Research shows reading section complexity used in Key Stage 2 tests has increased substantially

Research released today by educational measurement and research organisation MetaMetrics, shows that the 2016 SATs tests are as difficult as the 2015 SATS, which were reported as ‘one of the hardest’ tests teachers had ever seen.

The newly released study reveals that the text complexity of the Key Stage (KS) 2 reading section has been more varied through the years with a marked difference between the official sample and the 2016 administered reading section.

MetaMetrics, an educational measurement and research organisation, and the developer of The Lexile Framework for Reading, analysed the text complexity of the English reading sections from KS 1 and 2 tests from 2003 to 2016, including the 2016 samples from the Department for Education. While MetaMetrics’ study found that the 2016 KS 1 reading section is generally well aligned with complexity of the sample and previous reading sections, it also found that the 2016 KS 2 reading section was substantially more complex than the sample. Both Key Stage reading sections utilised text with greater complexity than that of available textbooks.

The KS2 sample reading section released by DfE leading up to the 2016 administration had an overall measure of 910L. This overall measure fell in the middle range of previous KS 2 reading sections. The 2016 administered reading section, however, had an overall complexity measure of 1110L, 200L above the sample. MetaMetrics analysis revealed that the 2016 reading section was the most challenging of all the measured KS 2 reading sections*. This could be a product of the Government now assessing pupils of all abilities within a single test after discontinuing the levels.

Catherine Bell, co group MD at Scholastic UK said, “The news that the most recent Reading SATS paper was the hardest yet wasn’t a surprise to us or the schools that we work with. We know that teachers are working hard to support children as the high stakes tests grow more demanding and that motivating children to read more is a great way to help prepare them for tests.”

It is worth reflecting on the relationship between classroom and assessment materials. The Year 2 textbook Lexile median was 610L, 110L lower than the KS1 test. Similarly, the Year 6 Lexile median was 800L, over 300L lower than the KS2 test. We know textbooks are not the most widely used materials but this indicates a possible disconnect between instruction and assessment. Knowing the complexity of the materials we put in front of our children day to day allows us to encourage growth, monitor progress, and identify those that fall behind earlier.

Backed by 30 years of research, Lexile measures are an objective way to match students with text, track and forecast growth, and connect with the growing number of UK and international reading programmes from leading publishers that report this valuable information. The Lexile scale is a developmental scale for measuring reader ability and text complexity, ranging from below 0L for beginner readers and reader materials, to above 2000L for advanced readers and materials; and the Lexile scale can be used to measure both the complexity of a text, such as a book or article (for example, 850L), and an individual’s reading ability. One of the benefits of using a scale, like the Lexile scale, is the insight it gives into the spread of reading abilities across a school or classroom. Additionally, by measuring texts (or even sample assessment questions) with the same scale, educators have the ability to compare those texts to the range of reading abilities in their classroom.

This new research from MetaMetrics, the global leader in reading measurement, sheds valuable insight on the reading demands and expected growth of the new UK national curriculum.