To lift readers, he weighs each word.

Position:Malbert Smith III, president of MetaMetrics Inc.

Next time you're watching ACC basketball and the TV camera pans to the Cameron Crazies, remember that, despite appearances, those Duke University students actually can read. And that slightly older guy there in the front row is working to improve future Crazies' chances of slam-dunking college.

Malbert Smith III, 45, is president of MetaMetrics Inc. in Durham, site of his alma mater, where he got a bachelor's in psychology in 1975. (His Ph.D. in educational psychology came from that other blue school down the road in 1979.) Smith and his partner, Jack Stenner, chairman and a Duke Ph.D., founded MetaMetrics in 1984. The Lexile Framework software they developed helps match children with books at their reading levels.

Enter a fifth-grade classroom, Smith says, and you'll find some students reading whole books while others struggle to make it through a page. Traditional standardized reading tests tell parents their fifth-grade child reads at, say, the fourth- or seventh-grade level. The Lexile system, which took a decade to develop, takes that a step further by recommending specific, manageable books.

The software analyzes a text based on its vocabulary and sentence complexity, then assigns it a rating. These range from 200L, the simplest, to 1700L. Children are rated on the same scale. For a child at 200L, Dr. Seuss books are appropriate. A child at 1700L can digest The New England Journal of Medicine.

Last year Miami's Dade County, the nation's fourth-largest public-school system, began using the Lexile system to measure students, as did districts...

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