March 13, 2014

By Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer

In his work, Understanding Common Core State Standards, John Kendall cautions that under Common Core “it’s likely that [we] will have something new to learn and something to unlearn” (Kendall, 2011, page 43).

This idea applies in the area of text-complexity, where the concept itself is our “something new to learn” but where we also have to “unlearn” certain approaches that pertain to reading intervention.

Many strategies and commercial programs have been built around “High-Low” books. These are high interest, low readability books found in reading interventions and are not typically available, used, or even desired outside of those programs. Using a metaphor of weight training, when students struggled with lifting heavier (more complex) texts, we took weight off the bar by switching them to lighter (easier) alternatives. This included offering either simpler works or simpler versions (e.g. abridged) of the same works.

However, the authors of Common Core caution us against this approach:

Far too often, students who have fallen behind are given only less complex texts rather than the support they need to read texts at the appropriate level of complexity. Complex text is a rich repository to which all readers need access, although some students will need more scaffolding to do so.

(Coleman & Pimentel, 2012)

As a result of this new perspective, discussions around scaffolding and support for struggling readers are proliferating.  Our attention is turning to how we can build up and support struggling readers rather than switch them to alternative selections and thereby deny them access to complex texts –  that “rich repository to which all readers need access .“

When pushed on this issue, Common Core authors will admit that scaffolding is not always sufficient to get every struggling reader engaging appropriately with complex texts. Some readers who have developed significant gaps may, indeed, need alternative selections. However, it is clear that switching students to less complex texts should now be a last resort that comes only after thoughtful consideration of scaffolding and support strategies.


Coleman, D., & Pimentel, S. (2012, 04-12). Revised publishers’ criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and literacy, grades 3–12 . Retrieved from

Kendall, J. (2011). Understanding Common Core State Standards. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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