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.

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