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The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader

18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader TM

Accelerated Reader TM

Accelerated Reader™ (AR) is a simple software concept that was at the right time (late 1980s) and right place (public schools during a transition from whole language to phonics instruction) that has simply grown into an educational monolith. From an economic standpoint, simple often is best and AR is a publisher’s dream come true. Renaissance Learning, Inc.(RLI) is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the ticker symbol RLRN and makes a bit more than pocket change off of its flagship product, AR. As is the case with many monoliths, detractors trying to chip away at its monopolistic control of library collections, computer labs, and school budgets are many. The second place challenger is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s (HMH) Reading Counts! (formerly Scholastic Reading Counts!). As one measure of popularity (as of January 2019), the AR program has about 180,000 different books with quizzes, while HMH has about 43,000. Many readers may be interested in my companion article, Comparing Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts!

Following are short summaries of the most common arguments made by researchers, teachers, parents, and students as to why using AR is counterproductive. Hence, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. But first, for the uninitiated, is a brief overview of the AR system.

What is Accelerated Reader?

From the Renaissance Learning website, A Parent’s Guide to Accelerated Reader™, we get a concise overview of this program: “AR is a computer program that helps teachers manage and monitor children’s independent reading practice. Your child picks a book at his own level and reads it at his own pace. When finished, your child takes a short quiz on the computer. (Passing the quiz is an indication that your child understood what was read.) AR gives both children and teachers feedback based on the quiz results, which the teacher then uses to help your child set goals and direct ongoing reading practice.”

How is the Student’s Reading Level Determined?

Renaissance Learning sells its STAR Reading™ test to partner with the AR program. The STAR test is a computer-based grades 1-12 reading assessment that adjusts levels of difficulty to student responses. Among other diagnostic information (such as percentile ranking and grade equivalency, the test establishes a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) reading range for the student.

How are AR Books Selected?

Students are encouraged (or required by some teachers) to select books within their ZPD that also match their age/interest level. AR books have short multiple choice quizzes and have been assigned a readability level (ATOS). Renaissance Learning provides conversion scales to the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) test and the Lexile Framework, so that teachers and librarians who use  these readability formulae will still be able to use the AR program. Additionally, Renaissance Learning provides a search tool to find the ATOS level.

What are the Quizzes? What is the Student and Teacher Feedback?

AR quizzes are taken on computers, ostensibly under teacher or librarian supervision. The Reading Practice Quizzes consist of from 3–20 multiple choice questions (the number based upon book level and length), most of which are at the “recall” level. Students must score 80% or above on these short tests to pass and receive point credit for their readings. When students take AR quizzes, they enter information into a database that teachers can access via password. Additionally, Renaissance Learning has been expanding their range of quizzes. Of the 180,000 books, which have the Reading Practice Quizzes, 10,792 include audio files (in English and some in Spanish); 11,266 of the books have vocabulary-specific quizzes; and 869 have literacy skill quizzes.

Teachers have access to a plethora of individual and class reports, including progress monitoring, parent letters, and the TOPS Report (The Opportunity to Praise Students) reports quiz results after each quiz* is taken.

Both teachers, students, and parents have access to the following from the Renaissance Learning programs:

  • Name of the book, the author, the number of pages in the book
  • ATOS readability level (developed from word difficulty, word length, sentence length, and text length i.e., the number of words)
  • Renaissance Learning has also “partnered with the creators of the Lexile Framework, MetaMetrics, Inc., to be able to bring Lexile Measures into” their programs.
  • Percentage score earned by the student from the multiple choice quiz
  • The number of points earned by students who pass the quiz. AR points are computed based on the difficulty of the book (ATOS readability level) and the length of the book (number of words).

*Quizzes are also available on textbooks, supplemental materials, and magazines. Most are in the form of reading practice quizzes, although some are curriculum-based with multiple subjects. Magazine quizzes are available for old magazines as well as on a subscription basis for new magazines. The subscription quizzes include three of the Time for Kids series magazines, Cobblestone, and Kids Discover. www.renlearn.com

What about the Reading Incentives?

“Renaissance Learning does not require or advocate the use of incentives with the assessment, although it is a common misperception.” However, most educators who use AR have found the program to be highly conducive to a rewards-based reading incentive program.

Criticisms

Book Selection

1. Using AR tends to limit reading selection to its own books. Teachers who use the AR program tend to limit students to AR selections because these have the quizzes to maintain accountability for the students’ independent reading. Although much is made by Renaissance Learning of the motivational benefits of allowing students free choice of reading materials, their selection is actually limited. Currently, AR has over 180,000 books in its database; however, that is but a fraction of the books available for juvenile and adolescent readers.

