What you might not know about readability testing

There’s a lot to know about tests that measure the difficulty of reading passages.

First, these tests have something in common: they count syllables, words, and sentences in reading passages to come up with an average word and sentence length. These core factors then are used to develop a score that indicates how difficult (or easy) it may be for a reader to comprehend a piece of reading. I say, “may,” because this is not an exact science. But “the application of a useful readability test protocol will give a rough indication of a work’s readability.”

Second, these tests are widely used ─ by publishers, schools, businesses, word processing applications, and parents. Publishers use the readability scores to aim publications at their target readers; schools use them to identify appropriate texts for students; and businesses use them to calibrate the reading level for forms, guidelines, and training manuals that must be comprehended by their workers. Most word processing applications have readability tests built-in as an option for document editing. And parents use them to select appropriate reading materials for their children.

Third, there are several tests out there though two seem to dominate the readability marketplace.

Flesch–Kincaid. Two types of readability tests have been created to indicate how difficult a passage in English is to understand: Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level. Both use word length and sentence length to develop their scores but they use different weighting factors. The Army first used the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease nearly 40 years ago to assess the difficulty of its technical manuals. The U.S. Department of Defense uses this now as the standard test of readability for its documents and forms. Some states have adopted the test in specific industries such as automobile insurance policies to ensure that the reading “ceiling” be no higher than ninth-grade level. The test is bundled with many word processing programs and services such as IBM Lotus Symphony, Microsoft Office Word, WordPerfect, and WordPro.

In Flesch-Kincaid, a higher score indicates material that is easier to read; lower score, more difficult to read. Here are some examples of the approximate readability score for well-known publications or audiences (highest score/easiest is 120):

 * Reader’s Digest magazine = about 65
 * Time magazine = about 52
 * Average student writing assignment grade 6 (age 12) = 60–70; reading grade level of 6-7)
 * Harvard Law Review = low 30s
 * Life insurance policies in Florida = 45 or greater
 * Moby Dick (book) = average 57.9
 * Harry Potter books = average 72.83
 * 2000 articles about people in Wikipedia with most readable about sports people and entertainers, least readable about scientists and philosophers with least readable scientists being economists (41.70), psychologists (42.25), chemists (42.81), mathematicians (43.35)

The Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula is used extensively in the field of education. Scores are presented as a grade level (the number of years of education generally required to understand the text) rather than a readability score. This makes it easier for educators, parents, and others to determine the readability level of reading materials for students.

Lexile. A Lexile is a number score for an individual’s reading ability or a text’s readability. It is represented as a number followed by L for Lexile. There are two types of measures: a reader and a text measure. The scale runs from below zero L to above 2000L. There is no specific bottom or top score though scores of zero L (0L) or below are reported as Beginning Reader.

The Lexile framework emerged over more than a decade of work that began in 1989 to develop a better measurement system for reading and writing. The framework uses quantitative methods based on individual words and sentence lengths rather than qualitative analysis of content to produce readability scores. In the U.S., Lexile scores are reported from school-based reading programs and student assessments annually. About half of U.S. students in grades 3-12 receive a Lexile measure annually. Lexile measures have been adopted by nearly half of the states, school districts in all 50 states, and used outside the U.S.

Lexile scores are used to match readers with books and other reading resources. Both readers and books/other reading resources are assigned a score on the Lexile scale. Lower scores indicate easier readability for reading materials and lower reading ability for readers. [This is opposite from Flesch–Kincaid scores in which higher scores equal easier readability.]

Lexile measures for individuals are typically obtained from a reading comprehension assessment or program. These range from basic early literacy skills to the adult level. Text measures are obtained by analyzing the word frequency and sentence length within a book or article using a software program, the Lexile Analyzer. To date, over 60,000 websites, 115,000 fiction and nonfiction books, and 80 million articles have Lexile measures. Over 150 publishers (e.g., Capstone Publishers, Discovery Ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Pearson PLC, Riverside Publishing, Scholastic Corporation, Simon & Schuster, Workman Publishing Company, and World Book) offer certified Lexile text measures for their materials.

