Lexile Level Is NOT Text Complexity CCSS.R.10

This Tweet  from #tcrwp (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) on August 15th caught my eye.  A quick glance at the twitter stream confirmed that it came from Stephanie Harvey’s keynote (sigh of envy across the miles).

@amandalah: Careful of lexile: Harry potter, old man & the sea &Alexander & the horrible no good very bad day. All similar lexile. #TCRWP

Hmmm. . .  Harry Potter, Old Man and the Sea, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day are three distinctly different texts that have similar lexile levels!

Was I interested?  Yes!

Did I independently check?  Yes!

Those three books are typically read by readers at these levels:

  • Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, Very Bad, No Good Day  –  primary grades
  • Harry Potter  –  upper elementary grades
  • Old Man and the Sea  –  high school

But yet they all three have similar lexile levels!  Would that still be where those texts would be read?  Or has that expectation changed with the adoption of the Common Core?

The initial connection to Stephanie Harvey was further confirmed in Twitterverse later:


So what is a lexile?   And just how is a lexile determined?

The Lexile Framework® for Reading claims to measure a student’s reading ability based on actual assessment, rather than a generalized age or grade level.  It uses a common, developmental scale to match a reader with books, articles and other resources at the right level of difficulty. The Lexile Framework was developed by MetaMetrics®, an educational measurement and research organization that purports to use scientific measures of student achievement to link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.  To date, more than 115,000 books and 80 million articles have Lexile measures, and the number of resources with Lexile measures continues to grow.

HOWEVER, CCSS.R.10 does not use Lexiles alone as a single measure of Text Complexity.  ALL CCSS documents include a three-pronged approach to complexity as evidenced by this graphic and explanation:


The Common Core specifically says that there are “three equally important parts.”  A lexile measure does not equal text complexity. There are many ways to determine which texts are appropriate for specific grade levels or bands.  Quantitative factors (#2 above) seem to be the easiest to measure.  An addendum to Appendix A suggests that two quantitative measures be used for comparison.  That would mean that Lexiles AND a grade level equivalent could both be considered for a more general “quantitative measure.”  Then qualitative facets would be explored like theme, structure and knowledge demands.  Finally the Reader and Task considerations would be reviewed.

Additional information about text complexity is easily located.  Sarah Brown Wessling’s,  “Teacher of the Year,” viewpoint of text complexity is available at Teaching Channel.

 So just how do these three books compare when looking at multiple data points?


Which elements of text complexity are you considering when selecting text?
What examples of “Out of Whack Lexiles” have you found?

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Addition/ Update =  08.17.13:
  • Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 610L.
  • Twilight garners a Lexile score of 720.
  • A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway 730L.
  • Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8, has a Lexile score of 860.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid has 1000L.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville has a Lexile of 1200.
  • The Wee Little Woman is a board book by Byron Barton and has a Lexile of 1300.

**According to Titlewave:
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid 950
Fahrenheit 451                   890
Gossip Girl                           820
The Great Gilly Hopkins    800

From @AliBuzzell  new resource on 08.21.13  tweentribune.com/readrank Thanks, Ali!
@doctordea   Brief white paper:  The Lexile Framework:   https://connect.ebsco.com/s/article/The-Lexile-Framework-A-MetaMetrics-White-Paper?language=en_US

Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer/2012/07/guess_my_lexile.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW


Updated March 25, 2018

22 responses

  1. A clear and immediately engaging explanation of the truth: Lexiles alone do not tell the story. Thanks, Fran.

    1. Thanks, Sarah!
      The whole notion of matching texts and readers is complicated if one desires a number or a formula to do the work. However, it is simplified by handing a book to a student or reading part of the book to a student!

  2. Thanks for this great post! Lexiles are so misleading! The middle school ELA teachers and I went through the process of using the qualitative rubric to evaluate The Book Thief. We were in complete agreement that this is a complex text that we only consider using with 8th graders. But when we checked the lexile, we were flabbergasted to discover that its lexile is 730. “Out of whack” for sure! We all agreed that using the rubric was a useful, if time consuming, process. We also decided to trust our judgement and not to make decisions based on lexiles levels alone.

