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11 Mar 2014

Examining Three Assumptions About Text Complexity: Standard 10 of the Common Core State Standards

Elfrieda H. Hiebert & Katie Van Sluys

Book Chapter

Hiebert, E.H., & Van Sluys, K. (2014). Examining three assumptions about text complexity: Standard 10 of the Common Core State Standards. In K.S. Goodman, R.C. Calfee, & Y.M. Goodman (Eds.), Whose knowledge counts in government literacy policies? Why expertise matters (pp. 144-160). New York, NY: Routledge.


At its core, reading involves a text and texts vary greatly in complexity—their structures, vocabularies, styles, and topics. Standard 10 of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS; CCSS Initiative, 2010) calls for students to grow capacity in reading texts of ever increasing complexity over the school years, culminating in high school graduates’ ability to read the complex texts of college and careers. The CCSS is the first standards document to recognize this fundamental feature of literacy. The writers of the CCSS are to be applauded for their recognition of a central feature of reading instruction that has often been ignored.

As is always the case in a human endeavor, translating vision to practice means that tough choices need to be made. That was so in the CCSS writers’ description of a staircase of text complexity where decisions were made about such thorny issues as ways to measure text complexity and which texts exemplify complexity at different points along the staircase.

In this response, we consider three assumptions about the view of text complexity as operationalized by the CCSS. We are concerned that these assumptions, if left unexamined, could increase the achievement gap, as they become part of state and national policies. At the outset, we emphasize that we support strongly the goal of increased reading of complex texts and accompanying reading practices. A complex view of text complexity, however, is needed to ensure that appropriate texts and instruction are provided such students can increase their capacity to engage with complex texts. Before addressing the three assumptions and their potential consequences, we describe why text complexity was included as a distinct standard within the CCSS.