Although there is widespread use of Lexile measures in schools and in publishing, there is no direct correspondence between a Lexile measure and a specific grade level, and there are cautionary views of their use. For example, an evaluation of the Lexile measures in 2001 by the National Center for Educational Statistics “affirmed the value of both sentence length and word frequency” as measures of readability, but the measures do not include factors such as reader knowledge, motivation and interest which also have a major impact on readability.

The Lexile measures, as well as other products and services for reading, math, and writing are created by MetaMetrics®. The North Carolina company focuses on improving education for learners of all ages, developing scientific measures of academic achievement and complementary technologies that link assessment results with real-world instruction. In addition to licensing metrics tools to state departments of education, testing and instructional companies, and publishers, MetaMetrics offers training, resource measurement and customized consulting services. A short video that explains the Lexile is available here: https://lexile.com/pd/video/

Book-Rich Environments Initiative to benefit children

One phrase pulled out of context says so much: “zip codes will not decide our children’s future and fate.”

These words come from Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, in a letter of commendation to the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education. This week the two federal agencies jointly launched the Book-Rich Environments Initiative with the aim to boost educational outcomes for children living in public and HUD-assisted housing. Smith notes: “Today’s launch … serves as a powerful affirmation … to leveling the playing field so that zip codes will not decide our children’s future and fate.” [1]

The initiative will bring high quality books and other literacy tools to 4 million children and their families living in HUD-assisted housing. Public housing authorities and local library partners throughout the nation have already committed to participating in the initiative, which centers on three components:

  • book distribution—free, high quality, diverse books provided to children and families
  • partnership building—strategic partnerships established between the local public housing authority, local public library, and literacy partners to develop and deliver programming that will improve educational outcomes
  • library engagement—children and families engaged in reading and literacy activities offered by library and literacy partners[2]

Several influential partners are part of the initiative, including the National Book Foundation,[3] the Urban Libraries Council,[4] and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading:[5]

  • Publishers will make large donations of books and the National Book Foundation will expand its free afterschool program, BookUp, which has already donated over 30,000 books to young people. By the end of 2017, the number will expand to 300,000+ books.[6]
  • The Urban Libraries Council will work to ensure that kids and their families have books in their home, books and technology at their neighborhood library, and support needed to become strong readers.[7]
  • The Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGR), a coalition of 240+ communities in 42 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands —and funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, federal and state government agencies— will participate with CGR’s focus that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship.[8]

Ralph Smith invokes “zip code” in his letter about the new initiative because zip code make a difference in educational opportunity —and has become a recognized shorthand reference to the problem behind the initiative as demonstrated in these examples:

  • A child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in— Megan Slack and Alicia Oken on President Obama’s 2014 announcement of “Promise Zone” locations, an initiative that partners with local communities and businesses to create jobs, expand access to educational opportunities, and spur economic mobility and security
  • Send your kids to a good school, no matter what ZIP code you live in —First Lady Michelle Obama
  • Your zip code should not decide your fate —Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer
  • A student’s zip code should not dictate their educational opportunities—Washington Education School Funding Association
  • Student Success Comes Down to Zip Code— Mark Elgart blog, The Huffington Post
  • A child’s zip code should not dictate the quality of education he or she receives—Congressman Erik Paulsen
  • No child’s future should be determined by their color, economic status, or zip code —Brian L. Pauling, national president of 100 Black Men of America
  • Your ZIP Code Should Not Determine Your Success —Kira Davis, guess blogger in Forbes

How high are the stakes behind the zip code problem driving the Book-Rich Environments Initiative? High, very high.

Two-thirds of children nationwide—and more than 80% of those from low-income families—are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. This has significant consequences for each child, for their communities, and for the nation. If we don’t reverse this problem, we’re not likely to end intergenerational poverty, close the achievement gap, and reduce school dropout rates. And, far fewer of the next generation will be prepared to succeed in a global economy, participate in higher education, or enter military and civilian service.[9]

This is the problem the new initiative is working to combat.