    1. Catherine,
      Wise choice not to use “lexiles” alone! You are correct in thinking that Book Thief is complex and an 8th grade placement has been confirmed by other teachers. I love Stephanie Harvey’s “Out of Whack” phrase! Then my brain goes to that silly “Whack a Mole” game and of course, I am just laughing out loud. I appreciate your comment! Keep up the good work because you are on the right track!

  3. […] This Tweet yesterday from #tcrwp (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) caught my eye. A quick glance at the twitter stream confirmed that it came from Stephanie Harvey's keynote (sigh of …  […]

  4. Thank you, Fran! A good primer on Lexiles to teachers in search of a text! I spoke at a Common Core Conference in June and while there, sat in on a informal presentation by Malbert Smith, developer of the Lexile Framework and MetaMetrics President. He shared with us that one of the most distinguishing aspects of the algorithm determining Lexile ratings was the appearance of rare words in a text. So while many think it is about word and sentence length, it is really about the frequency of a word in a corpus of 6 million words used by the analyzer. Semantic difficulty paired with syntactic complexity determines Lexile levels. The reason novels are relatively low in the Lexile ratings is because they contain dialogue which is usually comprised of conversational language and not rare words. In a bit of fun, he shared some very short words with us and showed how quickly their inclusion can change a Lexile rating. Good stuff to know.

  5. You are welcome, Dea, and thanks for your comments!

    I remember using an Apple IIe with readability formulas many years ago. When we typed in proper nouns or adjectives that were “rare words” we were to put a “#” in front of them so they did not “artificially raise the readability level” of the text. That meant an article about Peru would have excluded some words like #Peru, #Peruvians, #Andes that would have been very content specific for that text. I wonder if that “corpus of 6 million words” is more about Tier 2 (Beck) words and not the more content specific vocabulary words. (Not a clue – just thinking/wondering on the blog here!)

    1. The examples Malbert offered were Tier 2…but let me see what I can find out!

  6. […] The Common Core specifically says that there are “three equally important parts.”Quantitative Dimensions – Can students read it?Qualitative Dimensions – Should students read it?Reader and Task Considerations – Do students want to read it?  […]

  7. […] The Common Core specifically says that there are “three equally important parts” of text complexity:Quantitative Dimensions – Can students read it?Qualitative Dimensions – Should students read it?Reader and Task Considerations – Do students want to read it?  […]

  8. Great explanation of misleading lexile levels – we must use caution when referring to those conversion charts.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anna. This is also why it is so critical that teachers, administrators, and community members KNOW exactly what the Core says. It is too easy to rely on others without checking the facts/ evidence!

  9. […] 7. Lexile Level Is NOT Text Complexity CCSS.R.10 […]

  10. A year later and it is still a battle to make people understand you can not teach from Lexile alone. Now that the school is “graded” based on how many students read at a certain Lexile level at a certain grade level, the battle is almost unbeatable. Almost.

    1. It’s amazing that a “three-sided” approach to text complexity can be reduced down to a Lexile level. Keep fighting the good fight as that is NOT what the Common Core says nor what was intended!

      One test on one day does not mean the student is really a specific Lexile Level! (But you know that! That’s why you are here!)

      1. Have you ever gotten an answer on HOW Lexile is determined from the standardized test? How do they calculate a child’s Lexile based on the test score? I’ve asked. I’ve researched. There are theories but no real “this is how we do it”.

  11. […] of text complexity.  There are three components of text complexity and the basic triangle has been included here before. It’s not just lexile levels and there are many “mis-matches” listed in […]

  12. […] Lexile Level is NOT text complexity CCSS.R.10  […]

  13. […]  2.  Lexile Level is NOT Text Complexity (2013) […]

  14. […] most popular blog post is “Lexile Level is NOT Text Complexity CCSS.R.10” and it looks like this.  It’s almost five years old so it’s time to revisit and […]

  15. […] 3.  Lexile Level is NOT Text Complexity (2013) […]

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