2. Using AR tends to limit reading selection to a narrow band of readability. A concerned mom recently blogs about her experience with her sixth grade daughter (Lady L) who happens to read a few years beyond her grade level:

I’m not trying to be a whining, complaining parent here.  I’m simply trying to highlight a problem.  At our public library, there are bookmarks in the youth department that list suggested books for students in each grade (K-12th).  We picked up an 8th grade bookmark to get ideas for Lady L’s acceptable reading-leveled book.  Found a book.  Looked up the reading level  and found that it was a 4.5 (not anywhere near the 8.7-10.7 my daughter needed). http://inthemomzone.blogspot.com/2010/01/accelerated-readermy-take.html

3. Using AR tends to discriminate against small publishing companies and less popular authors. Additionally, valid concerns exist about the appropriateness of a private company effectively dictating the materials which children within the program may read. Although teachers may create custom quizzes for reading material not already in the Accelerated Reader system, the reality is that teachers will not have the time nor inclination to do so in order to assess whether an individual student has read a book that is not already in the system. Thus, the ability for a student to explore books which are neither currently commercially popular nor part of major book lists is severely restricted in reality by the Accelerated Reader program. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerated_Reader

In fact, many teachers are inadvertently complicit in this discrimination as they require students to read only books that are in the AR database. Many teachers include the TOPS Report as a part of the students’ reading or English-language arts grade, thus mandating student participation in AR.

Students, themselves, are pushed into the trap of reading some, but not other, authors:

We had an author come and visit our school.  His book was mainly for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.  The author did a great job talking about the writing process and then went into his newest book.  Students were so excited about the book because of the way he described it.  After he was done giving his presentation, he asked if there were any questions.  The very first question that came up, “How many AR points is your book worth”.  Depending on what answer he gave students would either still want to read it or for some the book wouldn’t be worth enough points and therefore not worth reading. http://www.brandonkblom.com/2016/04/why-we-are-moving-on-from-ar.html

4. Using AR tends to encourage some students to read books that most teachers and parents would consider inappropriate for certain age levels. Although Renaissance Learning is careful to throw the burden of book approval onto the shoulders of teachers and parents, students get more points for reading and passing quizzes on higher reading levels and longer books. Although an interest level is provided as is a brief synopsis/cautionary warning on the AR site, students often simply select books by the title, cover, availability, or point value. Thus, a fourth grader might wind up “reading” Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (4.7 ATOS readability level) and a sixth grader might plow through Camus’ The Stranger (6.2 ATOS readability level). Hardly appropriate reading material for these grade levels! Content is not considered in the AR point system and students are, of course, reading for those points.

For my own amusement, I decided to use the ATOS Analyzer to compare two books: Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s tale and hit movie, A Wrinkle in Time, and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s decidedly-adult story, Crime and Punishment. For the former book I searched “a wrinkle in time grade level” and got these results: Scholastic 3-5, 6-8, Guided Reading Level W, and Book Source grades 3-5. I pretended to read Crime and Punishment as a senior in high school and passed the final only with the help of CliffsNotes® (I finally read it years later after earning my master’s degree as a reading specialist.)

I searched for excerpts for both books and copied text from the middle of each book at random. I followed the minimum word guidelines of the ATOS Analyzer and following were the admittedly non-scientific results: The 8.4 level for A Wrinkle in Time corresponds to a seventh-grade reading level, while the 5.7 level for Crime and Punishment corresponds to a fourth-grade level. Now, to be fair, the ATOS level for the entire A Wrinkle in Time is listed at 4.7, which would fall into the third-grade reading level, yet Accelerated Reading lists it interest level as Middle Grades (MG 4-8). Suffice it to say that the ATOS measure and AR readability levels cannot not take thematic maturity into consideration, nor are all sections of a book equal in terms of readability.

A Wrinkle in Time

Crime and Punishment

Reader Response

5. Using AR tends to induce a student mindset that “reading is a chore,” and “a job that has to be done.”

“As a teacher and a mom of 4, I do NOT like AR. As a parent, I watched my very smart 9 year old work the system. He continually read books very much below his ability NOT because he likes reading them, but because he could read them quickly and get points. Other books that he told me he really wanted to read, he didn’t either because they were longer and would take “too long to read” or they weren’t on the AR list. I finally told him to stop with the AR stuff, took him to the bookstore and spent an hour with him finding books he would enjoy. We have never looked back and I will fight wholeheartedly if anyone tries to tell any of my kids they ‘have’ to participate in AR.”