Implementation is moving quickly. The work starts in 35 communities across the country next month. Public housing authorities will partner with local libraries organized by the Urban Libraries Council to host community book distribution events throughout the year. Public housing residents will have access to a diverse set of high quality books secured by the National Book Foundation. These distribution events will also serve as a platform to strengthen and launch new local partnerships with libraries, public housing authorities, and nonprofits, organized by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, that can also help ensure continued access to high quality literacy resources.[10]

The announcement of the Book-Rich Environments Initiative is an important literacy effort that adds to current efforts to “build bridges between school and home, and improve educational and life outcomes for kids and families in HUD -assisted housing, including joint efforts to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism, find ways to support college students with unmet financial needs, and create more summer opportunities for young people.”[11]

Kudos to this promising literacy initiative for taking on the zip code problem affecting so many children.


[1] http://gradelevelreading.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/GLR-Commends-Sec.-Castro-and-Sec.-King-for-BRE_010517.pdf

[2] http://www.nationalbook.org/2017_book_rich_environments.html#.WHJEKThTGUk


[4]Membership association of North America’s leading public library systems. ULC libraries, located in the U.S. and Canada, as public sector institutions comprise a varied mix of revenue and governance structures and serve communities with populations of differing size – from 30,000 to more than eight million. The libraries serve people of all ages. They are community centers for education and lifelong learning; economic and workforce development; health, wellness and public safety and environmental sustainability. ULC libraries bridge the digital divide by providing public access to technology services (e.g., digital media, mobile applications, e-reading, other modes of enrichment that technology makes possible). See: http://www.urbanlibraries.org/

[5] http://gradelevelreading.net/

[6] http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/72434-nbf-launches-the-book-rich-environment-initiative.html

[7] http://military-technologies.net/2017/01/08/u-s-department-of-housing-and-urban-development-department-of-education-and-nonprofit-partners-launch-book-rich-environments-initiative-to-boost-educational-opportunity-for-children-in-public-housin/

[8] CGR focuses on school readiness, quality teaching, chronic absence from school, summer learning, and engaging parents as a child’s first teachers.

[9] http://gradelevelreading.net/

[10] http://military-technologies.net/2017/01/08/u-s-department-of-housing-and-urban-development-department-of-education-and-nonprofit-partners-launch-book-rich-environments-initiative-to-boost-educational-opportunity-for-children-in-public-housin/



Add fake news to the list of challenges for children: telling fact from fiction

There’s a growing unhappy fact of life — fake news. Most of us get that some of the magazines winking at us from the shelves next to the grocery check-out counter with their unbelievable headlines and pictures (e.g., three-headed Martians) are just that, unbelievable. But increasingly, there are fake news reports pommeling us from a host of media outlets — television and radio, print, Facebook, Twitter, and speeches by policymakers. It’s getting more difficult to tell fact from fiction because most of us are not conditioned to question everything we see and hear — and we don’t have good tools to verify information. Now fact-checking tickertapes on some television news channels are telling us what is true or false with colored check marks; and there are fact-checking websites to visit if we take the time.

I don’t want to play the “true or false” game around today’s news. And I don’t want our children to play this game either — especially as they face the challenges of learning fact from fiction as evolving readers.

How big a problem is this for children?

According to Sam Wineburg, professor of education and history at Stanford University, it is a big problem — the majority of children in middle and even high school find it difficult to tell fake from real news.[1] “The ability to determine what is reliable and not reliable — that is the new basic skill in our society,” he explains [2]

Wineburg reminds us that until recently editors and librarians played a key role in helping us sort the reliable from unreliable. But now, anyone who sits at a screen — most of us from very early ages — will take on this role.

Is this realistic for children? As early readers, they will be exposed to fanciful stories −like the story about Lyle the Crocodile who walks on his hind legs, dances, ice skates and shops at a department store in the city.[3] They will also be exposed to informative (nonfiction) texts about crocodiles. And over time, young readers will learn to tell the difference between fantasy and factual texts.[4]

Between the ages of three to five, children are beginning to understand the difference between make-up and reality.[5] But there are many situations in which children as old as twelve may still have difficulty telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

In the Stanford University study of more than 7,800 middle and high schoolers across twelve states, for example, researchers found that students “struggled to distinguish ads from articles, neutral sources from biased ones, and fake accounts from real ones.” Students were asked to look at information represented in tweets, comments and articles —and most students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information. The researchers found the students were “getting duped again and again.” Here are some telling examples from the study:

