using one of the databases available to me through my university.  I selected EBSCO Academic Search Premier and used "lexiles" as my search term.  The search returned 52 results.

I then sorted through the list, reading summaries of the articles and selecting the ones which I felt might be relevant to my study.  I saved the promising ones as PDFs on my computer.  Now I have plenty of reading to do!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Processing: Testing the Reading Pathfinders

The files I located in my office also included Reading Pathfinders published by NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association).  This is the service that runs the standardized tests our students take every year.  NWEA assembled a list of titles in each Lexile level to recommend to parents and educators.

Each sheet states, "The Reading Pathfinder list printed below is a collection of literature titles customized to match the reading achievement of your student.  According to your student's score on the NWEA Reading Achievement Level Test or Measure of Academic Progress, he or she should be able to read any of these titles at an appropriate level of challenge. All of the books on the list are generally available at local schools, public libraries, and bookstores" (1).

As a parent, I have never received a sheet like this from one of my children's teachers.  I currently have three children in elementary school, so I decided to look at the Pathfinders that would apply to each of them and see how accurate I felt they were.

My son is currently in kindergarten is has a Lexile of BR (beginning reader).  Some familiar titles that appeared on his Reading Pathfinder are:
* Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
* Bears on Wheels by Stan and Jan Bearenstain
* Biscuit's New Trick by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
* Clifford Makes a Friend by Norman Bridwell
* David Gets in Trouble by David Shannon
* Does Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? by Eric Carle
* Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

My son enjoys all of these titles, and some are his favorites.  I feel that all are age-appropriate and interesting for him.  The list also includes many other titles that we have not read, and I would feel comfortable taking these suggestions.  So far, so good.

My daughter is in second grade.  Her Lexile is 465L to 615L.  I decided to review the 500-590L list as a good "average" for her.  Some familiar titles on this list included:
* The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth by Joanna Cole
* How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
* Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margaret Rey and H.A. Rey
* The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
* The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
* Felicity's Dancing Shoes by Valerie Tripp
* The School Bus Driver from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler
* Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
* Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
* Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
* There's a Bat in Bunk Five by Paul Danzinger
* The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
* Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Circus Clown by David A. Adler
* Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume
* Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

This is where I begin to question the accuracy of Lexile measurements.  How can Curious George have the same Lexile as Stargirl?  But with the possible exception of Stargirl, I do agree that my daughter could handle all of these books.  I also appreciate the fact that this list has a column marking the books "E" for elementary or "M" for middle grades (6-8).  While my daughter is reading at this level in second grade, a sixth grader receiving the same list would obviously want to select Stargirl and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great instead of the other selections.  Although this list did make me question the accuracy of Lexile measurements, I was still happy with the list itself.

My oldest daughter is in fourth grade.  Her Lexile is 1023L-1173L.  I decided to look at the 1100-1190L list for her.  Immediately I could see that it wasn't going to offer her many choices.  There weren't any books on the list marked just "E."  There were a few marked "E-M" and a few more marked "E-M-H."  In their entirety, this list is:
* Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman
* Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
* The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
* How Monkeys Make Chocolate by Adrian Forsyth
* I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.
* The Great Fire by Jim Murphy
* And Then There Was One by Margery Facklam
* Rascal by Sterling North
* West from Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder
* When Will This Cruel War Be Over? by Barry Denenberg
* They Swim the Seas: The Mystery of Animal Migration by Seymour Simon
* The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
* The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman
* Home-Run Hitters by John A. Torres
* The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen
* Get on Board: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Jim Haskins
* Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
* There's Still Time by Mark Galan

As a parent, I read this list and my heart sinks.  I know that it will be incredibly hard, if not impossible, to convince my daughter to read any of the books that appear on this list.  It seems that in order to read something within her Lexile, she will need to read either nonfiction or the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.  Neither of these is something that she would ever pick up on her own, and I know that reading this list would only frustrate and discourage her.  At 10 years old, she would whine and ask why the system doesn't "allow" her to read the books she truly loves, the ones that capture her imagination and interest--the ones that have developed those strong reading skills in the first place.  And as a parent, I'm left to wonder how it's possible that Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, and A Tale of Two Cities appear on this same 1100L-1190L list.... apparently, if my daughter were to continue to be held to Lexile measurements, those would be considered far "too easy" for her long before she hits high school.

