Back to Resource Center

Text complexity

What is text complexity?

Simply stated, text complexity is how easy or hard a text is to read, based on quantitative and qualitative text features.

Text complexity is a critical consideration in matching students to appropriately challenging materials. It’s a huge focus of the Common Core Standards because students’ ability to read complex texts is a critical component of college and career readiness.

How do you measure text complexity?

Just considering quantitative readability measures like Lexile level isn’t enough. You also have to study a text’s structure, meaning or purpose, language, and knowledge demands to determine a qualitative rating.

Finally, you have to take into account reader (motivation, background knowledge) and task (purpose, complexity) variables. These three components—quantitative, qualitative, and reader and task—come together to determine the overall complexity of a text and inform how you may want to approach planning and instruction.

Why does text complexity matter?

The emphasis on text complexity represents a radical shift for teachers and students. For the first time, the standards require that the texts we use in instruction are appropriately complex and worthy of students’ time and attention.

And text complexity matters not only because the standards say so: it’s one way to work toward educational equity for all students. Complex texts create opportunities for students to think and reason at the deepest levels and to gain knowledge of the world around them, which will help them achieve success in their college, career, and life.

Want to learn more about supporting students to read complex texts?


Get k12 Education Resources

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to join our community and receive monthly selections of actionable resources, stories of best practices from across our national network of partner schools, districts and CMOs, and invitations to exclusive events. We're glad to be learning together alongside you.