  • Most middle schoolers could identify a traditional ad but more than 80 percent believed “sponsored content” (a paid story) was a real news story. It wasn’t clear if students even knew what sponsored content was.
  • If the text looked well-presented and polished, the students believed the site was “neutral and authoritative.” Most students were not critical readers− they did not look for supporting evidence or citations.
  • Most of the high school students accepted photographs as fact[6] — they didn’t ask where a photograph came from or question its truthfulness.
  • Many high school students couldn’t tell if a news source was real or fake on Facebook — they believed they were all the same.
  • Even at the college level, most students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group. To check for bias they would have needed to question if the tweet was based on a poll conducted by a professional polling firm, which might make it a good source; or have clicked on the link within the tweet before evaluating the accuracy of information. Students did not perform these checking functions. The researchers noted that most Stanford students could not identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source of information.

Three of Wineburg’s conclusions should especially alarm us:

  1. School classrooms are not prepared to help teach children how to assess the truthfulness of information.
  2. “What we see is a rash of fake news going on that people pass on without thinking … and we really can’t blame young people because we’ve never taught them to do otherwise.”
  3. “If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.”

The good news is there are some solutions — we can teach Internet users and especially children — to become detectives, to become fact checkers. And this can start with young children.

  • Parents and caretakers can teach children the difference between reality and fantasy. They can help them learn that the fantasy characters on their tablets and television screens are not real and there are not monsters and ghosts lurking in the closet or under the bed – the serious nighttime fears of so many children.[7]
  • Teachers can help children determine fact from fiction[8] as children are learning to read different types of books. For example, nonfiction often includes picture captions, tables of contents, glossaries, indexes and headings — and while all types of books typically include pictures, a nonfiction book is more likely to use photographs instead of illustrations.
  • Parents, psychologists, counselors, and educators can help children and teenagers to think critically and learn to separate reality from fantasy, fact from fiction and propaganda – in movies, YouTube videos, and video games. While teenagers may well understand the difference between fantasy and reality, they may still absorb or become attached to ideas presented in films, television programs, music, and statements from celebrities that have little or no basis in reality; and they may lack sufficient experience and knowledge to sort propaganda from fact.
  • Parents and teachers can teach children of all ages to question information that comes to them through our many media sources. Our children can learn to become detectives and fact checkers, clicking on links to determine the source of the information, and making judgement calls about the accuracy of the information.

If we don’t take this challenge seriously— develop techniques to separate fact from fiction — we will all be living increasingly in fantasy “screen world.” Fact-checking is the name of the new game to play with our children.



[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real

[2] NPR Podcast of study: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real

[3] Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber

[4] “Young Children Learn to Distinguish Between Fact and Fiction,” Research at University of Texas at Austin Finds. (Nov. 27, 2006). University of Texas at Austin. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2006/11/27/psychology/

[5] http://www.utexas.edu/news/2006/11/27/psychology/

[6]E.g., students were shown a picture of deformed daises growing in a rocky field, with accompanying news story the daises were deformed due to radiation spill. This was not true but the students did not question the photograph nor, therefore, the made-up news story.

[7]Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences found understanding the difference between fantasy and reality helps children overcome nighttime fears. Widen and Russell of Boston University, in “Fantasy vs. Reality: Young Children’s Understanding of Fear” suggests “that preschoolers more readily associate fantastic, nonrealistic creatures [such as ghosts and monsters] with fear.” When adults such as parents, teachers or mental health professionals teach a child to tell the difference between fact and fiction, children can more easily overcome irrational fear.

[8] Irony is, this source is “sponsored content” from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, an online newspaper and former print newspaper. The newspaper was founded in 1863 as weekly Seattle Gazette, and long one of the city’s two daily newspapers, until it became an online-only publication in 2009. The Education section included sponsored link “Teaching Fiction and Nonfiction in Kindergarten Education by Demand Media” by Shelley Frost:  http://education.seattlepi.com/teaching-fiction-nonfiction-kindergarten-3704.html




When your cat tells you it’s time and she means it … a tribute to BJ

I’m not writing about literacy today. I’m writing about BJ the cat, the subject of my first children’s book, “How BJ Diana Came to Live at the Z House.” It’s been a few weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to write this tribute until now.