"Reading Pathfinder: Lexile Range = BR."  Northwest Evaluation Association.  August 2006.

"Reading Pathfinder: Lexile Range = 500L-590L."  Northwest Evaluation Association.  August 2006.

"Reading Pathfinder: Lexile Range = 1100L-1190L."  Northwest Evaluation Association.  August 2006.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Retrieving: Lexile Training PowerPoint

The last document in the folder from the Lexile training is a PowerPoint from the training session itself.  The handout included handwritten notes from whoever attended the session.

From the PowerPoint, I learned that in 2005, neither Indiana (where I attended college and now teach) nor Illinois (where I attended elementary and high school) had adopted the Lexile system.  That explained why I had not personally been exposed to the Lexile system as a student or an educator.  So by attending this workshop in 2005, my district was probably on the early end of adopting the Lexile system in Indiana.

One slide entitled "'Typical' Classroom" proclaims "By the end of elementary school, there is an 800-900 Lexile range in a typical classroom."

This statement, unfortunately, is true--or maybe even an underestimate.  My oldest daughter is in fourth grade.  Her Lexile is slightly over 1100L.  As the school librarian, I work with all of the kids in the school, and I know that there are several kids in the same grade who read at about 200L.  In this way, the Lexile system is extremely helpful, allowing teachers to provide different reading materials to students with different needs.  But still, the 200L kids get frustrated with being offered beginning readers over and over again while they see their classmates enjoying exciting novels.  And their reading levels don't improve when they only read materials that they aren't interested in.  So as an educator, I see it as a bit of a catch-22.

A handwritten note from whoever attended the session states that the average college-educated adult has a Lexile between 1100L and 1400L.  If this is the case, it explains why I've struggled so much to find age-appropriate reading materials for my daughter within the last couple of years.  If she's at 1100L as a fourth grader, then according to this, she's at the same level as a college-educated adult.  No wonder all the books within her Lexile are too emotionally mature for her!  So what can the Lexile system do for a kid like her??

One screen in the PowerPoint touches on this concern.  It is entitled "Communicating with Parents."  It reads:
" Emphasize that the Lexile Framework does not address:
* Interest
* Age appropriateness
* Text support
* Text quality
It looks only at text difficulty--books should always be previewed by parents."

As both a parent and an educator, this screen pretty much sums up my frustrations with the Lexile system.  If all this system is doing is looking at the text difficulty, but not in any way addressing whether the student is going to be interested in the material, or whether the material is going to be appropriate for the reader, then how useful is it in practice?

The very next screen reads, "Finally, explain the Lexile Framework is a tool for matching readers with appropriately challenging text, not a reading program."

Ahh!  But 10 years later, so many teachers treat it as if it IS a reading program.  Students are told to read ONLY books within their lexiles, yet not given the supports outlined in these articles in order to find those books.  No wonder kids are saying that they don't like reading!  They're given little support and little choice, which of course yields little interest and little reward.

After reading through the entire PowerPoint, I have to say that its information is persuasive.  It includes charts and graphs that demonstrate the Lexile levels of publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the typical Lexile level achieved by various levels of education and various professions.  The presentation certainly makes a strong case for the importance of developing students with high Lexiles and offers many helpful tips and resources to educators for growing these Lexiles.  If I had sat in this presentation in 2005, having never seen the program in action before, I would probably have been convinced that it was a great idea.

The thing is, the reality of the Lexile system in use today doesn't look much like the idealized version did on paper 10 years ago.  I have had the privilege to work with some fantastic teachers, but I've never known any of them to do the kind of personalization with the system that these articles describe.  In my own school, I wonder if any of the teachers even know that this is what the system was supposed to look like--so much more than requiring once-a-week library checkouts of books stamped with a certain number. I can't blame the Lexile system itself for the fact that the practice is broken when so many other things in education have also gone awry in recent years, but I can at least acknowledge that what we're doing now isn't working and look for a solution.

