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    With the Help of Student Achievement Partners, National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers Declare Computers Better than Teachers at Choosing Books
    Note: 8/20/2012
    I received an e-mail from Renaissance Learning informing me that their press release was in error. They actually have 70,000 nonfiction titles, as well as "over 150,000 quizzes."

    Not a word about William Faulkner for 4th graders.


    by Susan Ohanian

    So Renaissance Learning sends out this press release, to be picked up by newspapers that don't have enough staff left to cover education and investigate the Common Core State [sic] Standards. I blame Renaissance Learning, Inc. for plenty but not for the press release below. They are a for-profit institution, and this is what for-profit people do. At least the Sacramento Bee clearly labeled the source of this information. I blame the crew who labeled the Renaissance Learning Accelerated Reader readability formula as "a valid, reliable measure of test complexity."

    And for that we go to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers who issued Supplemental Information for Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy: New Research on Text Complexity

    Remember: In 2005, the NGA received $19,895,248 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to push the Common Core. The Council of Chief State School Officers received $25,000,000 in 2004, $21,642,317 in 2007, and numerous smaller awards. And for public relations purposes, they always label this a "state effort."

    And guess who participated in this "new research" that is now a part of Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy? Student Achievement Partners, the outfit founded by Common Core architect, author, and consultant David Coleman, who now heads College Board. This education entrepreneur lists his teaching experience as tutoring when he was at Yale.

    In 2012 Student Achievement Partners has received $18 million from the General Electric Foundation "to assist states nationwide in implementing the Common Core State Standards" and $4,042,920 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "to support teachers nationwide in understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards"--plus another $2,490,430 "to grow capacity to support teachers and to strengthen operations."

    In fulfilling their obligations to General Eelectric and the Gates Foundation, Student Achievement Partners "assembled the contents of the site Achieve the Core, which offers a Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions for Close Analytic Reading as well as a library of Close Reading Exemplars. Proceed at your own risk.

    According to the NGA/CCSSO statement: "The research that has yielded additional information and validated these text measurement tools was led by Jessica Nelson of Carnegie Mellon University, Charles Perfetti of University of Pittsburgh and David and Meredith Liben of Student Achievement Partners (in association with Susan Pimentel, lead author of the CCSS for ELA)."

    Susan Pimentel trained as a lawyer, and a recent gig participating in the new Stanford University enterprise Understanding Language, where she co-authored a Gates-commissioned paper on teaching English Language Learners.

    David and Meredith Liben describe their road to systematic phonics here and offer webinars on text complexity through ASCD, recipient in 2011 of $3,024,695 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "to provide teachers and school leaders with specific information about the Common Core Standards, to develop and deliver technical assistance for purposes of successful implementation of the Standards at the district, school, and classroom levels."

    Jessica Nelson has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and, with Charles Perfetti has written on the neural basis of reading. Perfetti, also a psychologist, describes his research: "Comparisons of Chinese and English word identification processes are the heart of this empirical program and recent papers develop a theoretical model of Chinese word identification."

    Here's the definitive statement about text complexity from the Governors and Chief State School Officers, who explain that "The full report, Measures of Text Difficulty, and other resources, can be accessed on http://www.achievethecore.org/text-complexity."


    The quantitative dimension of text complexity refers to those aspects--such as word frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion (to name just three)--that are difficult for a human reader to evaluate when examining a text. These factors are more efficiently measured by computer programs. The creators of several of these quantitative measures volunteered to take part in a research study comparing the different measurement systems against one another. The goal of the study was to provide state of the science information regarding the variety of ways text complexity can be measured quantitatively and to encourage the development of text complexity tools that are valid, transparent, user friendly, and reliable. The six different computer programs that factored in the research study are:

  • ATOS by Renaissance Learning

  • Degrees of Reading Power® (DRP®) by Questar Assessment, Inc.

  • Flesch-Kincaid (public domain)

  • The Lexile® Framework For Reading by MetaMetrics

  • Reading Maturity by Pearson Education

  • SourceRater by Educational Testing Service


  • Note: These factors are more efficiently measured by computer programs. Of course teachers sometimes find readability formulas somewhat helpful in their work with children. But in the end, choosing a book must be a negotiation between the child, the teacher, and the book. Behavioral psychology and computer science be damned.