The eighth grader who lived down the street found the tiny black kitten in the fields by the high school 22 years ago. She brought the cat to her mother’s home and named the little cat, Bonnie Jean ─ Marilyn Monroe’s real name. They called her BJ.

I knew none of this until I met the cat. There’s quite a story ─ covered in the book that I hope you will read. But today is about the end of her life — the last three days of her life.

She had been slowing down for months. Her kidney disease had been progressing. There were months of supplementing her diet with baby food to quell the vomiting. And for months, a ravenous appetite, as if she couldn’t pull enough sustenance out of her food. And so much water drinking ─ from bowls placed strategically throughout the townhouse: third floor bathroom, next to her food bowl, and by the front door. She especially liked to lap warm water from the shower stall floor after I ran the hot water for her.

Now she wasn’t interested in eating. The doctor told me this was a sign to look for. She started napping behind the curtains in my bedroom. And tucking herself against the wall in the corner of the bedroom.

Following one especially long stint of sitting on my stomach and gazing intently at me one night while I watched television in bed, she folded her small body under the crook of my left arm and didn’t move all night. She was warm–but not a comfortable warm. And she was moving slowly when she woke.

That was the day I noticed she was not vocalizing. She was moving back and forth between two new spots I never saw her in before ─the back of my bedroom closet behind the laundry hamper, and next to a metal file cabinet in the back of the closet in my son’s old bedroom.

It was night time when I searched for her and opened the door to my son’s closet. She answered a quiet soft sound to tell me she was there. But she wasn’t coming out.

We never had a family pet die naturally. Euthanasia seemed the better way to help our pets when their diseases took hold. But I planned to let BJ go naturally. I had been coming home from work at the end of each day wondering if she would be alive or dead.

In a consult with the veterinarian, he advised me to rethink the plan. When the kidneys stop working, she’s going to feel nauseous, he said. And this is painful. She’s already retreating; this is the herd reaction, to protect herself. You probably have only a week, he said. Don’t let it go too long.

I thought we would have more time. I thought we would have a full week.

But she spent two nights in the closets. It was two nights since she left her place next to me, where she had slept for so many years. She was telling me it was time. She quietly, so quietly, made the most awful decision for me. I had to agree.

She was 5 lbs. the last time we went to the doctor weeks earlier to have her sharp nails trimmed. She was down then more than 1 lb. from two months earlier. And after her nights in the closet, not eating, she must have been down more. She felt light and limp.

The last night she’s tucked into the closet in my son’s old room. For a moment I wonder why she doesn’t want to be near me but I know this is not about me. This is about taking control of her waning life according to cat rules, herd rules.

There’s no complaining, no loud crying which she has done for so many months earlier, unwilling or unable to sleep well at night ─ impelled to hunt fur mousies–carrying them around the house, crying plaintively and yowling at them and at her aging predicament perhaps. Then, you would have thought we lived with lions.

She lost her hearing two years ago. I could yell her name behind her head and she would not turn around. So I knew it was quiet inside her head.

This last night, I kneel by the closet where she’s resting. Slide open the door enough to see her and confess to her that my heart is broken. I don’t want her to be old and sick. She’s awake and listening. I share the plan with her. In the morning Noah’s coming over and we’ll give you a sedative – a pill crushed into honey – and press it along the inside of your mouth a couple of hours before we drive to the doctor’s. I don’t want it to be too dark for you tonight ─or for me ─ so I’m putting the light on in the hall so you can find your way if you want to move around. I’m putting a little bowl with baby food and water outside the closet if you get hungry. Then I apologize for crying because I don’t want to scare her. And ask if there’s anything I can do to help her. She doesn’t answer. So I tell her I love her and will come check on her during the night, which I do every hour.

The pillow she always sleeps on next to me is empty. This is the Tony Little pillow with the microballs in it that I purchased from the Home Shopping Channel because my neck was hurting so much. After I purchased the pillow ─ that really helped my neck by the way ─ BJ immediately started sleeping on it. So I gave it to her and purchased another for myself. For years, her Tony Little pillow has sat next to mine on the bed.