6. Using AR tends to replace the intrinsic rewards of reading with extrinsic rewards.

AR rewards children for doing something that is already pleasant: self-selected reading. Substantial research shows that rewarding an intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. AR might be convincing children that reading is not pleasant. No studies have been done to see if this is true.
Stephen Krashen Posted by
Stephen Krashen on December 17, 2009 at 10:40pm http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blogs/does-accelerated-reader-work?xg_source=activity&id=2567740:BlogPost:161876&page=2#comments

Again, Renaissance Learning does not endorse prizes for points; however, its overall point system certainly is rewards-based. Following is an excerpt from a post on the Elementary Librarian Community site:

Here are some AR reward ideas – things I’ve done in the past and a few things I’ve heard of others doing:

  • A trip to a local park
  • A trip to a local inflatable place
  • Popcorn, soft drink, and movie party
  • Ice cream sundae party (complete with fun toppings like gummy worms, marshmallows, various syrups, etc.)
  • Pizza party
  • Extra play time outside with bubbles and sidewalk chalk
  • Sock hop in the gym
  • Special lunch in the library
  • Breakfast with the principal

Most of those ideas have minimal costs. I’ve done an AR store in the past, where students “purchase” items with their points, but I don’t recommend it. It’s very expensive to buy the gifts, time consuming, and stressful helping the students figure out how many points they’ve used and how many they have left.

7. Using AR tends to foster student and/or teacher competitiveness, which can push students to read books at their frustrational reading levels (without teacher support). In some situations, this competitiveness can lead to hard feelings or outright ostracism. Some students mock other students for not earning enough points, or “making us lose a class pizza party.” Here are two recent blog postings by moms who happen to be educators:

My son is a voracious reader, but AR had him in tears more than once. I had to encourage him to NOT participate in AR (which meant that his class didn’t get the stuffed cougar promised as a reward to the class with the most AR points!) in order to protect that love. He took a hit for his non-participation in school (he started reading books off the list and not getting points for them) but it preserved his love of reading. In my estimation, this love of reading will take him further in the long run. Stupid that he had to choose between school and what was best for his reading life. http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blogs/does-accelerated-reader-work?xg_source=activity&id=2567740:BlogPost:161876&page=5#comments

As an educator, it concerns me when I see students being punished with reading, as can be the case when I visit sites on a Friday afternoon, a day many grade levels offer students “Fun Friday” activities. Students who’ve completed their class and homework assignments for the week and have had no behavioral problems get to sign-in for fun activities. One teacher volunteers to monitor those who did not earn a Fun Friday, including students who did not meet their AR requirement for the week – and as a result, will be punished with staying in the non-FF room to read.

http://englishcompanion.ning.com/profiles/blogs/does-accelerated-reader-work?xg_source=activity

Note: Teacher comments regarding this section tend to be quite critical and can be summed up as “It’s not AR’s fault, but the teacher’s misuse of the program.” Interestingly, parent and student comments tend to blame the program, more so than the teachers.

8. Using AR tends to turn off some students to independent reading. Countless posts on blogs point to the negative impact of this program on future reading. From my own survey of sixty blogs, using the “accelerated reading” search term, negative comments and/or associations with the AR program far outweigh positive ones. Of course there are those who credit AR for developing them into life-long readers; however, would other independent reading programs have accomplished the same mission? In Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, he cites a few studies that demonstrate that after exiting an AR program, students actually read less than non-AR students. Plus, all instructional activities are reductive. Having students spend hours skimming books in class to prepare for AR test takes away from other instruction.

Donalyn Miller, author of the the Book Whisperer, claims that the

…use of Accelerated Reader may in some cases adversely affect students’ reading attitudes and their perceptions of their reading skills, particularly among low readers. Putman (2005) examined the relationships among students’ accrual of Accelerated Reader points, their reading self-efficacy beliefs, and the value they place on reading. Students who accumulated the most Accelerated Reader points showed increases in their reading self-efficacy. In contrast, students who fell in the mid-range of Accelerated Reader point accumulation showed decreases in both their reading self-efficacy and their value of reading. Finally, students who earned the fewest Accelerated Reader points showed the lowest levels of reading self-efficacy and value in reading of all three groups. Although use of reading management programs may encourage children who are successful readers, educators should be aware that program use may discourage less capable readers. These findings suggest that the Matthew effects described by Stanovich (1986) occur not only with reading achievement, but also with reading attitudes. More specifically, children with positive attitudes toward reading may read more and in turn develop even better attitudes toward reading. https://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer/2010/09/reading_rewarded_part_ii.html

9. Using AR tends to turn some students into cheaters. Many students skim read, read only book summaries, share books and answers with classmates, select books that have been made into movies that they have already seen, or use web cheat sites or forums to pass the quizzes without reading the books. Pervasive among many students seems to be the attitude that one has to learn how to beat the AR system, like one uses cheat sites and codes to beat video games. Both are on the computer and detached from human to human codes of conduct. Students who would never dream of cheating on a teacher-constructed test will cheat on AR because “it’s dumb” or “everyone does it.”

