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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. January 26th, 2010 at 04:23 | #1

    Thanks for stopping by, Mark. Very valid points here.

  2. Jim
    January 26th, 2010 at 05:29 | #2

    Nice one! I had to share this on my blog as well. Keep fighting the good fight for authentic reading. Thanks for the ammo.

  3. January 26th, 2010 at 11:55 | #3

    I’m not a fan of AR, but there are some less evil ways that it can be used. Unfortunately, the thing it teaches best is how to take a test, and that is a skill the students are called upon to use. I try very hard to get students AR books that they also enjoy, and we have students donate tests and put labels in the books they choose. Not perfect, but I’m trying to work with it because I have to.

  4. paije
    January 27th, 2010 at 14:40 | #4

    Definitely true!!! I am a high school student who has always struggled with AR. It is not because I am not an avid reader, but rather that I read “unpopular” books or books that are far above my level. the list definitely limits your reading, excluding even some great classics. I have seen many in my class discouraged to read for fun, and view reading rather as an assignment rather than a luxery.

  5. Caroline Roche
    January 30th, 2010 at 07:24 | #5

    All I can say is, as a librarian who has used AR for over 10 years, that most of the reasons you cite for not using AR I would never dream of doing. And most of those mistakes you cite seem to have been made by teaching staff, not librarians. We encourage reading for its own sake, and when a child is a confident reader, then I encourage them to go ‘off list’ and choose whatever they like to read, and if it happens to have a test on – which loads of my books do – they do a test on it. My pupils are allowed to borrow 4 books, only one of which must be their AR book. I do not dictate to them or comment on their other choices. It is a real joy to see, as I have again and again, pupils suddenly, through AR, become confident in reading and fly for themselves. All of us are not rigid – I believe the scheme is far better when run by librarians, who are used to encouraging reading, than by teachers, who by nature tend to be far more didactic.

  6. B McEntire
    January 31st, 2010 at 20:16 | #6

    I have used AR and STAR effectively for over a decade; however, I have seen others use AR to absolutely destroy student morale. I agree with Ms Roche #5: almost every point in the article should begin with “Misusing AR” rather than “Using AR.” As is so often the case with so many things in life it is how you use it that counts. The STAR assessment does have a strong correlation to written exams that test vocabulary and reading comprehension. I have compared and charted these scores myself to see. It should not be the definitive tool used to benchmark but it does provide one more piece of objective data for the thinking professional to use to get an idea about where a student is with their reading ability. And it used to be inexpensivly priced to accomplish this although in recent years RenLearn has totally changed its business model to siphon annual fees to host the data on their own server. This greed has almost made me pull out of the program because it has become so cost prohibitive. I digress. It is amazing to me how we continually try to place blame on a piece of software when the responsibility rests squarely upon our own shoulders. Let’s throw the baby out with the bath water again.

  7. Jack Stevenson
    February 1st, 2010 at 13:02 | #7

    I agree that AR quizzes limit the potential of a student to read books at their own level or above. Just because you pass a quiz doesn’t mean that you are smart. I think that kids should be challenged to read to learn and not to get points or prizes.

  8. Nikki Heath
    April 21st, 2010 at 23:44 | #8

    Hi, there,
    I fully agree with Caroline. We have begun to use AR this year and there’s been a real ‘buzz’ in my library lessons. Weaker students are no longer picking up ‘thick books’ that they truly cannot read but are reading books quickly, gaining in confidence and moving quickly up the levels, and are really enjoying their reading. There’s a more focussed atmosphere as the students know that AR will ‘catch them out’ if they aren’t reading the books properly.
    Students are told they should be reading lots of different things, from web pages to magazines, newspapers and other books besides the ones on our AR shelves, and are actively encouraged to do so. We are encouraging them to read for 10 minutes or so a day their AR book, but should be reading other material too.
    As long as AR is used in the correct way, it CAN increase reading ability, confidence and frequency in all students whether they be weak or strong readers. Our students love using it and are proud to share their sucesses with their teachers and their families.

  9. Lorrie Brown
    September 18th, 2010 at 11:32 | #9

    I am a first-grade teacher with 15 years of teaching experience. I use AR as a supplemental reading program and I have witnessed young readers come alive and flourish as they experience success in this program. I favor it because it allows students to progress at their own level, therefore replacing their frustration with confidence while developing their reading ability. If used in a positive way, AR is a wonderful teaching and learning tool. I most definitely disagree with this author.

