Selecting the Right Reading Passage for Your Next Assessment

You have just completed a month’s worth of lessons, and now it’s time to measure your students’ progress. When crafting your formative assessment, how will you select the right reading passages to ensure your assessment effectively measures mastery?  

Before selecting texts, consider the three “prongs” of text complexity: quantitative text measures, qualitative text measures, and reader considerations. 

Quantitative Text Measures 

There are many quantitative measures of text complexity, such as Flesch-Kincaid and The Lexile® Framework for Reading by MetaMetrics. Mathematical readability formulas such as these count and calculate running text to assign a grade level or grade band to a text. Quantitative measures of text complexity provide a good starting point for educators, but there is more to a passage then can be described by a single score. Texts should never be selected based on quantitative measures alone. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White has a Lexile measure of 680L and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises has a Lexile measure of 610L. Both measures fall into the recommended range for 2nd – 3rd graders based solely on quantitative factors. 

Qualitative Text Measures  

The qualitative or “human” analysis of a text’s complexity is an essential factor in selecting appropriate texts for formative assessment. An episodic narrative with several complex and nuanced themes told from the perspective of a nameless unreliable narrator is likely much more complex than a chronological narrative with a strong identifiable theme told from the perspective of a well-developed narrator. Text structure, theme(s), setting, literary and rhetorical devices, background knowledge, cultural considerations, and topic sensitivity are all factors that must be analyzed qualitatively. A qualitative analysis of the elements in The Sun Also Rises would eliminate this text as a viable choice for a second or third grade classroom. 

Reader Considerations 

The reader brings herself to the text: her background knowledge, experiences, family life, socioeconomic situation, likes and dislikes, strengths and struggles. Educators know their students best and are the only ones who can fully evaluate this third (and crucial) element of a text’s complexity. By considering the unique needs of the students who will be taking the formative assessment in addition to the quantitative and qualitative factors, educators will be well equipped to make the best possible passage selections for formative assessment.

Putting it All Together 

The Certica Content Products team considers quantitative and qualitative measures before selecting a grade level for a passage in the Navigate Item Bank™. Each reading passage has two quantitative readability measures (Flesh-Kincaid and Lexile), and many passages also have a detailed qualitative readability analysis completed by a content expert. With these quantitative and qualitative considerations combined with the educators’ extensive knowledge about the readers themselves, educators can be confident in the passages they have selected when creating formative assessments using the Navigate Item Bank. 

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