In order to take Accelerated Reader tests without any reading at all, many students use sites such as Sparknotes to read chapter summaries. Other websites offer the answers to Accelerated Reader tests. Students regularly trade answers on yahoo.com. Renaissance Learning has filed lawsuits against some of the offending websites and successfully closed them down after a short time. An AR cheat site is currently the ninth Google™ listing on the first page for the “accelerated reader” search term.

AR is Reductive

10. Using AR tends to supplant portions of established reading programs. In my experience, teachers who use AR spend less time on direct reading instruction. Some teachers even consider AR to be solid reading instruction. However, AR does not teach reading; AR tests reading. The expectation of many teachers is that students are learning to read on their own or are dutifully practicing the reading strategies that their teachers have taught them.

Note: As an M.A. reading specialist, this is my biggest problem with AR. Teachers can teach reading to their students, Accelerated Reader tends to devolve the learning responsibility to children. The AR tests quiz students; the tests do not teach students. Now, I certainly value independent reading; however, there are plenty of other options than using AR which don’t supplant reading instruction.

11. Using AR tends to train students to accumulate facts and trivia as they read in order to answer the recall questions. Teachers and reading specialists encourage students to establish the purpose for their reading. Setting the purpose helps the independent reader narrow down the self-monitoring of text to focus on those ends. For example, an adult reading the instructions for bicycle assembly on Christmas Eve would establish the reading purpose as putting the parts together so that the resulting bicycle will be functional and safe (without too many parts left over). With AR the purpose for reading is clear to most students: PASS THE READING PRACTICE QUIZZES WITH HIGH SCORES TO CONVERT TO THE MOST POINTS. Again, most all questions in the Reading Practice Quizzes are recall. Recall questions are designed to ascertain whether students read the book, not understand the book. Students receive few extrinsic “rewards” for higher order comprehension: making inferences, connections, interpretations, or conclusions as they read. Reading is reduced to a lower order thinking process. Students read to gain the gist of characterizations and plots. The Florida Center for Reading Research noted the lack of assessment of “inferential or critical thinking skills” as weaknesses of the software. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerated_Reader

Renaissance Learning has paid attention to this criticism, and now has 869 literacy skills quizzes; however, these quizzes cover less than 1% of the books that include the Reading Practice Quizzes.

12. Using AR tends to take up significant instructional time and teacher prep time. Students have to wait their turn to take quizzes on the classroom computers or the teacher has to march the class down to the library or computer lab to allow the students to do so.

The incentives schools develop with the AR program also take away from instructional time. One parent details her frustrations with the program:

When the librarian tallies up all of the people who have passed a book (not a goal, but just ONE book), everybody gets a chance to come to the library to select a prize (these are dollar store purchases to include child-like toys and snacks). The English teachers are asked to send the students when the coupons come (a disruption of classroom time). The reason for this is to send a clear message to the students who did not pass a book. It is to make them feel bad, I presume. Tell me how this fits into anything that looks like motivation. This includes students who took a quiz the day before coupons were made and distributed who now have to sit in class while all of their classmates go down to collect a prize.

AR recommends a minimum of 35 minutes per day of reading on its website. The National Reading Panel’s conclusion of programs that encouraged independent reading was “unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency.” p.12).

The AR management system is extensive and time-consuming. With all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to understand why the teacher’s investment of prep time leads (for many) to using AR as a primary, rather than supplementary, means of reading practice within the assigned instructional reading block. Teachers know that technology takes time.

13. Using AR tends to reduce the amount of time that teachers spend doing “read-alouds,” guided reading, teaching class novels, teaching reading strategies, leading literary discussions, and delivering assessment-based reading instruction. For example, Jim Trelease, chief advocate of the “read-aloud” was an early advocate of AR, even keynoting three national conferences for AR. However, in his sixth edition of his popular The Read-Aloud Handbook, Trelease turns quite critical.  AR teachers tend teach fewer core novels and to limit class discussions because of the time considerations or because a discussion would give away AR quiz answers. Besides, the computer can ask the questions instead.

What we do know from reading research is that direct instruction in phonemic awareness, the alphabetic code (phonics), syllabication, reading fluency, spelling, and vocabulary development should be the primary reading instructional tasks to build reading comprehension. AR cannot claim that the program, itself, reinforces these concepts and skills acquisition, but certainly independent reading does so. Of course, other options for independent reading, such as reading at home, do not take up significant amounts of class time.