    In the end, teachers can't rely on readability formulas, and here's why. Renaissance Learning's ATOS, one of the computer programs factored into the study touted by the Gates lapdogs, offers Accelerated Reader, reading management software that promises teachers an easy way to let computers measure and keep track of what students read. This means that students must choose books in a computer-determined Zone, say, Grade 3.5 to 4.0. The student reads the book and takes a computer-delivered multiple choice test. The test results dictate the reading Zone allowed for her next book choice. Zones are determined by a readability formula that counts syllables and sentence length--resulting in the "valid and reliable" determination that The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Color Purple both have a text complexity of grade 4.

    With over 100,000 titles in Accelerated Reader's data bank, there's lots to be discovered about a marketplace approach to literacy. The sample titles below show children's classics marching right alongside adult titles: Pulitzer Prize winners, bestsellers, and bodice rippers. Perhaps Faulkner in fourth grade is just the logical extension of the national mania for eliminating recess and instituting Pre-K reading requirements. Here's a sample of a few books classified according to the AR system:

  • Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit AR level: 4.0


  • Alice Walker. The Color Purple, AR Level: 4.0


  • H. A. Rey, Curious George Rides a Bike AR Level: 4.0


  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury AR level 4.4


  • E. B. White, Charlotte's Web AR Level: 4.4



  • With 93,000 of their 100,000 titles being fiction, Accelerated Reader must be sweating bullets to get in line with the Common Core exaltation of nonfiction.

    I've done a good deal of research on the Accelerated Reader system, which you can find at Accelerated Reader: The Data Softshoe .


    PRESS RELEASE: Common Core State Standards confirm ATOS readability formula as a reliable, valid text complexity measure
    By Renaissance Learning, Inc.


    WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis., Aug. 17, 2012 -- /PRNewswire/ -- In a supplement to Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards, Renaissance Learning's ATOS readability formula is listed as a valid, reliable measure of text complexity as required by the Common Core State Standards. The supplement was jointly released by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association on August 15 on the core standards.org website.

    The supplement was spurred by an independent study, "Measures of Text Difficulty: Testing Their Predictive Value for Grade Level and Performance." Conducted by the non-profit Student Achievement Partners, the study evaluated existing text complexity measures already in use in K12 schools to determine if the metrics support the goals of CCSS English Language Arts requirements.

    ATOS, available for use at no charge, provides a quantitative measure to help educators determine the text complexity level of books and other materials. ATOS is reported on a grade-level scale so that both student achievement and books share the same easy-to-interpret metric, and is incorporated into the company's flagship Accelerated Reader (AR) program.

    "The supplement to Appendix A is an evolution of the Common Core Standards. Just as initially intended, the standards will continue to evolve as the latest research emerges to best direct student outcomes," said Glenn R. James, Renaissance Learning Chief Executive Officer. "We're happy this addition reflects evidence that educators can trust--they can utilize ATOS as a measure of text complexity."

    Renaissance Learning has also made a number of recent enhancements to its AR BookFinder book searching tool--one of the largest collections of quantitative and qualitative text complexity information available at www.arbookfind.com. Educators can now conduct searches for book titles listed in CCSS Appendix B: Text Exemplars. In addition, the company's What Kids Are Reading 2012 report's nonfiction lists were added as search criteria so that parents and educators can guide students to appropriate nonfiction books of interest, helping satisfy the CCSS reading requirements. AR BookFinder includes nearly 7,000 nonfiction titles across all content areas.

    Renaissance Learning, an Endorsing Partner of the Common Core State Standards, offers a Text Complexity and Common Core State Standards Resource Center to help educators put the text complexity components of the CCSS into practice. In addition to links to the Student Achievement Partner's study, a number of free videos, white papers and other tools are available in the resource center.

    About Renaissance Learning, Inc.

    Renaissance Learning is a leading provider of technology-based school improvement and student assessment programs for K12 schools. Renaissance Learning's tools provide daily formative assessment and periodic progress-monitoring technology to enhance core curriculum, support differentiated instruction, and personalize practice in reading, writing, and math. Renaissance Learning products help educators make the practice component of their existing curriculum more effective by providing tools to personalize practice and easily manage the daily activities for students of all levels. As a result, teachers using Renaissance Learning products accelerate learning, get more satisfaction from teaching, and help students achieve higher test scores on state and national tests.

    SOURCE Renaissance Learning, Inc.

    — Susan Ohanian commentary
    Renaissance Learning
    August 17, 2012
    http://www.sacbee.com/2012/08/17/4734501/common-core-state-standards-confirm.html


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