While she rests in the closet that night I tuck her pillow into the cat carrier so she will be comfortable on the last trip. While we wait, I write some words to try to remember this night.

The diminishing cat at 22 is readying herself to pass

She cannot keep up with the herd running inside her

She is safer behind the laundry basket in the closet

I cannot help her through this waning she tells me

It is best to be still she tells me quietly

At dawn we press the honey sedative against her gum and she is calm, so calm. After a while we drive to the veterinarians.

It is 8 a.m. when the assistant ushers us into the examining room. Usually the cat would be straining to get out of her carrier. She is so still now. Her favorite veterinarian, the woman, is with us today. I gave her the BJ picture book for her children years ago, so she knows her early story.

There’s the next sedative shot – and the cat doesn’t stir really. We have already slid the Tony Little pillow, with her nestled into it, out of the carrier and she is exposed on the examining table. Black fur on a stark white pillow.

The doctor kindly assures us BJ isn’t feeling anything as the little electric razor shaves away fur on one paw where the IV will be attached for the final dose.

I take the little piece of fur to add to the fur pieces saved from other pets – Mister Boogie, Dolly and Pepper.

Then in goes the final fluid to take her away from us.

The doctor asks what we want to do with her body.  We want her ashes.

Then she asks about the pillow─ do we want the pillow to take home? We decide to keep the pillow with her body.

The doctor lifts the Tony Little pillow with little BJ gone now, and leaves the examining room as I wonder where her precious cat spirit has gone.

We leave with the empty carrier case, knowing it was time because the cat told us it was time.

To our beloved little BJ:  We learned many important lessons from living with you for 22 years. Especially, if you don’t like the home you’re living in or the situation you’re in, get out and find something better. And when your vulnerable time comes and you can’t keep up with the herd, find a safe place and wait for those who love you to help you. You will always live safely and with great love at the Z house.


Paperback – July 19, 2012

How many homes does a cat need? A bold black cat sets her sights on moving into the Z house, where Mom Z and her son, Noah live. Mysteries unfold as the Z family tries to get to the bottom of the young cat’s puzzling behavior.

Pre-K to K-3 transitions: what can states do?

Two new reports are out on the role of pre-K programs (pre-kindergarten) and K-3 (kindergarten through grade 3).[1] Not surprisingly, the news is these programs are important to children at both stages of development ─ and there is not a level playing field, depending on which state you live in.

Both pre-K and K-3 programs play a vital role in laying a solid foundation for children’s early development. If children participate in quality pre-K and proceed to a lesser quality K-3, they’re at risk of losing the gains they have made. Likewise, transitioning from quality pre-K benefits children in K-3.

What can a state do to ensure a strong transition process between pre-K and K-3? The new reports from Education Commission of the States (ECS) aim to answer this question. The reports identify 20 factors to consider in determining quality – and they provide a profile of each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia so you can look at the situation in your own locale.

The reports have consolidated the information into four categories they suggest we pay particular attention to:

  1. Transition from pre-K to kindergarten: Some one-third of the states (37% or 18 states plus the District of Columbia) provide guidance in the pre-K to kindergarten transition process. Examples of “guidance” include written transition plans, engaging families in the process, providing teacher/school meetings, and providing assessment data such as readiness for kindergarten.
  2. Preparation of teachers: Some form of teacher preparation and/or professional development in reading is required for educators in K-3 in nearly three-fourths of states (73% or 37 states). Examples include training for the teaching of reading, using reading assessment results, and providing interventions to children based on assessment information.
  3. Involvement of parents: Nearly half of states (43% or 21 states plus D.C.) require some level of parental involvement in the promotion and retention process.[2]
  4. Children’s social-emotional learning:[3] Nearly three-fourths of states (73% or 36 states plus D.C.) focus on social-emotional learning in K-3.Examples of this type of learning are social-emotional assessments conducted when children enter kindergarten, a state’s definition of school readiness, and a state’s requirements for teachers and/or teacher training.

