Text Dependent Analysis for 21st Century Education

Nov 28, 2018

An Item Type to Drive Deeper Instruction and Improve Curriculum Decisions

The world of work in the 21st Century requires that people are able to critically read and analyze a variety of texts and other literacy materials. Text dependent analysis (TDA) is a curriculum and assessment tool to help prepare students for these literacy demands. 

Text dependent analysis requires students to read complex text(s), either narrative or informational, and provide a critical response by drawing evidence from text(s) to “support analysis, reflection, and research” using effective communication skills to write an essay in response to a prompt. Students are expected to make inferences about the author’s meaning, using both explicit and implicit evidence in order to support an overall analysis of the reading elements (literary and literary nonfiction) found within the text. 

The Challenge of Text Dependent Analysis and its Use in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA)

Many school and district personnel view text dependent analysis as a stand-alone item on a test. Consequently, reading and writing instruction has not changed; instructional strategies and resources remain the same, and the scheduling of classes is status quo. Surface-level practices such as “TDA Fridays” have been implemented, in which a text dependent analysis prompt is administered each week to allow students to practice writing in response to a prompt in preparation for the state test. 

Expecting students to deeply understand the underlying components and expectations of analysis by taking an assessment is futile and will not produce the anticipated results of better scores on the PSSA. Teaching students to analyze text requires direct instruction, modeling, scaffolding, and practice throughout the course of the year, requiring a shift in instruction and curriculum.

Many teachers lack clarity as to what is expected from an analysis prompt, how to determine what should be analyzed in a given text, how to teach students to analyze (including the difference between making an inference and analyzing), and how to recognize analysis in student writing. To further complicate this lack of understanding, many district curriculum leaders and teachers rely on commercial reading programs to guide their curriculum and instruction, which typically focus on straightforward comprehension and not analysis. 

Making Necessary Shifts in Instruction and Curriculum

Adopted reading series and programs should be carefully reviewed to identify where and how often students are provided the opportunity to analyze text and to write in response to an analysis prompt. Curriculum directors and teachers must ensure that there is a systematic plan for purposefully embedding the components of a text dependent analysis prompt throughout the reading units. 

The shift from scoring student work to diagnosing student performance is critical for improving student performance. Text dependent analysis learning progressions (Thompson & Lyons, 2018) were developed as an instructional tool for teachers to illustrate the pathways in which students demonstrate their ability to integrate reading comprehension and analysis through a written essay. 

The TDA Learning Progressions are structured in grade spans (3-5 and 6-8) with 4 levels, Beginning, Emerging, Developing, and Meeting. The levels describe the typical path we see in student responses as they move toward demonstrating more sophisticated analyses. Although there are differences in student sophistication within grade spans, the paths toward success are similar enough to negate the need for grade-specific TDA Learning Progressions. 

The TDA Learning Progressions are not rubrics. Rather, the scoring rules for specific TDA prompts provide a holistic view of students’ ability to demonstrate the criteria on the TDA Scoring Guidelines. The underlying components of a TDA (reading comprehension, analysis, and essay writingwere used to establish the TDA Learning Progressions and are further delineated into more specific criteria.

Analytic Writing in Content Areas

Analytic writing in response to text can and should extend beyond English language arts classes, but also be purposefully included in other content courses such as science and social studies. 

Graham and Hebert (2010) identified that writing instruction was “increasingly infrequent in social students and science classes” and that “many teachers (60% of science teachers, for example) reported that they felt unprepared to teach writing” in their courses. Yet, there are multiple opportunities for analysis to occur in these content areas, such as analyzing the results of science investigations or experiments, or analyzing trends in current events. A prompt should be developed to allow students to analyze the specific content they’re reading about and being taught in these classes. High-quality professional development and coaching will be needed and should be provided within the different content areas to support the required instructional shifts.

Although a text dependent analysis prompt appears to be one “item” on the state test, this item has direct implications for student success, as well as instructional programs, scheduling of reading and writing teachers, teaching, and assessments. Some school and district leaders have begun to make changes in these areas, but to ensure the changes are systematic and are producing the expected results, they must evaluate their understanding of the expectations of analysis and a text dependent analysis prompt, their plan of action, and their progress in these changes. 

School and district leaders should use TDA to help create a culture of analysis embedded in day-to-day instructional and assessment practices.


Graham, S. and Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Thompson, J. & Lyons, S. (2018). Text Dependent Analysis (TDA) Learning Progressions. Dover, NH: Center for Assessment.