BYU Radio

Text Complexity

A lot of educators today, including myself, are talking about text complexity. The basic assumption here is that as readers grow they need to be able to read and comprehend increasingly complex texts. Without a doubt, becoming a better reader is an important step in the literacy development of all children. However, as an educator, I have a very strong concern that we are measuring text complexity in the wrong way. Since the 1920s we’ve been quantifying text complexity though readability formulas, the most familiar are the Fountas and Pinnel, the Lexile, and the Accelerated Reader. While leveling books in this way can be helpful for students as they begin to understand their own reading abilities, it is important to be clear that these levels are not the only way we should judge the complexity of texts.  Because these formulas rely on only a limited view of a text and they don’t take into account the reader themselves, these numbers should only be used as a starting place for book selection. Since no experimental studies have established standards that reveal the optimal level for learning, comprehension, interest, and efficient reading, we cannot rely on formulas to help us find the right books for the right readers. As an educator I’m against using any type of system that forces children to read books that fall into the narrow category of their perceived reading ability. Preventing students from checking out a library book because it was not on their level or not allowing them to receive credit for a reading a book above their level, only prevent children from exercising the same freedom that we have as adult readers to choose the books that are right for us. Let’s let kids find the books they enjoy, and put the use of readability formulas in their correct place. Because complexity, while important, is not something we should use to prevent kids from reading.

By Rachel Wadham, Host of WORLDS AWAITING


At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.

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