  10. September 19th, 2010 at 08:19 | #10

    The biggest misunderstanding of both Accelerated Reader® and Read Naturally® is that they are comprehensive reading programs. Whereas Lorrie is commendably only using AR as a “supplement,” many teachers assume that reading a lot teaches reading. Any program that consistently needs disclaimers such as “if used in a positive way” has issues. As a reading specialist, I know we can do better for our children.

  11. Emily G
    October 6th, 2010 at 19:01 | #11

    As a parent, I dislike the “Accelerated Reader” program. It is an unintellectual treatment of reading and literature. Perhaps it is useful for incentivizing elementary school readers, but certainly middle and high school students should be beyond this seemingly quantity-over-quality system. The book list itself is wanting.

    My middle school child is required to take MULTIPLE CHOICE quizzes on random book selections to tally a certain number of “AR points,” which will comprise part of a report card grade. The books are not coordinated with topics or themes covered in any classes. It’s precious time that should be spent on deeper, sophisticated assignments and learning. It makes no sense to me.

  12. laura
    October 8th, 2010 at 07:37 | #12

    I completely agree with the statement that AR replaces the intrinsic reward of reading with extrinsic rewards. For that reason, I do not encourage my son to complete AR tests beyond what is expected by his teacher/school. I feel it cheapens his love of reading, and frankly he could care less how many words the program says he has read, what level AR says he’s on, etc. He is doing a few tests because it is expected and the kids get a sundae at some point for doing so!! On the other hand, AR can be a useful tool for students who are not intrinsically motivated to read and for whom extrinsic rewards may encourage more positive reading behaviors which can lead to improved vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. I taught elementary and middle school (SLD and general ed.)for five years, including two as a remedial reading teacher. I am currently the stay-at-home mom of an intrinsically motivated and high-performing fourth grade boy and a tremendously active two year old!

  13. laura
    October 8th, 2010 at 12:35 | #13

    Further, I believe that as educators are increasingly expected to measure, measure, measure, we drive students away from meaningful (or purposeful) learning and toward a path of mediocrity and resignation. For example, a student who wishes to score extremely well on AR tests or amass a huge quantity of titles/words may choose to read titles at or below his or her level. This behavior pattern may be suitable for those barely at or below level, but not for most students. And has anyone really taken a good look at the questions? Most are pretty low level. If students are going to be successful readers, they need to learn to love reading, and that doesn’t come from taking a test or counting words read or eating sundaes. Ask a good reader why he or she loves reading: You might find it’s because he or she picturs the story in their mind, gets lost in a story, escapes to another time or place or discovers new worlds.

  14. Amber
    March 25th, 2011 at 18:56 | #14

    I was just recently retrained in AR and I think you will find that many of the issues you have brought up have been addressed. I am finding that it is creating readers in my class. If it were not for the incentive many of my students would not have started reading. Now they beg to read. If AR is done correctly while informing the students of WHY and HOW it seems to be successful. Their new progress monitoring and intervention tracking is a great new feature. I was a disillusioned mom/teacher with the program but now that I have seen “the light” I find it to be one of many of my tools to entice kids to read. My reluctant readers are now picking books they enjoy simply because of the fluency AR garnered. They are now comfortable reading.

  15. tccampa
    March 29th, 2011 at 14:06 | #15

    Thank you very much for saying exactly what I have been feeling about the AR program. I too took my son off the AR program for a number of reasons, many cited here. His teachers still continue to harass him about AR points and AR goals. My son was choosing books based upon the AR points, then rushing through them–how is that reading? Now he reads what he wants and is happy. I am definitely in the minority about AR though. I will use many of the points you made here in my own arguments against AR.

  16. AnotherSpecialist
    April 16th, 2011 at 09:35 | #16

    How sad for a “readking specialist” to discourage any reading program with proven results. The fact is you are attacking one, a Leveled Reading Program, and two, a state standard on word count. Students gain when they read at an “independent level” versus a “frustrated level”. Their confidence increases and their reading levels grow. The need to read DAILY is a basic state standard, to ignore or deny the accountability that AR manages is a major mistake! There are over 135,000 titles and it is growing daily, and as others mentioned a strong reader needs to read all genres, not just what they want to read.

    Amber is right about the interventions and I have seen my students grow over 5 years in a single year. Parents like tccampa are being misinformed and you have spread such outdated falsehoods that will harm many who had the chance. My advice, take down the blog you created, or at least report without any bias or persuasion. Take a look at Wikipedia and what is posted there–your research is also very one-sided and incorrect!