"The Lexile Framework for Reading."  Presented by MetaMetrics, Inc.  March 11, 2005.

Retrieving: Lexiles in the Classroom

I've just finished up the final article in the series from MetaMetrics.  It's called "Lexiles in the Classroom" and measures 1340L.  Again, it echoes much of the information from the other articles but contains a few new and significant points.

The most notable teacher-focused information is:
"Lexile measures tie day-to-day work in the classroom to critical high-stakes tests, which also report scores in Lexiles.  This commonality allows you to provide interim assessment and feedback while using the same consistent measurement.  Lexiles help you set measurable goals, monitor and evaluate reading programs, and easily track progress without additional testing" (1).

These statements are true, and are definitely a perk of the Lexile system.  Determining a student's lexile does not require any additional testing, which is important to teachers in a time when standardized testing can feel overwhelming.  At my school, students' Lexile scores are determined three times yearly through NWEA testing.  This is a statewide test that the students take anyway.  Because the students take the test in the fall, winter, and spring, the teachers can see how the students' Lexiles change throughout the year.

Under a section entitled "Using Lexiles in your classroom," the article offers several useful suggestions.  These include:

* "Develop individualized reading lists that are tailored to provide appropriately challenging reading" (2).

* "Develop a reading folder that goes home with students and comes back for weekly review.  The folder can contain a reading list of books within the student's Lexile range, reports of recent assessments and a parent form to record reading that occurs at home" (2).

I have never personally known any teacher to develop individualized lists like this.  Of course, the world of education has changed a great deal since this article was published in 2004, and sadly, I doubt that most classroom teachers could find the time to do this.  However, if a teacher were actually to approach the Lexile system as it was originally intended, by creating hand-selected lists of recommended reading for each individual student, then it would be a far better system in actual practice than it is today.

I wonder if any of the teachers at my school even know that these were the expectations, or how they would react if I were to pass this article on to them.

"Lexiles in the Classroom."  MetaMetrics, Inc., 2004.

Retrieving: Lexiles at Home

I'm continuing my reading from the blue folder of articles from the 2005 workshop.  It seems that this is a series of articles, designed to be shared with the various populations that will be affected by lexiles.  The article I read this morning was entitled "Lexiles at Home" and was aimed at parents.  Its lexile measure was 1230L.  Again, it contained much of the information covered in the other articles, but its audience was different.  I did, however, find this part to be notable:

"Once you have your child's Lexile measure, you can connect him or her to tens of thousands of books and tens of millions of articles that have Lexile measures.  Most public libraries have access to online periodicals databases where you can search for newspaper and magazine articles by Lexile measure" (1).

This is true. Public libraries do have access to these databases.  10 years after the article was published, I even have access to many of these databases at home (although they are not widely enough advertised that I didn't know about many of them until I started this research).  But as both a parent and a librarian, I find this process to be hugely frustrating.

When I worked as a public librarian, I worked with a local elementary teacher who requested that we provide her classroom with 50 nonfiction books "between 300L and 400L" every month.  Because I had teaching experience, selecting these books usually fell to me.  This was an incredibly time-consuming project that would sometimes take me an entire 6-hour shift to complete.  Pulling promising-looking books from the shelves, then cross-referencing them all with the database, then double-checking to make sure that the class had not already had them earlier in the year, to get up to 50 books every month, was quite a feat.  Even in the children's department, most of our nonfiction books were lexiled higher than 400L, so after a few months, we really struggled to meet the teacher's needs.

Similarly, parents would often bring their children in to the public library and ask for help finding a book to meet the child's lexile.  Compiling a list of books at the appropriate level and finding the books on the shelves took time, and even after that was accomplished, I generally still needed to work with the family to sort out which selections would be appropriate to grade-level and maturity level.  After all of that, students still sometimes weren't able to find one that sparked their interest and left with a book that fit their lexile needs but they weren't excited to read.

Based on the comments I received from my classmates when I selected this project, I gather that these experiences are common for public librarians.  So while MetaMetrics might encourage parents to seek out lexiled materials at the public library, the reality is that most public librarians are not equipped to offer this aid.

