Reading Levels: 1908 vs. 2014

Annie Holmquist | January 13, 2015

Some of you may remember the 1908 curriculum manual I dug up in the Minnesota Historical Society archives a few months ago. When compared with a current public school reading list, it demonstrated that today’s schools are offering a more narrow view of western civilization and a simplified level of reading material.


I thought of this manual again when I ran across a handy text analyzer offered by Accelerated Reader. (For those unfamiliar, Accelerated Reader is a program used by schools across the country to test a student’s comprehension of the books they read.)


Seeing a chance to get an objective analysis of the material in the 1908 manual, I entered the available texts from the sixth grade reading list. Here’s what I found:



As you can see, the book selections have reading levels which, according to Accelerated Reader's standards, span from late sixth grade (6.8) to early ninth grade (9.2).


By contrast, the chart below shows a number of titles from a sixth grade reading class at South View Middle School in one of Minnesota's top school districts - Edina Public Schools:


The syllabus is unclear on whether or not all of these books are actually read during the year, but either way, it is interesting to note that over half of the titles register below the sixth grade reading level. Even more interesting is the fact that only two of the books on this list fit into the reading level range (6.8 to 9.2) of the 1908 list.


Sadly, the reading level of the English curriculum sinks even further when we move from the suburb of Edina to the city of Minneapolis. As this syllabus from Lake Harriet Community School (in the Minneapolis Public Schools district) aptly illustrates, the sixth grade literature selections barely make it into the fifth grade level:


Still unconvinced that academic rigor has declined in the public schools? Ask your child's teacher for a class syllabus and test the book list for yourself at the AR text analyzer. We'd be curious to hear the results.



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