  17. Kim K
    May 26th, 2011 at 10:03 | #17

    Mark, I agree whole-heartedly with you. Any teacher who is using AR as a sole means of reading instruction is off base. I have also seen teachers use it in ways it was never intended. It may seem like there are a lot of AR books out there, but in reality, it is less that 20% of all books published. It is also very heavily fiction and not at all culturally diverse. They may have done things to improve the program, but they still have a long way to go. I applaude your unbiased look at the program and problems that are inherent in the AR system!

  18. LeeAnn G
    June 11th, 2011 at 20:41 | #18

    Mark, What would you suggest for a new librarian to do who is coming into a school that is sold on AR? I feel that many of your points are valid, although one of my duties will be to read books that do not have tests and write them. AR will take any time that I wanted to spend sharing books with the students and teaching them library skills. It is a private school and I feel obligated to continue the program since they have invested money into it. What can I do to make it better?

  19. June 17th, 2011 at 05:54 | #19

    Lee Ann,

    What a tough situation. I would suggest becoming the biggest AR cheerleader at the school, but… with a few major tweaks. Start small. You have a nice opportunity to do so with your task to write tests on new books. Instead of the mind-numbing multiple choice summative/low-level thinking questions, develop reading process tests that are easy to correct (that’s really why teachers tend to love AR), then bit by bit, destroy the silly program by providing a better alternative in terms of the management system and overall fun. Giving kids and parents the choice between the milk of AR and the meat of your tweaks, you just might win them over. Make your tweaks more engaging than AR and you’re on your way. When you’ve got some of these new books done, contact me and we’ll publish them.

  20. Shannon
    June 30th, 2011 at 13:25 | #20

    As a parent, I AM a fan of AR. My eight year old daughter loves to read. She is tested to determine her reading/book level and I help her pick out books that are appropriate for her. She loves getting the points, but she is reading a bunch of books in the process. I don’t have a problem with that. Her teacher assigns an AR points goal based on her reading level. I believe the AR tests help the younger kids with comprehension. Kids and parents both need goals. If there is a much better alternative to AR, please share it.

  21. Ann
    August 18th, 2011 at 02:21 | #21

    As a parent, I would like to know your thoughts on making the AR program 20 percent of their English grade?My son hates reading but I have an daughter who loves to read. He is an ” A” student except for English because if he doesn’t get his AR points it’s 20 percent of his grade. I would like to see what you think. Also, I would like to add he got advanced on all state testing his ability to read is not his problem.

  22. August 18th, 2011 at 18:09 | #22

    That percentage does not seem high to me for independent reading; however, you know my feelings on AR…

  23. Agatha Kristi
    August 26th, 2011 at 16:10 | #23

    At some point, I agree with the author however if one has no choice but to maximize whatever resource available to use as an opportunity to instill love for reading and develop the children to its full potential then why not use it with constant monitoring and support. It is better to have one program than nothing. We will never go wrong if we do it because we love to see the children reading books appropriate for them and that make them interested to read. Let’s just talk to them about what they’re reading and what they have learned… make connections and ask feedback…It is easier said than done but that’s the way it is…not only to teachers but to parents as well.

  24. Dan’l
    September 12th, 2011 at 20:54 | #24

    I have used AR since 2007. I moved to a school that didn’t have it and created a proposal to get it. Why? Because I have seen it light a fire for some readers. Lots of kids are going to have to find other motivations to open a book. But I have seen AR create a reader where previously there hadn’t been one.

    Graphing successes works… and AR is one way to track those successes.

  25. Jane Junkert
    September 18th, 2011 at 04:05 | #25

    I teach Kindergarten and for the past couple years, I have had a cart full of easy readers for the students to pick from. After I get one volunteer to read to the class, the process simply blossoms. I have 99% of my students leave as readers and none of them got a prize or took a test. They left my classroom with the love of reading. I DO NOT like how our school uses AR and the prizes are getting bigger and better and we spend way too much money on them. Rest time ends in November and the full blown reading begins – by then we have done a good job with letter sounds, word families, blends, etc. I do not miss AR.

  26. Swann
    September 26th, 2011 at 09:22 | #26

    My soon to be 8 year old 2nd graders have discovered the “unfairness” of AR points….Longer more interesting books on their level have the same number of points as books below their grade level. (1/2 point). Miss Rumphius has the same number of points as The Horse in Harry’s Room. One of them was a voracious reader, voluntarily reading for an hour or more a day…now she just wants to get her points. The other, who never liked to read now will read just the minimum to get her points. She won’t go above her level because the teacher wants to make sure that she gets all of her points on the test.

