First, the maximum reading age, as measured by the Fry test for the 2004 papers, is 15 for the level 3 to 6 tier and 16 for the 5 to 7 tier. In 2003, these were 13 and 16, respectively. It is important to emphasise this is a maximum reading age and note the minimum reading age for 2003 and 2004 is six or seven years.
It is perhaps more useful to know that the average reading age is 10 years for the level 3 to 6 tier and 11 years for the level 5 to 7 tier, which is true for the 2003 and 2004 tests.
Most importantly, the Fry test compares the average number of sentences with the average number of syllables, per 100 words of text. It is a test designed for continuous prose, not for text found in typical KS3 science questions. Furthermore, a high reading age by this method could be due to the frequency of multiple-syllable scientific words such as "thermometer" or "universal indicator solution".
The National Assessment Agency is right to point out that the new style of discrete Science 1 questions introduced from 2003 will inevitably involve more reading. However, it is essential that bald statistics like those quoted in your article be placed in context to avoid misunderstandings.
Teaching pupils to consider all the facts before making conclusions is precisely what the new Science 1 is getting at!
Russell Wallington 30 Barton Road Cambridge