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Common Core Standards Response to Intervention (RtI) Special Education ELL/ESL/Dual-Language Classrooms At Home Training

Common Core State Standards

Text Complexity

What Is Text Complexity?

Text complexity is what the term implies: how challenging is the material for the child at their specific grade level. The Common Core State Standards use three factors to determine the complexity of a text:
  • Qualitative Measures
  • Quantitative Measures
  • Considerations relating to the reader and task
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Qualitative measures examine text attributes that can only be evaluated by the person that is reading the book or passage. The reader is required to consider such factors as:

Levels of meaning:

  • Is the purpose explicitly stated or is it vague?
  • Does it have a single level of meaning vs. multiple purposes?

Clarity and conventions of language:

  • Is the language clear or is it vague and purposefully misleading?
  • Is the language contemporary and familiar or is it unfamiliar and archaic?
  • Is the text conversational or academic?
  • Is there wide use of figurative language, idiomatic expressions, etc.?
  • Is the text cohesive or does it lack cohesion?

Knowledge demands:

  • Is it a single-themed text and relatively simple as opposed to multiple-themed and complex?
  • Does the text deal with common everyday experiences or does it present experiences that are likely vastly different from those of the reader?
  • Is the text presented from single or multiple perspectives? Are there frequent changes in the setting? How many, if any, references to other texts does the text contain?


  • How is the text organized — chronologically or in another logical fashion?
  • Is the text randomly arranged with complex and loosely connected content?
  • Does the structure and organization make sense?
  • Are sections and features clearly labeled?
  • Is the text free from unnecessary distractions?

Visual device complexity:

  • Are graphical devices relatively simple or are they complex?
  • Are the graphics more "for show" rather than necessary to help the student understand the material being presented?

Quantitative measures are what publishers traditionally relied upon to determine the difficulty of a text. There are dozens of formulas used to figure text difficulty. Many of these formulas consider only two factors: sentence length and the number of difficult or unfamiliar words or they look at sentence length and syllable count. Needless to say, these factors are fairly limiting when it comes to determining the complexity of a text.

Considerations relating to the reader and tasks is the vital third component. Each reader brings different skills, background, and motivation to the act of reading. For example, a student who is interested in the topic being read is likely to bring more background knowledge to the reading task and want to learn more.

The importance of the assignment itself can also influence the reading activity. Skimming a book or article for a key piece of information or reading leisurely places less demand on the reading task than if a student is preparing for an exam, assembling a piece of equipment, or reading for long-term retention.

Become your school's Text Complexity expert, attend our free webinar

Each month, all year long, we'll be focusing on one key Common Core topic. From Informational Text and Close Reading to Foundational Skills and Text Complexity, we'll be covering what you need to know.

Why Is Text Complexity An Issue?

Over the past 50 years the text that students have encountered in middle and high school had decreased in complexity, while textbooks in colleges, universities, and the workplace have become more complex. As a result too many students graduating from high school lack sufficient skills required to comprehend the text they encounter in college and the workplace. The authors of the Common Core State ELA Standards have taken steps to ensure that greater attention is paid to gradually increasing the complexity of the text students read and comprehend as they move through school.

How Does Learning A-Z Address Text Complexity?

Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids

Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids offer books designed and written to 29 levels of difficulty. Great care has been taken to analyze each and every book using multiple quantitative and qualitative factors. Teachers can present these materials with confidence, knowing that each leveled book meets the required Common Core standards.

Here are the factors used in Learning A-Z’s text complexity analysis:

Qualitative Measures

  • Predictability of text
  • Text structure and organization
    • Logical nature of organization
    • Text and feature distractions
    • Labeling and reader supports
  • Illustration support
  • Infographics
    • Complexity
    • Text reliance on
  • Knowledge demands
    • Concept load
    • Familiarity of topic (common everyday vs. unfamiliar)
    • Single vs. multi-themed
    • Intertextual dependence

Quantitative Measures

  • Total word count
  • Number of different words
  • Ratio of different words to total words
  • Number of high-frequency words
  • Ratio of high-frequency words to total words
  • Number of low-frequency words
  • Ratio of low-frequency words to total words
  • Sentence length
  • Sentence complexity
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Science A-Z

Science A-Z has an extensive collection of informational texts written to three levels of difficulty within a grade span. In order to determine the complexity of the text, each book is analyzed by both quantitative and qualitative factors. Resources that come in a range of reading levels within each grade span include:

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Headsprout's reading comprehension sequence teaches comprehension skills across increasingly complex text, from a mid-2nd grade level to a mid-4th grade level. Students are first taught to apply four main comprehension skills literal, inferential, main idea, and derived vocabulary from context to passages at a beginning to mid-2nd grade level. As students demonstrate mastery, the program introduces increasingly complex text that spans literary and informational texts, poetry, as well as visual devices such as Venn diagrams, maps, scales, cross sections, and tables of contents. The text presented in visual devices and text passages increases to a mid-4th grade level and introduces more complex themes alongside longer passages, all the while ensuring successful application of key comprehension strategies.

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