Technologies often have multiple uses, and so it is with OSTI's grade level stratification (GLS) tool. GLS was developed as a search tool and is implemented on OSTI's new science education portal: http://www.scienceeducation.gov. Once users search for content by topic, GLS enables users to stratify the hit list by grade level.
But GLS is also potentially useful as a content development, or authoring, tool. That is, GLS can be used to tailor content to a given grade level. Federal agencies like DOE do a great deal of content development, so proper tailoring is an important issue. This is true not merely for educational content, but for anything that is intended to be read by non-experts, including the public, DOE people, Congressional staff, etc. Even scientists are non-experts outside of their specialty.
Likely candidates for GLS based content range from press releases and Websites to regulations, anything with some scientific or technical content. OSTI itself produced a lot of non-technical scientific content in the 1970s and may do so again, because the need is great. The primary users of a GLS content tool would be technical communication content developers and authors. We are seeing a lot of content that incorrectly includes advanced terms, making it hard to read, but the GLS tool can prevent that.
A little history may be useful. The GLS tool is part of the scientific area called readability analysis, which is big in education and technical communication. It all began in 1955 with Rudolf Flesch's landmark book "Why Johnny Can't Read." Flesch developed an algorithm to measure readability, called the Flesch test, which estimates grade levels based on sentence length and syllable count. (Google on Flesch test.) The Flesch test is still widely used, often as part of what is called the plain language movement.
But the Flesch test does not consider the difficulty of the concepts used, so others have approached this problem. The Dale-Chall readability formula includes a simple vocabulary component. (Google on Dale-Chall.) Another widely used readability method is called Lexiles, which estimates the difficulty of words based on their statistical frequency of occurrence in literature. (Google on Lexile.) Unfortunately these methods have little bearing on scientific or technical writing.
OSTI's GLS is the first method to estimate readability grade level using the state standards of learning for science. It estimates grade levels based on when the scientific concepts are actually taught. Thus when it comes to scientific or technical writing, GLS is a vast improvement over the popular readability methods. Of course it can also be used as a search tool, to sort existing content by readability grade level.
Cataloging Concepts by Learning Level
Science Education and making the Web work
OSTI Senior Consultant for Innovation