Monday, January 21, 2013

Text Complexity on the Web: 5+ Tools for Quantitative Evaluation of Online Text

3 Factors for measuring text
(taken from
This is cross-posted on, where I wrote guest blog post. 

I posted back in 2011 B.C.C. (Before Common Core) about finding accessible online text, but a recent blog post from Eye on Education (How to Select Complex Text to Increase Rigor) made me think about revisiting the topic.  My original post was more about finding reading passages for differentiation purposes, but the Common Core's approach to measuring text complexity has now elevated that need to a whole new level.  This post specifically addresses one aspect of text complexity -- what the Common Core terms "quantitative evaluation."  Before delving in, though, it's important to note from the onset that other measures must be in place to adequately explore complexity.

Currently, there are many web-based tools that help with the quantitative evaluation of books and even textbook content (for example, you can use Barnes and Noble to search by Lexile measure); however, as our students will likely be reading a combination of print and digital materials (especially in states giving the PARCC test), tools that help identify scales for online or digital text are also necessary. Here are five (mostly free) web-based tools that might be helpful as we curate reading content for students.

1.  Online Databases.  These should probably be at the top of your list when when looking for online text.  Many schools, districts, and public libraries across the country pay subscription fees for online database collections like EBSCO and GALE.  These are mostly free tools for students and teachers -- they are paid subscriptions, but the costs are typically covered elsewhere. Included databases in those services vary depending upon subscription, but check the search options for either Lexile number or Lexile range.  (The image on the right is from one of our high school's EBSCO database searches.)  You can check the Lexile website for a list of database providers that include Lexile information as part of their service.

Even if your school or district doesn't pay for these types of databases, chances are good that your public library does.  And if you are lucky enough to have a certified librarian in your school, be sure to befriend him/her.  They are incredible resources for finding grade-appropriate material and assisting with anything related to information literacy. 

Taken from Russel's SearchResearch Blog
2.  GoogleSearch by Reading Level.  This is a decent starting point if you're using Google's search engine.  In any GoogleSearch, you can go into the "Advanced" search options and choose to filter by basic, intermediate, and/or advanced reading level.  Daniel Russel's blog post about this feature explains how they designed this filter: "We paid teachers to classify pages for different reading levels, and then took their classifications to build a model of the intrinsic complexity of the text. . . We also used data from Google Scholar, since most of the articles in Scholar are considered advanced."  

In Google's classification, "basic" equates to an elementary level while "intermediate" would apply more to the secondary or 6-12 grade level range. Advanced would indicate scholarly or post-secondary text.  Because these ranges are so broad though, it might help to start by limiting a search to either "basic" or "intermediate" and then use a tool below to gather more detailed information.

3.  JuicyStudio. If you have a URL and you'd like to check its readability scale, you can paste the URL into this website's readability test.  It will run the page through its algorithm to figure out the reading level. This free service also tabulates how many words & sentences are in the page, as well as counting how many words have 1, 2, 3, or 4 syllables. There are explanations for what the different reading indexes reveal.  Lexile numbers aren't specifically identified, but
other indexes are used (including Gunning-Fogg and Flesch-Kincaid).

4.  EditCentral.  Like JuicyStudio, EditCentral is a free tool that runs text through an algorithm for various readability indexes.  Instead of pasting in a URL, though, this site allows you to paste in text (up to 50,000 characters).  This one also doesn't provide Lexile information, but it does color code the results of the different reading scales, and it also underlines words that might be considered complex or difficult.  That is usually determined by number of syllables, but it could serve as a good way to anticipate words that may increase the level of difficulty.

5.  StoryToolz.  I came across this free tool, thanks to a post on the ESL Trail Blog.  Akin to EditCentral, you can paste in text (up to 5K without a login, up to 50K with a login), and it will generate several reports.  It uses similar indexes (not Lexile) for determining readability scores, but this site generates additional reports that could aid in writing instruction.  The "Word Usage" report gives statistics on items like "to be" verbs and prepositions while the "Sentence Beginnings" report identifies how many times different parts of speech start a sentence.

In addition to the tools listed above, you can also access the Lexile Analyzer.  If you create an account, you can upload a .txt document of up to 1000 words for free analysis.  Educators can request access to the professional version for longer documents.  Certain formatting and steps are required prior to upload (details are on the website).

I'm sure more tools are out there, but these are the web-based tools I've found that may help with quantitative evaluation, and you can even use a non web-based program like Microsoft Word to give you a basic Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.  As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s important to keep in mind that this is only one facet of a reading selection and should never be used as the sole basis for determining complexity. It is, however, a good place to start, especially as we try to discover diverse, timely, and relevant web content for our learners.