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Once a year, the President of the United States stands in front of Congress and the American people to deliver the State of the Union Address. Throughout history, there have been some amazing speeches, and some less-than-amazing ones. But have the annual addresses gotten…dumber?

In this lesson, students examine the Flesch-Kincaid formula for determining the grade level of a piece of writing (which has been used to make the claim above). Then, they apply it to presidential addresses over time and decide whether claims of declining intelligence are fair.

Students will

  • Evaluate the Flesch-Kincaid formula to compute grade level scores for presidential speech samples
  • Examine the trend in the grade level of presidential speeches over time
  • Explore the structure of the F-K formula and how the variable relationship determines an overall score
  • Rewrite a sentence to artificially increase and decrease its readability score
  • Evaluate claims about the “intelligence” of presidential speech based on grade level

Before you begin

Students should know how to substitute values into an expression or equation to evaluate the result. Much of the work in this lesson revolves around examining how those values affect the result.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


Presidents and their speechwriters