If the data provided in these four categories truly indicate whether we have an effective “trapeze” in place from pre-K to K-3, children residing in many states are likely facing significant challenges in their transitions.

I wanted to get a better sense of the differences among some of the states on the 20 factors to consider in determining quality so randomly selected three to compare ─ Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. Although the information is not 100% complete among the factors since the ECS study relied on the availability of each state’s information, you can begin to draw your own conclusions.

Comparison of Oregon, Tennessee & Washington on 20 Factors

Basic Requirements

Does the state require full-day kindergarten?

  • OR: No, full-day kindergarten is not required.
  • TN: Yes, full-day kindergarten is required.
  • WA: Yes, full-day kindergarten is required to be implemented statewide by 2017-2018.

 How many hours are required for grades K-3?  

  • OR: 450 hours per year for half-day kindergarten (~2.5 hours/day). 900 hours per year for full-day kindergarten and grades 1-8 (~5 hours/day).
  • TN: 4 hours per day for kindergarten (~720 hours/year). 6.5 hours per day for grades 1-12 (~1,170 hours/year).
  • WA: 1000 hours per year for full-day kindergarten and grades 1-3 (~5.5 hours/day).

 What are the teacher-to-student ratio requirements for grades K-3?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: 1:25 maximum for grades K-3 (Goal of 1:20 average).
  • WA: By 2017-2018, average class ratios should be 1:17 for average general education class in K-3 and 1:15 for high poverty K-3 class.

 School Readiness & Transitions

 Are kindergarten entrance assessments required?

  • OR: Statewide kindergarten assessment is required to be administered to all enrolled kindergarten students.
  • TN: Districts must develop/implement comprehensive developmental assessment program for kindergarten children.
  • WA: WA Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WAKIDS) is required at beginning of school year for all state funded all-day kindergarten programs.

 What are states required to do with the results of the kindergarten entrance assessment?

  • OR: Results of the KEA are required to be included in statewide longitudinal data system.
  • TN: The results of the developmental assessment may be used in developing instructional programs.
  • WA: WAKIDS is used to support development of individual children, early learning provider and parental involvement and to inform instruction.

 Are there programs in place to guide pre-kindergarten to kindergarten transition process?

  • OR: Grant program-Early Learning Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Program: Priority given to those applications that foster kindergarten readiness by forming partnerships between early learning, child care providers and/or elementary schools.
  • TN: In their application for funding, local education agencies are required to include plan for ensuring coordination between pre-kindergarten classrooms and elementary schools to ensure  elementary grade instruction builds upon pre-k classroom experiences.
  • WA: Schools receiving program support for all-day kindergarten must demonstrate connections with early learning community providers and must participate in kindergarten readiness activities with early learning providers and parents.

 Does the state have a statutory definition of school readiness?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.

 What do states use their definition of school readiness to inform?

  • OR: While term “school readiness” is not explicitly defined, the concept is used in a number of state programs including: Early Learning Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Program, the Oregon Early Reading Program, and the Statewide Education plan for “plan” students.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.

 What are the re-classification procedures for English Language Learner students?

  • OR: Students are reclassified based on English proficiency assessment scores and consistent progress.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Students are reclassified after meeting superintendent-established exit criteria on state language proficiency exam.

Assessment, Intervention & Retention

 Are assessments required in grades K-3?

  • OR: The Early Success Reading Initiative includes screening and continuously monitoring reading progress of all children K-3 with research-based assessment systems.
  • TN: Assessments in reading/language arts, math, science and social studies are required in grade three.
  • WA: Second grade reading assessments are required.

 What do the results of K-3 assessments inform?

  • OR: Administrators and teachers are able to collect, interpret and use student data to guide instructional decisions, implement a school wide reading action plan, and provide strategies for student groups and structured interaction with parents. The results of the KEA are required to be included in the statewide longitudinal data system.
  • TN: State-mandated tests are prohibited earlier than grade three.
  • WA: Assessment results are used to provide information to parents, teachers, and school administrators. Assessments and diagnostic tools are made available at each grade level to inform instructional strategies and interventions.

 Are there interventions available beginning in kindergarten?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: Interventions are available in third grade.
  • WA: K-4 interventions are available in any school where more than 40% of tested students are not proficient. For all other schools, third grade and fourth grade interventions are available.