14. Using AR tends to make reading into an isolated academic task. With each student reading a different book, the social nature of reading is minimized. Research on juvenile and adolescent readers emphasizes the importance of the book communities in developing a love for reading. The focus on individual-only reading with AR results in fewer literature circles with small groups sharing the same book and discussing chapter by chapter, fewer online book clubs, fewer literacy centers, and fewer Socratic Seminars and literacy discussions. After all, students can’t collaborate on the Reading Practice Quizzes and discussing books would skew the quiz results. Ironically and unintentionally, some of the AR cheat sites devolve into book discussions.

15. Using AR tends to drain resources that could certainly be used for other educational priorities. The program is not cheap. While librarians are always (along with counselors, art, and music teachers, and reading specialists) the first on the budget chopping block, the pressure to build up the AR library collection always grows. For each $15 hardback purchase, there is an additional cost of close to $3 for the AR quiz (minimum purchases of 20). This amounts to a de facto 20% tax on library acquisitions. Another way to look at this is that a school library able to purchase 300 new books a year will only be able to purchase 250 because of the AR program. AR costs that library and those students 50 books per year. A typical elementary school of 500 students spends around $4000 per year on AR.

16. Using AR tends to replace teaching to diagnostically-based reading skills deficits, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, and reading fluency as advocated by the National Reading Panel Report. The STAR Test is hardly diagnostic in terms of the full spectrum of reading skills, despite its flimsy claims to point out potential reading issues in the teacher reports. AR neither assesses, nor teaches phonemic awareness, decoding/word attack, syllabication, vocabulary, or reading comprehension strategies.

17. Using AR tends to limit differentiated and individualized instruction. Students are not grouped by ability or skill deficits with AR. The teacher does not spend additional time with remedial students for AR. Students do not receive different instruction according to their abilities. Worse yet, many teachers wrongly perceive AR as differentiated instruction because all of their students are reading books at their own reading levels. Again, there is no reading instruction in AR.

Research Base

18. Although a plethora of research studies involving AR are cited on the Renaissance Learning website, few of the AR studies meet the strict research criteria of the Institute of Education Services What Works Clearinghouse. Noodle around the What Works Clearinghouse site and see other programs with much higher gains. Stephen Krashen, educational researcher, stated,  “Despite the popularity of AR, we must conclude that there is no real evidence supporting it, no real evidence that the additional tests and rewards add anything to the power of simply supplying access to high quality and interesting reading material and providing time for children to read them.”

Author’s Summary

There simply are far superior and effective independent reading programs for beginning and older, struggling readers. Additionally, plenty of other independent reading plans or programs work well without the excess baggage of the AR program detailed above. Click here to learn How to Develop a Free Schoolwide Reading Program. Is there life for a school after AR? Check out this article, written by two elementary principals who have lived to tell the tale.

What About AR’s Competitor? HMH (formerly Scholastic) Reading Counts!

In this companion article, I summarize the Reading Counts! (RC) program and provide comparisons to Accelerated Reader™. Additionally, I analyze three of the RC program claims and offer counterclaims for educators to consider before purchasing this independent reading management system:

Claim 1: Students improve their reading more when the complexity of the text they read matches their reading ability.

Claim 2: RC provides the accountability to ensure that students are reading independently.

Claim 3: RC EMPOWERS educators with reports and actionable data at the student, school and district level. As a supplementary reading program, RC REINFORCES comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency skills. 

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive assessment-based reading intervention curriculum, the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLEIdeal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program. Phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, fluency (with 128 YouTube modeled readings), spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The 54 accompanying guided reading phonics books each have comprehension questions, a focus sound-spelling pattern, controlled sight words, a 30-second word fluency, a running record, and cleverly illustrated cartoons by David Rickert to match each entertaining story. These resources provide the best reading intervention program at a price every teacher can afford.

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  1. Jen
    January 5th, 2018 at 18:21 | #1

    AR kills the love of reading. Gone is reading a book that catches your eye. No, now you have to check and see if there is an AR test on it. Also, every book has to be read with an incredible attention to detail. Can’t waste time reading for pleasure or you won’t get your required points. It has to be within a certain reading level or you can’t take a test for points. Example: my son was excited to receive The Boxcar Children series for Christmas and wanted to read the books in order. However, he needs 10 AR points the next 9 weeks and only a handful of the books fall within his AR range. So, unless he waits until summer, he can’t “waste” time reading the series in order. My other son received the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, but couldn’t “waste” valuable reading time on it as there isn’t yet an AR test on it. Just ridiculous! Schools need to come up with something else.

  2. Angry mommy
    March 15th, 2018 at 03:54 | #2

    I’m so sorry to read this. We are struggling with the same thing. There is an ablist view that all children should be able to do this and that is not the case. My daughter has a reading disorder and she is experiencing mental health problems from the stress and shame of being left out of parties for this. Accelerated math is similar. She does have lower goals than others but she still struggles. As someone who studied behavior modification and research I find this infuriating. It is a total misunderstanding of both. It’s all in the name of increasing test scores to improve school standings done at the expense of the well-being of our kids. Bullshit. The only way it will change is a parent boycott.