  27. Bette Blei
    September 28th, 2011 at 11:15 | #27

    A teacher does not have to assign points. I simply require two books a quarter at their level or higher!!! If they choose to read more, great. If they want to read below their level, they need to show me the book first and see if I approve of the choice. Many times I do. Some books have lower levels but the content is fantastic! Points are for fun and we have a simple store at the end of each quarter. This approach makes the emphasis on the book, not the points.

  28. Prof David Limond
    September 29th, 2011 at 06:05 | #28

    Does anybody know anything about the commercial relationships, if any, between Renaissance and book publishers? This system is very new in Ireland, where I teach, and I’m by no manner of means an expert on the teaching of reading (is anybody, in the end?) but this seems to me an obvious question to which I can find no immediate answers. It may be that I’m leaping to a mistaken conclusion and there are no such relationships but it must surely be of benefit to have one’s book[s] placed on this, as it were, index of banned books in reverse. Cui bono?

  29. Kim
    October 5th, 2011 at 17:23 | #29

    Do any of you have any experience with AR being used in a high school? My daughter’s honors 10th grade English class uses AR. She has to get a certain number of points every 9 weeks. Her percentage of the points that she gets counts as a test grade and her average score that she gets on the tests counts as another. I feel like this reading is busy work for a strong student who has other honors classes to keep up with and a tough academic load. I thought it was designed more for elementary and middle schools. She is wasting her time on books she doesn’t really want to read just to get her points. Drives me nuts!

  30. sue
    October 9th, 2011 at 03:33 | #30

    Hi, AR is now in my son’s school in England. It is rubbish. Because he likes longer books (fiction and non-fiction), which take time to complete (he is nearly 8), he is discouraged from reading those books by the teacher. At school, he is expected to race through books (often of zero interest to him), to get points. I have refused to partipate; at home he reads his own stuff. This programme is draining the life out of his enjoyment of books. Should be banned.

  31. Sue K
    October 24th, 2011 at 16:32 | #31

    @Mark Pennington
    I have seen AR encourage all sorts of things from more reading to more ‘fudging’. I also recently received the quote to have the online AR at my new school and realize there is no way to pay for it, even though we are a title school.
    So my question and the reason I came here is this: What is an inexpensive, fun alternative?

  32. November 15th, 2011 at 13:46 | #32

    Thank you so much for this information. I regularly purchase books for my 2nd grader. However, she was also bringing books home from the school library. The books from the library she would take AR quizzes on. I only recently realized the books I bought for her were also on the AR list. Those books were worth more points than the books she brought home from school. She jumped from 2pts to 7pt values in a week. My concern is whether she is still reading for fun or she trying to get higher points.

    http://kngdmwoman.blogspot.com
    I plan to start doing book reviews on the books we read as a family. I hope we can raise a nation of young readers.

  33. despicable AR
    November 16th, 2011 at 12:53 | #33

    @Sue K
    Sue K – I may be too late to answer. My childs 5th grade teacher selects a genre each 9 weeks for the children to pick and read from. That particular book requires a book report. The first 9 weeks, the book report was constructed from a cereal box. Decorated and transformed into a cereal that represented the book. Ours was “The Secrets of Vesuvius”. The cereal was “lava rocks”. My son drew a volcano on the front (the entire box was recovered in paper of any kind). We painted and colored. The back of the box required a game or puzzle to be made. My son drew a maze to “escape vesuvius”. The sides contained story summary’s and main characters For fun he filled the box with “cereal” which was actually packages of pop rocks. His next book report is to be a shoe box transformed into a parade float (we will likely fill it with candy such as gets thrown out at parades. I love that the book actively gets turned into an art project. The children then stand and give a verbal report on the book. I feel that this incorporates so much into reading. Penmanship, artistry, punctuation, speaking in front of the class, etc…..

    On the down side, additionally he has to maintain an AR goal. I despise AR and feel it has taken all the fun out of reading at our house. I would prefer more actual book reports than AR tests. My son is bright and reads a lot. However, he is not a good test taker, therefore it takes a lot of reading and taking tests to even get close to the goal. If the teacher would just take a book report from him instead of this crazy AR system, she would see that he read and understood the story. The AR system is completely unforgiving to those who get nervous at the word quiz or test. Only one chance allowed to take the test. I cannot stress enough how much I despise this system and truly prefer the book reports.

