"The biggest thing that is the motivator is tapping into those student interests and building some background knowledge," she said.
But she agreed with Hall that even a simple book is preferable to no book. "It’s always going to be better to be reading than not reading at all," she said.
Hall said parents can encourage literacy by reading with their children, asking their children about the books they enjoy and helping them have access to a variety of texts. She said children should read confidently at home, which may sometimes lead to them choosing simpler texts over "War and Peace" or "Ulysses."
But at school, with the help of a teacher, students should be challenged to move above and beyond their reading level, Hall said. She said the classroom setting offers an opportunity to work through difficult vocabulary or phrasing.
Decisions for assigned texts are made at the local level, but Hall said teachers are trained to apply a rubric to potential readings that evaluates them on a qualitative and quantitative level.
"Will my student be interested and want to read this book? Sometimes the answer is no but they have to read it anyway," she said.
Hall said most researchers agree that the quantitative difficulty, also known as the lexile level, of high-school aged reading has declined over the last 40 years. She said that is one of the reasons states, including Utah, adopted the Common Core standards, which encourage the use of more complex texts to prepare students for higher education.
"We discovered there was a gap in complexity between grade 12 and the first year of college," Hall said. "That’s one of the reasons we adopted the standards because they bring the lexile levels back up."
Stickney said the effect of the Common Core standards is already beginning to show in what kids are reading. He gave the example of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein," which is listed as exemplary in the common core and which rose in the "What Kids Are Reading" rankings this year.
"It does appear that Common Core is moving the needle a little bit on what kids are reading, particularly in the upper and middle grades," he said. "It is Common Core’s intent to reverse that trend and to increase the rigor and complexity of what kids are reading."
Wittke agreed, saying schools in the state and nationwide are already showing progress with the new standards.
"In the past some things did go down but currently things are moving up," she said.
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