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February 15, 2019

Who picked a college textbook for 9th grade biology?

Bio bookThis is my 14-year-old daughter’s biology book. She is taking a Pre-AP biology course at a Texas high school.

The Pre-AP (pre-advanced placement) program is supposed to offer courses that are on grade level, but academically challenging. In other words, my daughter should be learning ninth grade biology with a few turbo enhancements.

Her class textbook is the same one used on many college campuses.

So much for turbo; the school is taking her on a nauseating supersonic jet ride.

Examining the readability of my kid’s textbook

After a little research, I finally found her textbook on Pearson’s higher education website.

Higher education = college.

Secondary education = high school.

Of course, I’m all for quality education, but I’m not for making a 14-year-old learn content better suited for a college freshman.

I thought for a brief moment that I was being unreasonable, so I decided to run a few random paragraphs of the textbook through a readability analysis program. The Flesch reading ease and Flesch Kincaid grade level tests are widely used by writers and also easily accessed through basic word processing programs. Take a look at what I found from material my daughter covered in her third week of school:


Organisms cannot make water from H2 and 02, but they do carry out a great number of chemical reactions that rearrange matter in significant ways. Let’s examine an example a chemical reaction that is essential to life on Earth: photosynthesis. The raw materials of photosynthesis are carbon dioxide (CO2), which is taken from the air, and water (H20), which plants absorb from the soil. Within green plant cells, sunlight power the conversion of these reactants to the sugar product glucose (C6H1O6) and oxygen (O2), a by-product that the plant release into the air. The following chemical shorthand summarizes this process:

 6 CO2 + 6 H20 →C6H20+6 O2

Flesch reading ease: 52.1 (This means that roughly 52 percent of adults can read this.)
Flesch Kincaid grade level : 10.1


Here’s a snippet from what she’ll cover in just a few months:

Although most harmful alleles are recessive, a number of human disorders are caused by dominant alleles. Some are harmless conditions, such as extra fingers and toes (called polydactyly) or webbed fingers and toes.

A more serious disorder is achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism in which the head and torso of the body develop normally but the arms and legs are short. The homozygous dominant genotype (AA) causes death of the embryo; therefore, only heterozygotes (Aa) have this disorder.

Flesch reading ease: 45.6 (Oh snap! We’re talking about only 47 percent of adults.)
Flesch Kincaid grade level: 10.7


Day to day readability figures
Just for the record, the generally accepted “sweet-spot for readability” and comprehension is a Flesch reading ease score between 60-70 and a grade level score between eighth and tenth. Newspapers such as “USA Today” write for an eighth grade reading level, and papers such as the “The New York Times” and “Wall Street Journal” often come in at the 11th grade reading level.

Government documents make up the bulk of materials that hit college or post-graduate reading levels.

I tried to read my child’s biology book, and the endeavor proved to be frustrating, even though I have a graduate degree. It’s a tough read for a diligent 19-year-old  college student; it’s nearly incomprehensible to a 14-year-old kid.

Pushing a high school freshman off to college
To be fair, I have no qualms with this text being used for senior AP students and college kids, but I have a huge problem with the people who thought this was a good idea for high school freshmen. My daughter and her peers instantly jumped into molecular bonding within the first few days of school. Unlike AP seniors and college students, these kids don’t know how to drive a car, but they had a quiz on cellular chemical reactions last week.

Developmentally inappropriate for my kid? Oh my goodness, yes! YES, YES, YES!

I am beyond frustrated with this stuff being pushed down on children.

My daughter is a freshman.

A high school freshman.



4 Comments on Who picked a college textbook for 9th grade biology?

  1. The chemical formula for photosynthesis is very common and I learned the second week in honors Biology. As for alleles and hardy-weinsberg, that is commonly taught in pre-AP bio classes. Although it may not seem that the textbook is used is appropriate, as long as it teaches the appropriate concepts for Biology 1, she will be fine. It sounds like the teacher is not going to far in the curriculum. I think that it’s perfectly appropriate; however, I reside in Florida, and we have a much more advanced curriculum overall than Texas, so it could be off the charts where you live. Maybe you should review State standards for both courses before you bad mouth the teacher.

    • Thank you for your feedback.

      I encourage you to take a second look at the post.

      I never bad-mouthed a teacher; I questioned the state’s wisdom of using a college textbook for 14-year-old kids. The content is appropriate, but the way it is presented for this particular audience is severely flawed.

      Pearson materials – textbooks and standardized tests – are notorious for bad writing and horrific readability, and this one is no exception. (See the readability statistics in the text.)

      The text is rough for most adults; it’s brutal for a 14-year-old kid.

  2. It’s even worse when you find out about who writes textbooks and their qualifications. The website ran an article by a guy who writes textbooks, and it was horrifying, but explained a lot. The language is unnecessarily vulgar sometimes, but they check their sources and offer links.

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