As an experienced educator and a librarian, I would think that I am better qualified than most parents to help my own children select lexiled materials for classroom reading.  But ever since my oldest daughter started second grade, this has been a huge frustration for me.  My daughter is a very advanced reader, but she doesn't like anything "scary," and emotionally, she's probably a little below grade level.  So I have an extremely hard time finding anything within her high lexile that has content appropriate to her interests and emotional needs.

Throughout second and third grade, I personally selected her Reading Counts books each quarter (to make sure they were within her lexile and of appropriate emotional content) and then let her do all her pleasure reading below lexile, with books that she was actually interested in.  It was a difficult line to walk.  In fourth grade, she thankfully has a teacher that allows the students to take Reading Counts quizzes with books an accepted "challenge" level of 650L, the content of which is appropriate to grade level. This is nearly 500L lower than my daughter's actual lexile, so she has no problems finding books that she can read and enjoy.

The point to all of this being: MetaMetrics makes it sound like matching students to books within their lexile is a simple task.  In reality, it's not--not for librarians, not for parents.  This reality needs to be taken into consideration when contemplating the system.

"Lexiles at Home."  MetaMetrics, Inc., 2004.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Retrieving: Lexiles in Education

Another article in the blue folder from the 2005 workshop is entitled "Lexiles in Education" and is measured at an 1190L.  It mostly reiterates information from "Lexiles in the Library" and "The Lexile Framework."  However, it did include a small amount of background information on the Lexile system that I found to be interesting.

According to the article:
"The Lexile Foundation has a strong research pedigree.  Beginning with a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Development in 1984, the nationally known psychometric research team at MetaMetrics continually refines the underpinnings of the Lexile Framework.  Lexile measures are the result of more than 20 years of ongoing research" (1).

I had no idea that the Lexile system had been around for so long or was so well-researched.  I was not exposed to it as a student, and I don't remember it ever being mentioned during any of my education courses during my undergraduate program (1997-2001).  As a high school teacher, I never dealt with lexiles.  It was only when my own children entered elementary school that I started to hear about lexile measurements, and even though I was an educator myself, I had to have my children's teachers explain the system to me.  Obviously, though, the Lexile program was around all this time and I was just unaware of it.

"Lexiles in Education."  MetaMetrics, Inc., 2004.

Retrieving: Lexiles in the Library

Another article that I found in the blue folder from the Lexile training in March of 2005 is entitled "Lexiles in the Library" and was also published by MetaMetrics.  This article is measured 1400L.  It reiterated much of the information from "The Lexile Framework" but did include a few interesting new points.  These included:

* "Tens of thousands of books and tens of millions of articles have Lexile measures.  More than 450 publishers Lexile their titles, and the nation's largest periodical database services use Lexile measures for newspaper and magazine articles" (1).
The database services they are referring to are EBSCO and ProQuest.
If these were the numbers in 2004, just imagine how high the counts must be now!

* There is a free Lexile Book Database where parents and educators can look up the level of virtually any book.  The article suggests labeling books with Lexile measures to help students select books at their appropriate reading levels.  In my library, over half of the collection is labeled in this way, demonstrating that someone once undertook this project.

* The article also suggests using the Lexile Book Database to "create booklists within a student's Lexile range" to help "guide student reading selections" (2).  I have never seen a teacher do this, but it seems that this type of individual attention would actually allow for those missing elements of student interest and maturity level and would be the ideal way to use the system.

"Lexiles in the Library."  MetaMetrics, Inc., 2004.

Reflecting: The Lexile Framework

After reading "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success" in its entirety, I reflected on the knowledge I had gained about the Lexile system.

First, I think it is extremely important to realize that Lexile measurements are based solely on word frequency and sentence length, both of which are measured by a computerized system.  The Lexile system has no way of taking into account the age-appropriateness of a text, so Lexiles cannot be used to measure whether a text is too emotionally mature for a reader (or, inversely, far too simplistic).  Furthermore, the Lexile system does not take reader interest level into account at all.  Any experienced teacher knows that students are far more likely to "latch in" to high-interest texts, no matter the difficulty level.

