Close Reading & High Stakes Assessments

The Common Core State Standards have dramatically shifted the way educators approach reading instruction. A major component of the new standardized tests is close reading. These assessments require that students read deeply and analytically in all content areas. Consequently, teachers of all subjects must now think of themselves as reading teachers and adjust their practice to incorporate explicit reading instruction into their lessons. Today, we will take a quick look at close reading in order to better understand what it is and how it can improve student performance on high stakes assessments.

What does close reading require of students and teachers?

First, let’s take a look at how the Common Core standards describe close reading. Common Core Reading Anchor Standard 1 (CCRA.R.1) states that students must be able “to determine what the text says explicitly, make logical inferences from it, and cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”

Let’s Break This Down

In order for students to read closely, they must comprehend and infer meaning, have a deep understanding of academic vocabulary, and be able to make connections between texts using strong evidence and arguments. This is no easy task for students or the teachers who must design instruction to support close reading. However, if schools work to address the challenge of close reading, they can begin to develop more cohesive and consistent reading instruction across content areas. This will help students transfer close reading strategies across subjects and apply these strategies when taking high stakes assessments.

Understanding Close Reading & Its Application to High Stakes Assessments

So what exactly is close reading? It is important to note that not all reading is close reading. In fact, close reading is a very specific type of reading that requires students to investigate and interrogate a text.

Here are a few key points to remember about close reading:

  • Close reading is done with short rigorous texts. These are often excerpts from larger texts, similar to passages found on high-stakes assessments.
  • Close reading requires multiple readings of the same text. Students must read the same passage over and over, with the teacher providing scaffolded, text-dependent questions to guide students to deeper and deeper analysis of the text’s meaning. Students can apply this strategy when reading passages on standardized tests, using their own scaffolds to read for information to answer specific test questions or write argumentative essays.
  • The goal of close reading is to understand the meaning of the text. It is not to make personal connections or “text to self” connections. Understanding the purpose of close reading will help students read for and write better argumentative pieces, focusing on text-based evidence to support their claims. It will keep them “close to the text,” rather than reflecting on their own experiences and writing about that.
What’s next?

As a major component of the Common Core State Standards, close reading has brought to light the importance of literacy instruction in all content areas. With this new focus, there are many resources available to educators to support quality instruction around close reading. The work of Diane Lapp, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey provides some great insight into close reading instruction and offers some extremely practical resources, including strategies for designing text-dependent questions, systems for determining text complexity, graphic organizers and more. If schools continue to work across disciplines to focus on close reading instruction, we will not only help our students perform better on high-stakes assessments, but hopefully instill in them a love for complex, interesting readings and related discussion.