The Lexile and the Literature
This last week or so, it hit the attention of the blogosphere that schools are going to be using the lexile scores of books to match students up with literature that should be taught to them. Then someone realized that the Grapes of Wrath had a lower score than Hunger Games, and the outrage was heard.
So what is the Lexile? According to the official website, “The idea behind The Lexile Framework for Reading is simple: if we know how well a student can read and how hard a specific book is to comprehend, we can predict how well that student will likely understand the book.” So it’s a tool to help match individual readers with books that meet them on their level? hold, on, not so fast… The Grapes of Wrath is not a book a younger child than could enjoy Hunger Games is likely to comprehend, and it has nothing to do with the language, but the concepts laid out in the book. When I tried to figure out exactly what is used to give a book it’s score, the description becomes coy, no doubt intended to protect the system used. “Generally, longer sentences and words of lower frequency lead to higher Lexile ® measures; shorter sentences 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.”
They go on to say that they use text chunks of about 1000 words to determine the scores, which doesn’t reassure me at all. In any given novel there are things like dialogue and exposition that may alter the score from place to place. For instance, Vulcan’s Kittens scores an 800L with a 620 word snippet from a mythological-being heavy bit of text, and a 720L from the part where Linn is fleeing in terror, certain two of her kittens have been killed in an explosion. That particular scene had my daughter comign to me in near-tears, asking if the kittens were ok. I spoilered the story for her and assured her that although not yet written, they were fine.
The process of getting those scores for my book was interesting. It took me a while, and biting the bullet to register with the site (which does not offer an “author” role, so I chose to call myself a reseacher for the purposes of what I was doing) to get those results. Books that score low on the scale include Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the afore-mentioned Grapes of Wrath, and Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. Recommended reading level for lexile
scores results below 820? Third Grade. So a fourth grader would be denied the pleasure of reading Charlotte’s Web (680L), and if for some reason they wanted to read my book Vulcan’s Kittens, it would also be off limits, although I wrote it for a sixth-grader. Blaine Greetemen, in the article I linked above, ends with musing “It’s this kind of thinking that makes us “humans” rather than mere “machines.” At least, as I pass his house on the way back home, I think that this is what Vonnegut would have said, although he ironically lets an alien voice the sentiment inSlaughterhouse Five: “What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”
To determine what the student should be reading, test results are interpreted to give a lexile level, but not a score, no matter what everyone else on the internet calls it, because a score is a bad word, evidently. Scholastic makes this clear: It is important to note it is never called a score! This encourages student achievement. ” Students don’t get this, sadly, and they will judge themselves on how high or low their ‘score’ is. I know this from my own kids. I came across an odd, poignant blog poem while researching for this article, Lamentations from the Lex-Aisle, that sums it up pretty well. Kids want to read what they want to read, not what they are required to read. Letting them loose, giving them a little nudge with books tailored to their tastes but perhaps challenging… this is the way to grow a life-long reader, not numbers and tests and (oh horrors!) scores.