    My son has, in the past, watch a movie or read a book and then set down with his colored pencils and made his own “book” of the story – colored pictures and all. I would love to see this instead of AR. He just staples the paqes together after he is satisfied with his final version. I can then comment on his creative writing, drawing, puntuation, etc. Too bad this isn’t a suitable substitute for AR.

    Anyway, from a mom’s point of view, I hope this helps with some ideas.

  34. blake hughes
    December 18th, 2011 at 13:39 | #34

    hello my name is blake hguhe and i am a member of the daingerfield junior high school were you have to get a certain amount of ar points every six weeks, each six weeks the number of points goes up. the amount of ar points received counts 20% of your reading grade for the six weeks. to get to my point for posting this is that us children are required to read a book and test over it and the teachers dont relize that this will in no way help with our star test we take at the end of every year. because on the star test we are able to go back and look at the story while on a ar test we are not aloud to take another look at the book and plus we already know how to read and all their really doing is hurting our average, and that is what most children think about ar and thats how most end up failing reading because of ar!

  35. Caroline G
    January 11th, 2012 at 02:01 | #35

    My son’s school started the AR programme last year and I hate it! I am a teacher myself and cannot see the point in a scheme where the purpose of reading is simply to gain points – I want my son reading for pleasure. He is 9 and has been assigned a fairly narrow level from which he can choose books and take quizzes and he is not allowed to access quizzes for books above this reading level. My son has never been a keen reader but has recently discovered the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. He is on his second read of the series and I do not wish to discourage him from reading them as he is clearly enjoying them. We are also reading the Harry Potter series together. However as these books have been levelled by AR at a level higher than his assigned reading level he is unable to do the quizzes and therefore gain the points. He has been critised at school for not reading enough and thus not taking enough quizzes and I have argued that as he is reading books he is enjoying I am not prepared to stop him reading those just so that he can satisfy their requirement for him to do quizzes, gain points, so they can tick a few boxes. I hate it, hate it, hate it…..

  36. Taylor
    January 26th, 2012 at 19:16 | #36

    I HATE ar. We HAVE to do it for my class. It does turn into a chore for us. Sure I always get my required points, i just hate it and hate reading.

  37. Taylor
    January 26th, 2012 at 19:17 | #37

    And btw im 11 and have been dong this stuff for 6 years. Ii IS a chore for our reading grade.
    ugh

  38. Grade 5 Teacher
    January 26th, 2012 at 21:37 | #38

    Response to Caronline G. The purpose of AR has never been “simply to gain points.” The point system is a way for students to set a goal for the amount of reading they do for a given period of time. Can it be done in other ways? Of course. This just happens to be one very motivating way that many students enjoy. I am also a teacher and I have seen many of my students take off with AR. Those that don’t do well with the program are, for the most part, those that aren’t reading. I would also have to say that those students that struggle benefit from the support that the leveled system provides. In addition to selecting books in their ZPD (Zone of Proximal Developement), I teach my students how to select any book, AR or not! So, I guess what I am saying is, if the system works for teachers, let them use it. If the system doesn’t work for one of my students, because they want to read non AR books for instance, I encourage that, but students then do an oral retell or written summary in place of the AR quiz. Whatever the student elects (choice is an extremely powerful motivator), the student is providing evidence that they have read the book;evidence that indicates how well they comprehended the material; and a brief rating of the book (reflecting on how well they liked the book). Love it or hate it, give teachers and students a choice! Parents, please respect the choices made by your child’s teacher and your child! I would also ask the same of this publisher!

    One last note, in this digital age, let’s embrace the electronic tools we have at our fingertips, and if they aren’t exactly perfect, then let’s see what can be done to improve them; and let’s provide teacher’s with the training necessary to implement a best practices reading program. YES,AR can be an effective piece of a great literacy program!

  39. Mrs. J.
    February 21st, 2012 at 06:21 | #39

    I’m reading the comments of teachers who are in favor of AR and remembering what an easy grade it is for these people. Some protest and say they do not use AR for grades, but it’s done all the time. AR remains a lazy way for educators to “teach” and I personally abhor the program. As a librarian I would NEVER limit a child to what should be a SUGGESTED reading level, and encourage reading at, above, below or anywhere in between “levels”. These companies have made a mint off the backs of taxpayers and I resent it. Every child deserves the opportunity to read freely and without embarrassment or harrassment from faculty.

