FLESCH-KINCAID GRADE LEVEL READABILITY INDEX AND DONALD TRUMP

January 10, 2018


Mom and Dad taught us how to read so why have I not heard about, until now, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability Index?  I suppose better late than never.  Let’s take a look.

Rudolph Flesch, an author, writing consultant, and the supporter of Plain English Movement, is the co-author of this formula along with John P. Kincaid, thus the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability Test. Raised in Austria, Flesch studied law and earned a Ph.D. in English from the Columbia University. Flesch, through his writings and speeches, advocated a return to phonics. In his article, A New Readability Yardstick, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1948, Flesch proposed the Reading Ease Readability Formula.

In the mid-seventies, the US Navy was looking for a method to measure the difficulty of technical manuals and documents used by Navy personnel.  These manuals were used for training on hardware and software installed on ships and land-based equipment.  Test results are not immediately meaningful and to make sense of the score requires the aid of a conversion table. So, the Flesch Reading Ease test was revisited and, along with other readability tests, the formula was amended to be more suitable for use in the Navy. The new calculation was the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (1975).  The methodology is given as follows:

Grade level classifications are based on the attainment of participants in the norming group on which the test was given.  The grade represents norming group participants’ typical score. So, if a piece of text has a grade level readability score of six (6), this is equivalent in difficulty to the average reading level of the norming group who were at grade six (6 ) when they took the test. This test rates text on a U.S. school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means an eighth grader can understand the document. For most documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0.

The actual formula and classification of the individual grades may be seen below:

Now, with that out of the way, President Donald Trump—who boasted over the weekend that his success in life was a result of “being, like, really smart”—communicates at the lowest grade level of the last 15 presidents, according to a new analysis of the speech patterns of presidents going back to Herbert Hoover. 

 

I want to come to President Trump’s defense, somewhat, as an employee at General Electric, we were told to write our Use and Care Manuals at a fifth (5th) grade level AND use plenty of pictures—plenty of pictures.  This President will probably never win an award for public speaking, and he communicates in a rather unique manner:  He does get his point across.

The very painful fact is that we have basically slaughtered the “King’s English” and our presidents are playing to a much less sophisticated audience than ever before.  The following chart will explain.

Sad—very sad.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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