  3. JoyceB
    May 29th, 2018 at 20:26 | #3

    My 8th grade child just read a 43 point book by Tom Clancy. He needs 25 points this quarter to satisfy AR requirements. Fortunately, it’s only 5% of his grade because he did not pass the 43 point quiz. He read the book, loved and was immersed in the book and can talk details, themes and plot. However, he missed enough key details in the AR Quiz (Missed a question about how a character prefers their coffee) and failed the quiz.

    So… no AR points for my book loving voracious reader. He failed over details like the coffee.

    Really, Renaissance Learning, is this what you want as the end-result of all your stupid quizzes?

    There are a few kids who benefit from AR, primarily reluctant readers at the elementary level. I think AR serves to makes kids start to not love reading.

    I don’t understand how L’Etranger is a measly 6 points. Sure, the vocabulary (translated from the French) is simple but the theme is deep, requiring the comprehension of a mature reader.

    So much stress associated with AR. I say, get rid of it!

  4. May 30th, 2018 at 06:07 | #4

    So sorry for your kid! Tom Clancy is one of my favorites. I love your coffee question example… I’d like to hear any teacher argue that knowing that trivial detail is more important than knowing the key details, themes, and plot. Teachers want accountability for independent reading, so do parents. However, a quick daily discussion of the child’s reading (irrespective of whether the parent or peer knows the book or not) provides that accountability and increases comprehension. We don’t need no stinkin’ AR quizzes! Check out my articles on developing a free independent reading program that makes sense.

  5. Donna McCaw
    May 30th, 2018 at 23:29 | #5

    I have been around long enough to remember AR when it first came on the market. It’s primary purpose was to motivate students to independently invest time in reading and to offer immediate comprehension feedback to students.
    It quickly moved, for some teachers, to being an “important” part of their lesson. AR does NOT teach reading! It is an incredibly poor substitute for anything related to instruction!! I was in a school, this year, where entire classes of students were scrambling to read books for points so that they could improve their grade!!!!! To prepare for the online test, students were going through vocabulary flash cards with their Title I teacher. The research is clear – garbage in — garbage out…doesn’t remain in long term memory and has little to no value. IF AR works to motivate independent reading, why were students AND teachers (for most of the last week of the quarter) focused on “reading for points?”
    Years ago, I interviewed students and teachers using AR.
    IF IT MOTIVATES students to read, why do teachers give grades for AR? Teachers have shared that if they didn’t grade, students wouldn’t read and take the quiz! Students shared that they didn’t read because the books they wanted to read weren’t in the library or that they had already read them and couldn’t read them again. When I engaged many of the students in conversations about their books, they were not excited nor interested in talking about their books, they just wanted to take the quiz and be done with it.
    This past spring (2018) I watched as a young girl asked her teacher how many points were needed for her to reach her goal? She was told, she left her room, returned a few minutes later with “Wonder.” She showed the book to her teacher, who nodded approval but was busy with a roomful of other “AR needed points at the end of the grading period – students,” so no conversation about the book took place between teacher and student.
    I asked the student if she knew anything about the book. “No. But it is worth the points I need and it looks easy, so I grabbed it.” Did you know that a movie with that title had recently been released? “No.” (I had cried through the movie and have 3 copies of the book she was holding.) I tried to engage her in looking at the book cover and talking about the movie. She didn’t seem interested – quickly skimming the book and went to a tablet to take the quiz:). It broke my heart…so many lessons about humanity can be found in the story and yet none of those “qualities” of the book was even acknowledged – in either the student’s mind or the mindless quiz she proceeded to take.

    I will note that due to the cost of AR and the multiple decade of investment that many districts have in it, teachers use it because they are expected to, it’s part of the school culture, it’s easy…. Many teachers don’t like it but are expected to use it. Entire school library budgets are spent on buying AR only books. In too many school libraries, there are no books but AR books. It is alllllll tooooooo sad:(

  6. JR
    October 2nd, 2018 at 23:02 | #6

    @Jen
    Is it that hard to get 10 AR points in 9 weeks? Does your school have that small of a window to take the two tests a week needed?

  7. Ann Lafosse
    October 17th, 2018 at 19:32 | #7

    I was never convinced of AR as an effective -or even auxiliary- program to support reading development. Beginning with its name, why do we have to ‘accelerate readers’? To experience the joy of reading for pleasure one has to slow down and take in those ‘small or great moments’; to overcome the challenges of complex text, one has to slow down once more and do a close read or re-read. There is no need to accelerate the act of reading, nor the development of readers who love reading. It seems counterproductive.
    Thank you everyone for posting and sharing your insights!