  40. Michele R.
    February 25th, 2012 at 11:14 | #40

    My husband and I both abhor AR and he is a 5th grade teacher. My 5th grade son’s teachers (btw we have had to deal with same issue with two older sons so I am so sick of it) are on him for reading only AR books. We strongly tell our boys to read what they want and not read only AR books. Recently my son bought a book from the school’s fair and returned his AR book that was boring him. The teacher (who teaches gifted language arts and math) told him he should not quit a book and he should finish the AR book. Many teachers there seem to think that the gifted kids can read a lot so why not reach their goal points. He already does enough. he straight As and a 140 IQ. The latest? His language arts teacher told him if he does not meet his AR goal then he will get a Non-Satisfactory on his report card and that will disqualify him from making Honor Roll (which he has made ever since 2nd grade when grades were calculated). I consider this harassment. What to do? The teacher must first explain and then I will take it to the school board. I hate that I even have to have conversations with my son about AR.

  41. February 25th, 2012 at 19:19 | #41

    So sorry to hear about that teacher. Forward my article to her ASAP.

  42. Tiffany
    March 7th, 2012 at 11:31 | #42

    Hello! I would like to say that my fifth grade son currently does Accelerated Reader and it is a nightmare!! His AR DOES NOT count as a whole letter grade but merily as participation. He is a phenomonal reader and reads past a fifth grade level. He scored above average on his ARMT. At the beginning of the year I received notes that my son was reading during Math. That is how much he loved to read. He has struggled this year with Math and we have worked extra time on this at home not so much blowing off reading, but not focusing on it as much because his reading skills are GREAT and we had a D in Math so I made a decision to focus more on Math. He still read his 20 minutes a day though, I just did not make a big deal over it. As punishment for not completing his AR in a timely manner they have been sending him to Lunch study(he eats his lunch and has to read) and then they make him sit along the fence and read during recess (not P.E, just free play time) for at least 2 weeks. His class also eats lunch outside and if he is being punished for AR during lunch they made him eat his lunch on the ground and do his AR and it has been mentioned to me by my son and another mother of a child in the same class that the teacher called the children that have to sit out to do AR fence post decorations…this same teacher also would place my son in the hall in a desk facing the wall and would wrap a cardboard box around him so he could finish any work he was behind on. After I complained she said that you can find them in the teacher catalogs and that there was nothing wrong with them. Needless to say that psychological abuse stopped. If he does not make an 80% on his AR test, complete a happy reading assignment, and a reading response assignment then that AR book does not count and he will have to put that book back and get another one and it will cause him to fall behind. I think this is ridiculous. Are our children being given so much work that they have to work through their lunches? What kind of eating habits is this teaching our children? So when did it become acceptable for our teaches to call our children names? He HATES to read now. He will try to get out of it when he can. He does not even get a report card grade for AR. How can you punish a child for such a needless thing? He made a 70 on 2 of his test and it was for nothing. They still punished him and sent him right on to lunch study. Children should want to work hard to make a good grade. It makes them think, “If I work hard I will get good grades.” Well he gets no grade and even makes a 70 and that is not good enough. So it is like us going to a job to work for free and then our boss saying if you do not do that job good enough you will get in trouble. Who wants that kind of stress? I went to the principal about it and he sided with the teachers of coarse. He said that even though it doesn’t count as a report card grade he still has to be held accountable for not doing it. He is participating, he is having a hard time getting a 80 or higher. I mean I would be stressed the whole time I was taking the test if I where him. I am stressed for him. His teacher also said that I didn’t care about it because it wasn’t an actual grade which I honestly care about his reading just not Accelerated Reading. I do not think we should be weighing these children down with curriculum that he cannot get a grade for. Even if it did count as a grade our kids should not be this overwhelmed. What can you do, school officials do not listen and they sure do not care.

  43. Tiffany
    March 7th, 2012 at 11:40 | #43

    @Caroline G
    I agree with you Caroline G. You should read my comment slightly below yours. My sons AR does not even count as a grade and he gets seriously punished for not keeping up. Ridiculous!!!

  44. Tiffany
    March 7th, 2012 at 12:15 | #44

    @Ann
    It is ridiculous any which way. In other words they are looking for a filler (something to fill a certain part of their class so they do not have to teach). All AR does is test to see if you can remember what you read. The teacher said in our last meeting that anyone could say they read the book and really did not and guess at the answers and make a 70 on it and my argument is well anyone can say they read the book and did not and guess at the answers and score an 80, so if that is the case then you should require all of the students to score 100’s. I hate AR with a passion. My son has no desire to read now. He did a complete reversal from December to January. They said it was his age. Sure…whatever makes you feel better about yourself.

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