 What are the interventions available for students in grades K-3?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Interventions include summer programs and before and after school programs.

 Is there a third grade retention policy?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: Third grade retention is required, with good cause exemptions.
  • WA: Third grade retention is required with good cause exemptions

 Instructional Quality

 What are the requirements for teacher training or professional development in reading?

  • OR: Teacher Preparation: The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission must adopt rules that require approved educator preparation programs to demonstrate that candidates receive training in how to provide instruction that enables student to meet or exceed third-grade reading standards.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Professional development: opportunities in reading instruction and early literacy for teachers of kindergarten through fourth grade students made available, subject to funds appropriated. Grant Program: Primary grade reading grant program exists to enhance teachers’ skills in assisting students in beginning reading.

What ELL training or professional development is required of general classroom teachers?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Teacher preparation programs in Washington must ensure that pre-service teachers develop the following competencies to support English language development: theories of language acquisition, including academic language development; using multiple instruction strategies, including the principles of second language acquisition, to address student academic language ability levels and cultural and linguistic backgrounds; and student cultural identity.

Family Engagement

What are the requirements for teacher training or professional development in reading?

  • OR: Teacher Preparation: The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission must adopt rules that require approved educator preparation programs to demonstrate that candidates receive training in how to provide instruction that enables student to meet or exceed third-grade reading standards.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Professional development: opportunities in reading instruction and early literacy for teachers of kindergarten through fourth grade students made available, subject to funds appropriated. Grant Program: Primary grade reading grant program exists to enhance teachers’ skills in assisting students in beginning reading.

What ELL training or professional development is required of general classroom teachers?

  • OR: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations.
  • WA: Teacher preparation programs in WA must ensure  pre-service teachers develop following competencies to support English language development: theories of language acquisition, including academic language development; using multiple instruction strategies, including the principles of second language acquisition, to address student academic language ability levels and cultural and linguistic backgrounds; and student cultural identity.

Social-Emotional Learning

Where is social-emotional development emphasized in the state’s statute or rules and regulations?

  • OR: Social-emotional development is included as area of school readiness measured in kindergarten entrance assessment
  • TN: Not specified in statute, rules or regulations
  • WA: Social-emotional growth is supported by use of Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills.

Here’s what I’d like to see the schools in my state ─ and the state policies to support these ─ have in place after studying this information:

  • Full-day kindergarten
  • High number of hours required for K-3 instruction
  • Low teacher-to student ratio in the early grades so children have more attention from the teacher
  • Assess children’s readiness to enter kindergarten, including social-emotional factors related to school readiness and progress ─ to identify where early intervention can help children catch up
  • Linked K-3 to pre-K programs so they can align what they’re providing to children and work together on smooth transition processes
  • Schools have a definition of school readiness and these do not differ substantially within the state (there should be an equal playing field)
  • Assess progress early (grade 2 rather than 3) to identify needed interventions earlier
  • Decision whether to promote a child to the next grade based on best assessment data
  • Teachers in early grades trained in reading
  • Schools engage families in the education of their children

To learn more about your own state, check out the K-3 Quality State Profiles at http://www.ecs.org/k-3-quality-state-profiles/ and  think about what you would like to see in place to help children transition well from pre-K to K-3.


[1] 50-State Comparison: K-3 Quality and Companion Report by Alyssa Auck, Education Commission of the States, July 18, 2016: http://www.ecs.org/50-state-comparison-k-3-quality/

[2] Promotion is moving up a grade; retention is staying at same grade level.

[3]Committee for Children (http://www.cfchildren.org/second-step/social-emotional-learning), the attributes of social-emotional learning are: 1) recognizing emotions in oneself and others; 2) managing strong emotions; 3) having empathy for others; 4) controlling impulses; 5) communicating clearly and assertively; 6) maintaining cooperative relationships; 7) making responsible decisions; 8) solving problems effectively. Social-emotional learning is increasingly a component in the school curricula, schools are helping young learners harness their energy and potential by teaching them to listen, pay attention, control their behavior, and get along with others..