In my own library, I often have students ask to check out books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  These books measure in the 900-1000L range.  Sometimes it takes younger students a couple of weeks to get through a lengthy book, but they always come back with faces glowing, telling me that they "loved it."  A few teachers, however, will not allow their students to check out these high-interest reads, saying, "Those are too far above your lexile" or "Those are too hard for you" and directing their students to the early-readers instead (200-300L).  I never see the same enthusiasm out of these students as I do from the students who rise to the challenge of a book they are truly interested in.  So while I understand that text complexity is an important consideration when selecting a text for a student, I don't think it should be the only criterion.

Furthermore, I'm not convinced that extracting slices from a lengthy text will always lead to an accurate measure of the text complexity overall.  And arbitrarily subtracting 120L from picture books and short nonfiction texts seems to be far from a perfect system.

Given these shortcomings, I would definitely argue with the assumption that a book more than 50L above a student's measured level, "the level of challenge is likely to be too great for the student to be able to construct very much meaning from the text."

I agree with the idea that Lexile measurements are helpful to students, teachers, and parents because they allow communication about student ability without falling back on statements about "at, above, or below" grade level.  However, I think there are also other systems that achieve this result.

As I begin my research, I think that the Lexile system probably started as a good idea (providing accurate measures of student reading ability and matching students to appropriate texts), but I question its measurement techniques and don't think that necessarily used correctly in today's classrooms.

Lennon, Colleen and Hal Burdick.  "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success."  MetaMetrics, Inc., 2004.

Retrieving: The Lexile Framework

Today I began to comb more closely through the contents of the files I found in my office.  I started by reading "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success" by Colleen Lennon and Hal Burdick, copyrighted by MetaMetrics in April 2004.  Interestingly, MetaMeterics labels all of their materials with the lexile level.  Lennon and Burdick's article rates 1350L.

Obviously, because this article was written by MetaMetrics (the developers of the Lexile program), it is clearly skewed in favor of lexile use.  It makes statements like, "Implementation of the Lexile Framework has led to reading success and improved reading enjoyment at all levels of proficiency" (3).  I'll be interested to see if they can in any way prove that "improved reading enjoyment."  Based on my own experiences and the anecdotes told by my colleagues and parents than I know personally, it seems that lexiles have served to frustrated students more than improve their enjoyment.

This document contained an explanation of the basics of the lexile system, some of which I had come to understand through hands-on use but had never had formally explained.  Other parts were brand-new information to me.  Some significant points include:

* "When reader and text are appropriately matched, a reader can enjoy a comprehension rate of about 75 percent.  The 75-percent comprehension level corresponds to that balance of skill and difficulty that allows reading to a positive but adequately challenging experience, and encourages the reader to grow in proficiency and motivation" (3).

* "A unique feature of the Lexile Framework is that both student ability and text difficulty are measured on the same scale, in the same units, which are called Lexiles. . . . By putting readers and texts on the same scale, Lexiles allow readers to make consistent and highly accurate book selection judgments" (3-4).

* "Lexile measures are based on two factors: Word frequency and sentence length, which are more formally called semantic difficulty and syntactic complexity" (4).

* "It should be noted that word frequency is not the number of times a word appears in a specific passage, but the frequency of the word in the corpus of nearly 600-million words that is employed by the Lexile Analyzer" (4).

* "Long sentences are likely to contain more clauses, and therefore communicate not only more information and ideas, but also an interrelationship between them.  Researchers also speculate that longer sentences require the reader to retain more information in short-term memory.  Sentence length is a powerful indicator of the syntactic complexity of a passage" (5).

* "The Lexile Analyzer is the engine that powers the Lexile Framework.  It is a software program designed to evaluate the reading demand, or readability, of books and test items.. . . . The Lexile Analyzer measures text by breaking down the entire piece and studying its characteristics, such as sentence length and word frequency, which represent the syntactic and semantic challenges that a text presents to a reader.  The outcome is the reading difficulty, expressed as a Lexile, along with information on the word count, mean sentence length, and mean log frequency" (5).

