Teacher question:

*I’ve read your posts on the instructional level and complex texts and I don’t think you understand guided reading. The point of guided reading placements is to teach students with challenging text. That’s why it is so important to avoid texts that students can read at their independent level; to make sure they are challenged. The Common Core requires teaching students with challenging texts—not frustration level texts.*

I’m having

*déjà vu*all over again. I feel like I’ve covered this ground before, but perhaps not quite in the way that this question poses the issue.
Yes, indeed, the idea of teaching students at their
instructional level is that some texts could be too easy or too hard to
facilitate learning. By placing students in between these extremes, it has been
believed that more learning would take place. In texts that students find easy
(your independent level), there would be little for students to learn—since
they could likely recognize all or most of the words and could understand the
text fully without any teacher help. Similarly, texts that pose too much
challenge might overwhelm or frustrate students so they could not learn. Thus,
placing them in instructional level materials would be challenging (there would
be something to learn), but not so challenging as to be discouraging.

Or, at least that’s the theory.

So, I do get that the way you seem to be placing kids in
books is meant to be challenging. But please don’t confuse this level of
challenge with what your state standards are requiring. Those standards are
asking that you teach students to read texts of specified levels of
difficulty—levels of difficulty that for most kids will exceed what you think
of as challenging.

This means that everyone wants kids to be challenged. The
argument is about how much challenge. You may think that a student will do best
if the texts used for teaching is only so challenging that he/she’d make no
more than 5 errors per 100 words of reading, and your state may think the
appropriate challenge level is grade level texts that represent a progression
that would allow the students to graduate from high school with a particular
level of achievement. That means in many circumstances the state would say kids
need to read book X, and you’d say, “no way, my kids make too many errors with
book X to allow me to teach it successfully.”

The Lexile levels usually associated with particular grade
levels are not the ones that the standards have assigned to the grades. The
Lexile grade-designations from the past were an estimate of the level of text
that the average students could read with 75-89% comprehension. Those levels
weren’t claiming that all kids in a particular grade could read such texts
successfully, but that the average ones could. Thus, you’d test the individual
kids and place them in books with higher or lower Lexiles to try to get them to
that magical instructional level.

The new standards, however, have assigned higher Lexile
bands to each grade level. That means that even the average kids will not be
able to read those texts at an instructional level; some kids might be able to
at those grade levels, but not the majority. That means teachers would need to
teach students to read books more challenging than what have typically been at
their instructional levels. In other words, plenty of kids will need to be
taught at their frustration level to meet the standards.

I do get the idea that instructional level is meant to be
challenging. But for the majority of kids, teaching kids at their instructional
level will not meet the standards. That degree of challenge undershoots the
level of challenge established by your state (and that they will test your
students at). Perhaps you can take solace in the fact that research has not
been able to validate the idea that there is an instructional level; that is,
kids can be taught to read successfully with texts more challenging than you’ve
apparently used in the past.