  8. Kellie Kiernan
    November 1st, 2018 at 03:25 | #8

    I find the levels/points assigned to the books to be inconsistent. For example my son is blowing through the Percy Jackson books, the first book (Lightning Thief) is set at a 3.1 reading level and the children can earn up to 1 point (Wimpy kid is 5.2 level for 3 points) – my son missed a question and got 0.9 points and it dropped his average reading level down 🙁
    The second Percy Jackson book (Sea of Monsters) is set a 4.6 reading level and can earn up to 10.0 points so my son scored 8 points on it. Same series, continuation of the same story… The Percy Jackson series is a little more advanced reading than the wimpy kid series and yet wimpy kid books are ranked 1 – 2 levels above the Percy Jackson books. How do they assign the reading levels? And how do they decide how many points you can get for each book?

  9. Nancy
    November 10th, 2018 at 00:42 | #9

    Thanks for this great article. I am a parent at a school in Seattle suburb that started to use AR and everything Renaissance this year. Apparently, this was a pilot program, but no one ever cared to tell parents, not even at Curriculum night. Right now, we have a muddle between Renaissance and regular reading program that was established many years ago. The teacher rarely does read-alouds. She plays some videos and expects students to be self-driven. Students go from one assessment to another assessment, without gaining sense of why they do reading. I am talking Grade 3 students, mostly eight year olds. Summarizing: The teacher does close to zero teaching. She does a lot of assessment, mostly driven from Renaissance websites. Students who attend external training at private shops like Kumon do better. Overall, I am struggling to understand how my school district got us into this mess.

  10. Annie Peterman
    November 19th, 2018 at 20:49 | #10

    AR is a “tool” like any other resource districts spend thousands of dollars on to support reading instruction. There are pros and cons to each one. This article assumes that all teachers who utilize AR are bad reading teachers. Lucy Caulkins levels books and requires a comprehension retell to determine a readers level. So does DRA. Should we throw them out the window, too? NO. Any teacher worth their salt understands that these programs are tools for differentiating & supporting reading instruction. I have never met two students alike in all my years of teaching. But I love having a full toolbox that allows me to help each and every one of them.

  11. November 21st, 2018 at 08:24 | #11

    Annie,

    No, you misread my article. Yes, AR is a tool; however, it’s one that we can do without. Additionally, you reach too far in saying that my article “assumes that all teachers who utilize AR are bad reading teachers.” I don’t use personal attacks in any of my work. Let’s stick to the issue: teachers have better tools at their disposal to teach reading.

    Additionally, my criticism regarding establishing reading levels goes to those applied in the AR program, not to reading levels across the board.

    BTW. I just went through my toolbox in the garage and threw out outdated, poorly designed, and duplicate tools. A “full toolbox” is irrelevant; it’s what’s inside that counts. Of course, we can go back and forth regarding “what works for you and what works for me”; the purpose of the article is to get teachers to re-evaluate the use of the AR tool and explore more effective alternatives.

  12. November 21st, 2018 at 08:30 | #12

    Not to say that all technology is bad; however, when districts, principals, or teachers spend a lot of money for a program, they feel compelled to use it. Teaching is reductive; if you add something, you get rid of the other.

  13. November 21st, 2018 at 09:00 | #13

    You are absolutely correct in your assessment. The AR approach to leveling books is state of the art; however, the “art” presupposes that reading level is measurable using quantitative means. Much better to affirm parental judgment in terms of which books are challenging for their own children. Even much better to equip students with self-selection of books with simple word recognition techniques. The old “five finger” for primary and intermediate elementary and “ten finger” for upper elementary and secondary readers works much better. Each finger represents a word on the page which the student could not adequately define by meaning, example, etc. Simple, but effective.

    Plus, let’s not forget a dose of good old-fashioned common sense and the role of motivation for a developing reader. My slightly above grade-level fourth grader, Kenny, was dying to read the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it first came out. Clearly, the quantitative measures ATOS 6.9 (34 AR points), Lexile 880, DRA, F&P/GRL Z, GLE 7.4 should have prevented his MA reading specialist father (me) from purchasing this “frustration level” book. However, I ignored the quantitative data and waited in line for the midnight release of this treasured book.

    Kenny plowed through the book and enjoyed it immensely. By the end of fourth grade, Kenny was significantly above grade level and a confident reader. Thanks to his teacher and J.K. Rowling.

