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01.13.20Parents and Educators Should Know: Complex Text is the Gatekeeper to College

My colleague Jen Rugani shared this data with me. It’s really important for educators and parents to see.

It shows scores from seven rounds of the ACT.


When you dis-aggregate the data by the complexity of the text in the passages tested, you can see that students who scored below the ACT reading benchmark were essentially guessing at answers to questions about complex text. Remember it’s a MC test. Straight guessing would get you 25%. A huge swath of students are at or below 30%.

Why does this matter? The ability to read complex text is the gatekeeper to college and schools are often afraid to push students to read challenging texts. They say, “They won’t like it. It’s too hard.” They’re apt to read leveled text instead. They’re apt to argue for choice all the time–let students choose what they read in school and they will love reading.

Result: Children do not learn to struggle with text or develop an ear for complex syntax unless you make it happen as a parent.

If you’re a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is expose them to really challenging text, especially text that is more than 100 years old, even if it means reading aloud to them what they cannot read on their own. And when your school tells you that they are going to help your child choose “just right” texts that they can read independently, your ears should prick up. You should ask: When will they learn to read beyond their comfort zone? When will they read what they don’t already know they can read?

Next week I’m going to start All Creatures Great and Small with my littlest. In a year or two I’m going to read her Lord of the Flies and Oliver Twist. She’s going to love it. And when I’m done reading each of those books to her she will have heard thousands and thousands of sentences of complex, challenging, unfamiliar syntax of the type that she’s not very likely to get in school. I just thought I’d share that. It really matters.

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