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The case for an international reading standard

Laura Bush, Programme Manager of Global Services at MetaMetrics, explains how to support child reading development

Posted by Lucinda Reid | December 19, 2017 | School life

Often we find literacy conversations centred on global rankings in international education benchmarks, like PISA. However, the results provide little actionable information for participating countries that each have their own approaches to reading instruction and assessment. Even within a single country, there may not be agreement on the best methods of reading instruction, let alone what reading materials to use. This is the case in the UK, where schools within the same local authority may use different reading schemes and assessments, which makes interpreting child related performance data and the evaluation of progress difficult. How is a teacher to measure progress when everyone is using a different scale?

Connecting children with appropriate books and gauging reading growth is a challenge when assessments and publishers have their own interpretations for ‘on target’ and ‘excelling’, or ‘easy’ and ‘hard’. Rather than focusing on one country’s place to another’s, perhaps attention should be first given to ensuring that educators, administrators, and children are using a shared metric that enable wise decision-making. After all, our common goal is to make the best choices we can for children’s education.

Save the Children’s ‘Lessons in Literacy: 8 Principles to ensure every last child can read’ campaign highlighted the need to invest in data collection to allow us to assess and track literacy growth, support our understanding of students’ needs and tailor lessons accordingly. In this increasingly connected world, adopting a universal reading standard could not only help us to meaningfully track reading progress globally, but could offer children a new way to engage with their reading and learning.

Robin Hunt, Publishing Director at Scholastic Education, commented: “Finding the right book for the right child is, as all teachers know, incredibly important for motivation, progression and success. Children who feel successful about their reading experience are more likely to feel positive about their education experiences overall.”

Having that confidence is key for supporting a child’s reading development, but it also reduces the time teachers will spend assessing reading ability and trying to match a child’s reading level to books

A universal reading scale, the Lexile Framework, is already used around the world to both measure reading performance and measure the difficulty of text. How is it being used in the UK? Publishers Scholastic Education and Rising Stars UK have been applying Lexile® measures to their reading materials in order to measure the complexity of their texts, as well as to give teachers a powerful tool for differentiating instruction. They can see a future in the UK where teachers and children will know their own Lexile learner measure for tracking growth and can use the Lexile text measures to make even better book choices. This is already the case internationally: a child can take his or her Lexile measure and apply it to any reading material that has also been measured – wherever they may be.

Robin added: “At Scholastic, we use Lexile measures in our Reading Pro digital programme, to go to the heart of finding the right book for each child. This measure is incredibly important in giving teachers and children confidence that they will be able to successfully access the text.” 

Having that confidence is key for supporting a child’s reading development, but it also reduces the time teachers will spend assessing reading ability and trying to match a child’s reading level to books. With a universal standard, you have a powerful tool. Therefore, when new children arrive in school or at key transition points, teachers won’t have to spend fruitless hours attempting to convert student performance data to a different metric. Those transitions become seamless. It saves time and is more accurate.

Helen Parker, publisher for Rising Stars UK, commented: “Through our teacher  focus groups we’ve had really positive feedback on Lexile measures and they seemed particularly impressed with the reading progression charts. The key is for teachers to recognise measurements shouldn’t be used in isolation and that there is value in colour bands like our Reading Planet scheme being used in tandem with quantitative Lexile measures to support progress.”

Colour bookbands are especially valuable for teachers to introduce new skills and ensure children are getting adequate exposure to the right types of material at the right time.  However, Lexile measures provide quantitative reassurance for teachers responsible for assessing growth and connecting children with the right books.

Helen continued: “I think a universal reading standard could really support teachers in engaging children with their reading. If we take a quantitative approach, we can be more accurate in providing children with books levelled for their abilities. Text complexity varies within book bands as they are measured by qualitative measures, whereas Lexile measures use computer-generated analysis of text complexity.”

The process is more visible for children, but more accurate too.

As publishers and book suppliers in the UK increasingly use the Lexile Framework more content becomes available and we too can be part of the effort driving for effective literacy development.

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