Hemingway too easy for fourth graders!? Common Core’s backward reading list

Robby Soave | Reporter

Is Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” too easy a read for fourth graders? Perhaps they should try ““Mr. Popper’s Penguins” instead.

This is the backward logic behind Common Core’s reading guidelines, which rely on controversial measures of complexity to determine which texts are suitable for students.

The Common Core national reading recommendations are based on Lexile methodology — a complicated formula that scores texts on vocabulary and sentence length. Texts receive a score between 0 and 1,600. “The Sun Also Rises,” for instance, scores 610 under the Lexile algorithm.

That ostensibly puts Hemingway’s iconic novel about World War I’s “Lost Generation” somewhere in the easy-for-third-graders range — alongside “Curious George Gets a Medal.”

Blaine Gretman, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, cited many more ridiculous examples of Lexile scores at work.

“On my way to work I pass the House on Van Buren Street where Kurt Vonnegut began “Slaughterhouse Five” — but with a score of only 870, this book is only a fourth-grade read,” he wrote in The New Republic. “By these standards ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ (weighing in at a respectable 910) is deemed more complex.”

Under Lexile methodology, “Sports Illustrated for Kids’ Awesome Athletes!” is a suitable read for ninth graders, but “Jane Eyre,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are not. These latter three belong in fourth, fifth and sixth grade classrooms.

“When Huckleberry Finn isn’t complex enough for our high-school students, I can’t help wondering if we need to change the way we conceptualize literary complexity,” wrote Gretman.

The Common Core guidelines have been approved in 46 of the 50 states, and legislators and educators are currently working to implement their requirements. While the standards are supported by most Republican governors — and fervently backed by the White House — critics say the science behind them is untested. (RELATED: Here’s what kids will read under Common Core)

Reliance on Lexile scores is a perfect example of Common Core’s failing, according to Joy Pullman, managing editor of School Reform News.

“This is what you get when technocrats seek to control what happens in classrooms they will never see: A clunky, ill-fitting checklist for ‘literature,'” Pullman told The Daily Caller. “Children are not machines to be programmed, which is why robotic requirements for education can never meet their needs.”

Still, Common Core’s adherents are pushing the idea that schools need to do a better job of obeying Lexile’s dictates. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy organization that supports the standards, recently published a study lamenting that teachers are not yet choosing texts with age-appropriate Lexile scores.

“Across all grade levels … there was a tendency to err on the side of lower-level books,” said Kathleen Porter-Magee, an education expert at Fordham, in a statement to The Atlantic.

Lexile’s website allows users to search for books that meet the standards. TheDC searched for Stephen King’s “The Stand,” a 1,200 page tome about an apocalyptic flu virus and the ensuing battle between God and the devil. It scored 900, making it most suitable for fifth graders.

A 30-page biography of “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart, by comparison, scored 950.

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