* "Longer sentence lengths and words of lower frequency lead to higher Lexile measurements; shorter sentence lengths and words of higher frequency lead to lower Lexile measures.  Texts such as lists, recipes, poetry and song lyrics are not analyzed because they lack conventional punctuation" (5).

* "During the calibration process, the Lexile Analyzer extracts slices from the text.  A slice is a piece of text containing a minimum of 125 words.  If the 125th word falls within a sentence, the Lexile Analyzer continues adding words until it finds the sentence-ending punctuation." (6)  The Lexiles of various slices of a text are averaged to assign a Lexile to the text as a whole.

* "Lexile text measures above 200L are based solely on semantic difficulty and syntactic complexity.  When determining the Lexile measure of a text that was designed for emergent, early and transitional readers (generally below 200L), other characteristics of the text must also be considered" (6).

* Concerning fiction picture books: "Since the reader has two modes of receiving the information--text and illustration--students may be able to read more difficult books that provide the scaffolding necessary to overcome difficult text.  Therefore, when calibrating the Lexile measure of a fiction picture book, 120L is subtracted from the initial Lexile measure of the text based on the semantic and syntactic features of the text" (6).

* Concerning nonfiction books with less than 500 words: "Books with less than 500 words are designed for emergent readers.  These books are often written in a style that is not found elsewhere--considerable repetition of words and/or phrases, long sentences that include definitions (almost a dictionary format), and pronunciation cues of new and/or difficult vocabulary.  When calibrating the Lexile measure  of a nonfiction book with less than 500 words, 120L is subtracted from the initial Lexile measure of the text based on the semantic and syntactic features of the text" (7).

* "The student's Lexile measure establishes a range of readability levels, which extends about 50L above and 100L below the student's measure on the Lexile scae.  Considering the 1000L student as an example, he or she would have a reading range of between 900L and 1050L. If the student attempts material above 1050L, the level of challenge is likely to be too great for the student to be able to construct very much meaning from the text.  Likewise, material below 900L will provide that student with little comprehension challenge" (9).

* "One important way that Lexiles enhance the educational environment is by allowing a student's Lexile range to be communicated without the stigma often attached to grade-level assessments.  Teachers and students can set goals for reading achievement using numbers that apply equally well to the student and the text; and parents can receive reading lists and other support materials that help them encourage their children's development" (11).

Lennon, Colleen and Hal Burdick.  "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success."  MetaMetrics, Inc., 2004.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Retrieving: Searching My Files... and a Surprising Discovery

Still stumped about the lexile system's background with my personal school, I searched the filing cabinets in my office.  I have all of the previous librarian's files and wondered if I could find something helpful.  Sure enough, I found an old folder labeled "student lexiles" tucked deep within a bottom drawer.

The file contains mostly materials published by MetaMetrics, who I gather to be the creators of the Lexile system.  The file also contains some materials from NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association), designed to help teachers select materials within appropriate lexiles.

All of the materials in the file were copyrighted between 2003 and 2006.  My most interesting find was a blue folder containing notes from a training session on "The Lexile Framework as an Approach for Reading Measurement and Success."  This folder contained handouts, printouts from a PowerPoint presentation, and even some handwritten notes.  The folder and its contents are dated March 11, 2005.

I still don't know who attended this training or took the notes, but finding the folder confirms that the lexile system was in use even before my predecessor started her job as the school librarian.  In fact, it seems that this training session and notes predate the school itself.  My school opened in January of 2006, so it seems that someone in my school district made the decision to use lexiles to measure student reading level over 10 years ago, before my particular school even opened.

This is especially interesting to me, because it explains a lot about why the teachers at my own school have so little "skin in the game" when it comes to the subject of lexile use.  The decision to use this system predates every single employee at our school.  Likewise, the decision predates our principal (who was hired three years ago) and our superintendent (who was hired six months ago).

As far as I can tell, we've all be using this system because it was what was in place when we were hired, not because it's necessarily the best or the most effective.  This makes me really excited about my project, because it feels far more likely that my work could have real and lasting consequences for my students, the teachers, and the school.