- The purpose of this study was to determine the readability of three
series of selected fourth, fifth and sixth grade social studies textbooks,
a total of nine textbooks. Two measurements were utilized: a readability
formula (Fry Readability Graph; Knapp, 1971), and group informal reading
The Fry Graph was applied to ten randomly selected 100-word passages
in each text; proper nouns were included in the computations. The group
informal reading inventories were constructed from the same textbooks on
passages not previously taught. The tests were administered in May to
1467 students in 70 randomly selected classrooms.
Both descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze
the data. Readability levels derived by the application of the Fry Graph were reported for each text:, as was the range of readability within each
text and the deviation of each sample from the overall readability of
The test scores from the group informal reading inventories were
first reported in terms of the per cent of subjects scoring at the independent
level (90, 95, 100 per cent), the instructional level (65, 70,
75, 80, 85 per cent) and the frustration level (60 per cent or lower)
for the sample. Mean test scores were also computed for the sample, the
urban and rural subsets, for each grade level, and for each publisher.
To determine if there were significant differences among the subsets,
the following null hypotheses were formulated:
There are no significant differences in the mean scores of
the urban and rural subjects.
There are no significant differences in the mean scores of
the subjects in grades four, five and six.
There are no significant differences among the mean scores of
the subjects tested on the D. C. Heath, the Silver Burdett or
the Benefic Press social studies series.
The differences among groups were statistically analyzed at the .05
and .01 levels of significance by the pooled variance t-test or by the
analysis of variance. When the analysis of variance resulted in a significant
F value, the multiple range test was applied to determine the
exact location of the mean difference.
Findings of the Study
Fry Readability Graph
1. Two textbooks, the fourth grade textbooks published by D. C. Heath and by Silver Burdett, had readability levels in
agreement with the publishers' designated grade level. The
remaining seven textbooks had readability levels one to four
years above the designated grade level.
2. The average range of readability within the textbooks was 6.2
years with little evidence of a gradation from less difficult
to more difficult reading material.
3. When the three series were ranked according to their relative
difficulty on the basis of the Fry readability levels, it was
a. The D. C. Heath series is the least difficult.
b. The Silver Burdett series occupies an intermediate position.
c. The Benefic Press series is the most difficult.
Group Informal Reading Inventories
1. For the total sample 9.41 per cent of the subjects scored at
the independent level, 32.04 per cent scored at the instructional
level, and 58.55 per cent scored at the frustration
level. The mean test score was 54.82 per cent.
2. The mean score (56.64 per cent) of the urban subjects was significantly
higher (.01 level) than the mean score (52.35 per cent)
of the rural subjects with a t value of 3.30. H1
3. The mean score for grade four was 50.35 per cent; for grade five,
53.96 per cent; and for grade six, 58.09 per cent. The analysis
of variance resulted in a significant (.01 level) F value of
was rejected. 4. The mean scores by publisher were: D. C. Heath, 55.88 per cent;
Silver Burdett, 55.77 per cent; and Benefic Press, 50.38 per cent.
The analysis of variance resulted in a significant (.01 level)
F value of 5.47. The multiple range test showed significant
differences between the Benefic Press and D. C. Heath series
(.01 level) and between the Benefic Press and Silver Burdett
series (.01 level). There were no significant differences between
the D. C. Heath and Silver Burdett series. H3
1. The findings of this study did not differ in any substantial way
from the results reported by earlier investigators. Further
studies of the readability of social studies textbooks similar in
content to the three series analyzed in this investigation is not
2. Additional research is needed to determine if systematic instruction
resembling the procedures prescribed for a well-developed
basal reading lesson will significantly affect the ability of
students to comprehend social studies textbooks.
1. Current knowledge regarding the nature of concept development
should be a major consideration for curriculum decisions in the
social studies. Piaget's findings regarding the cognitive functioning
of elementary school students provide insight regarding
the capabilities of this age group. 2. Instructional alternatives that diminish heavy reliance on the
textbook should be afforded a fair trial in the classroom, e.g.,
simulation and gaming (Cuetzkow, 1962; Inbar, 1972), process
analog (Fielder, 1967; Joyce, 1972), role playing (Shaftel, 1967),
problem solving (Fenton, 1967; Shaftel, 1967), inquiry approaches
(Suchman, 1964; Clements, Fielder, Tabachnick, 1966), and inductive
development of concepts and generalizations (Taba, 1966;
Fenton, 1966; Hanna, 1965).
3. A publicly financed agency staffed by expert analysts and equipped
with the necessary resources should be established to provide
analysis services to publishers and to determine the difficulty
level of all instructional materials as they appear on the market
4. Pilot editions of all new textbooks should be field tested with
a cross section of students using procedures similar to those
utilized by the publishers of standardized tests.
5. When classroom teachers make reading assignments in social studies
textbooks, they should faithfully adhere to the same procedures
that are prescribed for a well-developed basal reading lesson.