In reading the ACT research, which led to both the College and Career Readiness Standards and the Common Core Standards which are based on them, the key finding relates to the complexity of texts in preparation for both college and career.  The ACT has a reading section, which is scored on a scale of 11-36.  They have set a reading benchmark score of 21.  Their research has concluded that students scoring at the benchmark level and higher have a 75% chance of getting a “C” or higher in an introductory college course, and a 50% chance of getting a “B” or higher.  The research further correlates the relationship between the complexity of the text and the percentage of right answers a student gets on typical reading questions on the ACT.  The interesting finding is that the scores on questions of simple text and more challenging texts track very closely, with about 60% of students scoring at the benchmark of 21 getting the correct answer on questions involving simple text and 50% scoring correctly on more challenging text.  The two lines rise in parallel all the way up to reading scores of 34-36. 

However, when the text becomes complex the percentage correct at the benchmark score of 21 falls to below 30%, or nearly what a person would score who was randomly guessing (25%).  The curve stays flat until the reading score becomes very high and does not reach parity with the answers to questions on simple or more challenging texts until reading scores at the highest level (34-36). 

Thus, publisher’s attempts to turn simple text passages in secondary texts into more challenging text is not sufficient preparation for college and career readiness.  The text must be truly complex to make a difference. 

What describes complex text?  The descriptors the ACT researchers use sound very much like text a student would only encounter in an Advanced Placement English class.  They term the formula RSVP and describe it as follows:

A complex text can be described with respect to the following six aspects (which can
be abbreviated to “RSVP”):
Relationships: Interactions among ideas or characters in the text are subtle, involved, or deeply embedded.

Richness: The text possesses a sizable amount of highly sophisticated information conveyed through data or literary devices.

Structure: The text is organized in ways that are elaborate and sometimes unconventional.

Style: The author’s tone and use of language are often intricate.

Vocabulary: The author’s choice of words is demanding and highly context dependent.

Purpose: The author’s intent in writing the text is implicit and sometimes ambiguous.



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