By little, I mean narrowly focused, not unimportant!
I've been frustrated lately by reading assignments that are way too difficult for students. I bet they have been even more frustrated than I have! This is particularly difficult when content area teachers are doing their best to bring in authentic reading material such as current news in the field. The problem is that such material is written at a level that precludes independent reading. Instead, students end up needing a great deal of support.
When teachers assign reading material, sometimes it is difficult to know until after students have done the reading whether the material is too easy or too advanced. Here are two tools that can make evaluating the reading level of text a little easier.
For a rough estimate, Microsoft Word has the option to evaluate readability statistics as part of the grammar and spelling check. You turn this feature on by clicking on the MS Office button in the upper left hand corner, clicking on Word Options, choosing "proofing", and checking the box that says "show readability statistics."
Copy and paste or type about 100 words of the text into MS Word and save. Then, when you are in a document, go to the reviewing toolbar and run the spelling and grammar check. At the very end of the check, you get a window with a Flesch-Kinkaid reading level. It's not perfect, and I personally think it skews a little low, particularly if the text has a lot of dialogue. However, it is a great quick and easy check that a reading selection isn't way off base.
The second tool is a program that you can download called Reading Rater that is free. It's nice to sometimes do a cross check between the two, but I have found them to be consistent.
Hope these are useful for you!