Test-driving Lexia Core5

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

For teachers looking for high-quality online reading resources, Lexia Reading Core5 (Core5) is one promising—yet pricey—option. Let us examine the site’s key features, strengths, and weaknesses and how it might be useful to classroom teachers.

Usability, features, and functions

Core5 can be accessed on a web browser, an iPad or Android tablet, or installed locally on a computer. It offers clear and sufficient guidance for teachers on how to set up and implement the program and then gather data on student performance. The site is well organized and easy for both teachers and pupils to use because it moves students through the activities step by step (and cleverly adapts based on their performance). It is also likely to keep kids engaged, thanks to its colorful background, pictures, and music.

In the free-trial version of Core5, I had limited access to four levels of the student program: beginning mid-Kindergarten, beginning second grade, beginning fourth grade, and beginning fifth grade (though, as described previously, the full site offers content for pre-K through fifth grade). The entire program ostensibly provides educators with ongoing student data and the appropriate resources to address each student’s needs. (While I couldn’t access the full program without a paid subscription, a site representative explained that Lexia's educator reports provide detailed data on student usage and performance at the district, school, class, and student levels.) Each of the three trial levels included various activities that provide personalized learning in key areas of reading instruction and skill (such as phonics, automaticity, and vocabulary).

A major strength of Core5 is that its content appears to be grade-level appropriate, well-written and clear. It is designed as a stand-alone resource, and the site does not offer suggestions for integrating it into a larger curriculum. But it is excellent for teaching students many of the narrative and informational reading skills called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In my view, any tool offering extra practice of necessary skills—such as phonological awareness and vocabulary development—could work well as a supplementary resource, even if it’s designed to stand alone.

For example, the theme of one third-grade level activity was “Indian Rainforest.” When you click on one of the associated lessons, it tells you the focus as well as the specific CCSS standard to which it’s aligned (the first lesson in the third-grade level told me that it was a spelling lesson and that it matched language arts standard L.3.2e, which requires students to spell high-frequency words and add suffixes to base words). The instruction is clear and concise with effective examples. The lesson leads into independent practice where students apply the rule they learned about one word at a time (for example, the narrator asks the student to “spell the word begging,” while the screen shows “beg + ing =”; students then type “begging” after the equals sign). If they supply the correct answer, they get a green checkmark and move on to the next question. If they get it wrong, the site provides feedback so the students will understand their errors. Though the colorful animations give a game-like feel, the activity does not change throughout the lesson, so it becomes redundant. I could see kids getting bored easily.

For reading passages, the tool provides visually appealing text that kids can scroll through and read at their own pace, with multiple-choice questions integrated as comprehension checks. If students choose the wrong answer, the site brings the specific portion of the text back up on the screen with the additional answer options. This is a great touch, as it gives students a chance to revisit selected text to better understand the question and possible answers. If a student gets the answer wrong a second time, it will highlight the portion of the text that leads to the correct choice. This helpful feature strengthens both comprehension and test-taking skills by eliminating unlikely answers, prompting students to go back to the text and locate evidence to prove their answers—all of which are skills we teach and practice in class. In general, the texts I reviewed were both high quality and grade appropriate. According to the site, selections are sequenced to build content knowledge and vocabulary, and they increase in complexity as students progress. Core5 includes both informational and narrative text, as called for by CCSS, and the questions and tasks are appropriately text dependent (that is, they require students to refer back to the text to answer).

Overall, I can see how both students and teachers would benefit from this program. Students get individualized instruction and practice on critical reading skills. And teachers, with the paid subscription, can gather valuable data that will help guide their instructional decisions for individual students.

Impact on student learning

Unlike many existing online resources, several studies have been conducted to assess Core5’s effectiveness. For example, a 2015 study conducted by Lexia’s own research team found that about a third of elementary-aged summer-school students lowered their risk of reading failure and were in a stronger position at the beginning of the next school year than if they had not used Core5. Another recent study conducted by LEAP Innovations found that “students using Lexia Core5 gained an additional 1.42 test-score points above what the control group gained. This is equivalent to closing the achievement growth gap by 60 percent for low-income students.”

Such “effectiveness information” is valuable for educators who have a near-endless amount of curricula and online resources from which to choose.

Summarizing Core5’s strengths and weaknesses

Overall, Lexia Core 5 is well organized, thorough, and easy to follow, covering many components of reading instruction. The site is engaging for students, aligned to the CCSS, and provides real-time, actionable performance data for teachers (as well as additional instructional tools and resources). It is a welcome tool for differentiating instruction and practice for all students.

The site’s biggest weakness is its cost. Teachers looking to enhance their classrooms may need to look for something more affordable—or free. But if this is something in which administrators will invest, existing research indicates Core5 has the potential to make a positive school-wide impact. This would definitely make the tough task of differentiating instruction easier for teachers, as that feature is built into the program and happens automatically as students progress. There would be virtually no preparation for the teacher, which is always the biggest challenge.

Melody Arabo is a third-grade teacher in Michigan, a National Education Association (NEA) Master Teacher, a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow, the 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and a 2016 Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.