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A basic guide to text complexity in the Common Core
THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2015 17:26 PM

For both literature and informational texts at every grade level, the Common Core lists a Standard it calls "Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity." As the Standards progress through grade levels, they require students to read more difficult books. But how can teachers discern how complex a text is, especially if it isn't recommended by the Common Core? Luckily, the CCSS also defines its methods for determining text complexity, using three factors: quantitative evaluation, qualitative evaluation and matching reader to text and task. Here's a basic breakdown of each of these factors:

Quantitative evaluation
Quantitative evaluation is the first part of text complexity, and it's characterized by factors like the number of words, word frequency and sentence length in a book or piece of reading. The idea is that the longer the words and sentences are, the more complex the text is. However, this isn't always the case, which is why the other two factors of text complexity are just as important. Quantitative evaluation of a text is difficult to do without technological help, so Appendix A of the Common Core suggests using formulas like the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test or the Lexile Framework for Reading (but it does say not to rely on them completely when choosing texts for a curriculum). 

Qualitative evaluation
Unlike quantitative evaluation, the qualitative merits of a text can be decided upon by an educator. Qualitative factors include things like how many levels of meaning the text has, its structure, its language conventionality and its knowledge demands. Texts with several layers of meaning and an uncommon or unique structure (say one that manipulates time with flashbacks) are thought to be more complex, as are readings with unconventional or figurative language use and those that require the reader to have some level of prior knowledge about a certain subject. 

Matching reader to text and task
The final factor of determining text complexity is how well the book connects with the reader and the task at hand. Teachers should consider the students' current reading capabilities, knowledge and motivation. Texts should also be chosen based on how they align with a specific task - is the book going to push younger children to learn higher-level vocabulary? Or, is it an informational text used by already skilled high schoolers to gain more knowledge about a subject? According to Appendix A, this last factor relies on educators' professional judgment and experience to choose texts that are right for their classes.