Defining Readability Levels

Subject: Defining Readability Levels
From: Barb Ostapina <Barb -dot- Ostapina -at- METROMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 1998 05:51:58 -0500

Ronni Geist wrote:
<<...As a former college instructor of reading, writing, and study skills;
the former director of a college learning resources center; and a former
writer of reading skills booklets and test passages for
state-administered reading competency tests (to stringent grade level
specifications), I must tell you that the 10th grade level you plan to
use as a standard for your docs is quite high for the "average" reader.
Most of the teenage students and adults returning to education with whom
I worked read at about the 6th or 7th grade level -- and many read at
levels much lower!...>>

I'll confess up front that I can in no way be construed to be knowledgeable
on the subject, but I've been following this readability thread and I'm
just wondering...

If so many ordinary adults don't read past the 7th grade level, how is it
that the 7th grade level came to be defined as such? (Or the 8th grade
level, or the 10th...) I realize it has to do with numbers of words,
syllables, sentences, etc., but that's not what I mean. What I mean is,
could it be that the standards used to define the variables that equal
grade 7 are just plain not representative of current reality? Why isn't
the 7th grade level defined as what most "average" 7th graders read?

I consider myself to be somewhat bright, alert and able to walk and chew
bubble gum at the same time (most days), and while I'm able to read words
of many syllables and large, abstract nouns, most days I just don't have
time to wrestle with them. I have only very short time windows for reading
and I want to get in there and get out so I can attend to the myriad other
things going on in my life.

For example, I can read "These schematic spatial divisions also form the
framework for additional visual information signals, whether typographic,
color, pictorial, or other" (from a Technical Communication article called
Typography, Color, and Structure by Elizabeth Keyes). But I sure don't want
to do it everyday. It takes too long to process. And there's my
six-year-old, my husband, my house, my job, my classes... oh, and of
course, mom.

So, call me a 7th grader because I'd rather read The way you arrange text,
color and pictures on a page gives the reader clues about... (or some such

It makes me think about JC Penney (a department store with catalog
shopping, for those not familiar). A few years ago they decided, I
presume, that too many women were offended by having to order clothes in
size 14-16. So they adjusted their sizing, and what used to be 14-16 became
10-12, 10-12 became 6-8, etc. I imagine it made a lot of women happy to now
be a smaller dress size. What the heck, everything's relative. Why not
reading scores, too?

barb -dot- ostapina -at- metromail -dot- com
...speaking only for myself.

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