  14. Sasha T.
    December 16th, 2018 at 13:12 | #14

    @SharonLee Ward
    This is a late response as I have only stumbled upon the blog recently. My son is currently in kindergarten and we are at a school that spend a lot of time pressuring parents and students to take AR tests. I have concerns regarding my son’s teacher and the way she rewards students. I believe the AR can be a great tool, but it is being misused at the expense of the children. At first I tried to be as accommodating to her as I know my son can have a short attention span, but when I started volunteering regularly, I discovered that the teacher over exaggerates. She excessively assigns homework and make parents do her job for her at home. My son gets a special homework packet and we sit 2 hours a day to complete homework on top of being pressured to quiz 3 books a week on the AR. I have brought this to the attention of the principal, but he stands firm in his support of the teacher (even though we have documented every step of the way. I also believe they are good friends) and refuses to address this teacher’s professionalism and unethical behavior. Recently, my son was ostracized from a rally because he has 89.5% on his AR average and he was required to have 90%. To make matters worse, he was excluded from receiving a candy reward (which I had knowledge of until now and I strongly oppose to rewarding children with candy) in front of his classmates, a practice which promotes shaming and embarrassment. I questioned the principal regarding the objective of the AR program, but he was unable to provide me with anything to validate their actions. By the way, my son reads at the highest level in class – at a third grade level. I feel helpless and I’m not sure where to turn to try to bring awareness to what is going on at this school. I am also saddened that the educators at this school and perhaps the school district have lost sight of what’s important – our children’s experience, childhood, self-esteem, and love for reading.
    To respond to SharonLee’s post, my son does not score well on his quizzes in class either because his teacher is constantly rushing him. I would even go as far as to say she might even be sabotaging him in retaliation because of my meeting with the principal. Her class has a lot of visual noise and it is a constant chaos. She is also not the warm and fuzzy type. She also NEVER assigns books based on his interest, so I’ve had to researcher AR books on my own and test him on our own time after school. We do not have the option to opt-out or at least they never gave us the option to. If anyone is reading this – I really need some guidance on what to do. I would like to pursue a complaint regarding this teacher’s behavior, but I don’t want to make life harder for my son.

  15. December 16th, 2018 at 13:54 | #15

    Often teachers do not know how much time their homework takes. And, yes, often parents spend too much time on it or students do not use time efficiently. Suggest contacting district (should be on its website) to find out homework expectations per grade level and proceed with that information. Sounds to me like the teacher is overcompensating, because your child is accelerated. Remember, you can choose to have your child do and not do homework. Do what makes sense.

    Sorry about the silly rewards with AR and the insane ramifications.

    I wouldn’t stress over the retaliation issue. Squeaky wheels often get plenty of grease, especially in public schools. Don’t go crazy over this.

  16. Rachelle
    January 10th, 2019 at 10:44 | #16

    Does anyone have any resources to test for a student’s ZPD without using the STAR test? 🙂

  17. January 10th, 2019 at 11:46 | #17

    Rachelle,

    Following is a much easier and effective method for matching students to books for independent reading: http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/level-books-with-word-recognition/ Lev Vygotsky (theorist behind zones of proximal development) would cringe at the STAR:)

  18. Elizabeth
    January 24th, 2019 at 10:30 | #18

    Our school got rid of accelerating reading only to replace it with reading counts. It’s the SAME kind of program.
    Choose Scholastic books on a list (only Scholastic books). Earn points by reading and taking the quiz. Earn enough points to use an ipad, tablet or other electronic devices at a party. Those that don’t make the points? They get put in the study hall room where they have to read. Um…so the punishment is reading?
    I told my daughter, who’s 9, that I didn’t care if they got points at all. We read together, and she reads on her own every night. I don’t want Scholastic ruining her joy of reading, but they are certainly trying their best! For now, when we go to the library, we aren’t looking for books with points. She’s looking for books that actually interest her.

  19. January 25th, 2019 at 10:39 | #19

    I’m going to research “Reading Counts.” Thanks for the tip. You are my hero!

  20. February 6th, 2019 at 09:58 | #20
  21. ALW
    February 26th, 2019 at 19:09 | #21

    I am a sub teacher. The district I work in most often uses AR. In grades 2-6, students have a quarterly AR goal and those that meet the goal get to attend a reward part of some sort. Every single quarter, during the last ten days, when I sub in those grades, teachers set aside time for students to read and/or ask that students who finish work early read. Every single time, there are students in the room who have met their AR goal early. And every single kid who has then vehemently refuses to read. Because if they have met their goal, there is, in their mind, no reason to continue. Today, a fifth grader impatiently explained to me that since anything she reads now won’t count for next quarter’s goal and she has met this quarter’s goal already, “reading would just be a big waste of time”.

    It makes me want to scream. We are not encouraging a love of reading at all.

  22. February 27th, 2019 at 07:29 | #22

    This comment is so indicative of the key problem of reading management programs, such as AR and Reading Counts! Students come to see independent reading as “something contrived that you’ve got to do at school. Something not connected to real life.”

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