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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.


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.


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. 


Each of the above resources is included for teachers to review components of my two reading intervention programs. Click on the provided links to view video overviews and to download sample lessons.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.


Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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  1. Marci
    March 23rd, 2012 at 08:15 | #1

    I am a classroom teacher who is going to become the elementary librarian next year. I, too, have seen the adverse effects AR has had on readers, and it really bothers me. Our school wants to continue the AR program, so I was wondering if anyone out there runs it through the library? Or as a supplemental incentive program? As the librarian I want to support the classroom teachers as much as possible, and thought to run AR through the library and take some weight off the classroom teachers. I also thought about having students still take the STAR reading test to determine reading level to help guide them, but not totally limit them. (I think the five-finger test is a good way for them to see if a book is too difficult.) Tentatively, students would be required to read a certain amount of books and AR books would still be available for check out, but not be the only required reading. Then students could earn points on a goal that they help set and “spend” the points at the AR store at the end of the six weeks or accumulate points for a bigger prize. I’d like to see students also do a book report on one book of their choosing every six weeks. Am I crazy? SOme feedback would be appreciated.

  2. David
    March 27th, 2012 at 19:29 | #2

    The fact that my 5th grade daughter ostensibly can’t read Sounder, Johnny Tremain or To Kill a Mockingbird because it is “below her AR level” is reason enough for me to think this whole enterprise is crap.

    The obvious foolishness behind the AR program is the quest for some objective measure of student performance. “It’s such a drag to evaluate student writing, so why don’t we just have them take goofy 10 question tests on a 300 page book”….Since we are devolving into brain-dead morons with few skills other than our ability to count things, this seems like par for the course.

    The elementary school teachers of my childhood (the 80s) would be appalled. Educators need to challenge the status quo and call BS and pointless educational bureaucracy that is unquestionably bad for kids.

    Remember, everything we do in this life has to be for the “love of the Game”.

  3. Sandy
    April 2nd, 2012 at 12:10 | #3

    AR quizzes often seem to test trivial points and details from stories, rather than events and information that are important to plot-development and main ideas.

  4. Holly
    April 11th, 2012 at 12:27 | #4

    Dear Parents,
    Please be aware that this company does not alway have appropriate books on their list. My advanced reading 7th grader came home with an adult teen level book that is not appropriate for any CHILD in school!!! The F word is on nearly every page at least once if not twice, extreme sexual content, and racism! I have asked this company to take the book off of their list and they have said they are not responsible for books listed for quizes! The passed the responsibility on to the parents, teacher, and librarians…none of which have time to read every book given to a child. The part that concerns me is that I have now brought up this issue twice to this company via different formats and nothing has been done. The name of the book is Hairstyles of the Damned…the author writes for Playboy. AR is about MONEY not your CHILDREN!

  5. Laura
    April 12th, 2012 at 14:42 | #5

    I agree with the comment that these reasons are based on incidents where the system has been misused. I am a classroom teacher of second graders and also a mother of five children who are all avid readers. I have seen way more positive results with AR than the few negative results that come from misuse of the system by some. As cited, an AR test can be made for any book. In our district if there are books that need a test, we have several people designated to make them. The only limit on AR books is the program not being fully utilized. My experience with the AR program is that it gives students the incentive to read more and it helps teachers be able to monitor whether reading goes on beyond their classroom. The bottom line is that if we want to get better at anything, we’ve got to practice. The more students read, the better they become at reading. I’ve witnessed it over and over and over. If they aren’t reading outside the classroom, they seldom progress at reading very well. I have witnessed parents of students struggling with reading get on board with AR reading and watched by year’s end those below grade level students come up to grade level by being able to read and be rewarded for books they like to read. I grew up having to do book reports on just about everything I read outside of class some years. I would have much rather taken a little comprehension test and build up points I’m rewarded for!

  6. April 12th, 2012 at 16:28 | #6


    I think you miss the point. It’s not that independent reading is not valued; it’s how we go about encouraging this practice that is important. AR is not the only motivational method to encourage independent reading, nor is it the best program for accountability or sustained reading growth. Its drawbacks outweigh its benefits.
    Nor do we have to go back to book reports, dioramas, or the like (an either-or fallacy, by the way).
    Good old-fashioned reading at a 5% unknown word recognition level for 20-30 minutes per night and discuss with parents (younger kids) or social media/book clubs (older kids) provides all the accountability and comprehension/vocabulary development we need. Oh… and it promotes internal monitoring of text and critical thinking. And just maybe a lifelong love of reading for reading’s sake.

  7. Laura
    April 17th, 2012 at 16:46 | #7

    I do not believe I missed the point of your article. I just disagree with your reasons. I believe the benefits of the AR program far outweigh the drawbacks. It would be great if every kid had parents or anyone that would spend 20-30 minutes reading with and discussing books the child is reading each night, along with their other homework, but a good portion of students do not and will not ever receive this. The AR program provides simplified help for both children who have the support and those that do not. Children with supportive parents can easily use the AR program, although actually it won’t matter very much for those children what independent reading program chosen, they’ll be successful because they already have the key to independent reading…adults that are home and will promote it at home on their own. Sadly, it is “good old-fashioned” reading….and our society has and is moving further away from this kind of home life. The AR reading program has made itself good money because it has developed a system that if used as designed (and not misused) helps monitor, promote, and reward independent reading. I don’t believe their is anything wrong with making money with a good idea. @Mark Pennington

  8. Kjay
    April 25th, 2012 at 08:34 | #8

    I agree with much of this article but for different reasons. My daughter has a reading disability (she is in third grade) so meeting the AR criteria takes alot of effort, she plays catch-up sometimes at the end of the month, missing recess, so she can meet her requirements. We spend at least 20 minutes a night on reading (which is not alot, but this is after she has spent over an hour doing the other homework she has) plus she has been pulled out of class to read during the day and she is so tired of reading by the time we get to it. She had to miss out on enjoying an ice-cream social earlier this year. She got to go but was only allowed one topping because she was behind in her AR reading when other kids got lots of toppings. Plus today she is missing a pizza party that they are giving to children who know their times table, she has been working on these now, but this is after she got caught up on her AR reading. I know reading is important, but a child should not be made to feel bad because she has a reading disability and this program does that. Also, my daughter said she would like to use a new bookmark she got, I told her she would have to wait until we could read a book that we didnt have to finish in one night and take a test the next day. She cannot even enjoy reading it has to all revolve around AR.

  9. April 25th, 2012 at 19:12 | #9

    This one breaks my heart. As a reading specialist I cringe at how this will affect her lifelong attitudes about reading. As a parent, I question the judgment and compassion of your child’s teachers and the culture/messages they have established at your child’s school. So sorry.

  10. Christine Rinehart
    April 27th, 2012 at 07:38 | #10

    I wonder if there is any educational tool that cannot be used either for good or for evil? I, too, have seen AR used in the most demeaning and hurtful ways- both for kids who loved to read and those who hated it. But it can also be done well. The problem is not the AR program itself but in its implementation. I am just at the start of implementing it into my 3rd district. In the first I was a high school classroom teacher so had complete control of the program. Next I was the LMS in the 4-6th and 9-12 grade buildings of my district. Less control over the high school policies led to implementation there with which I was not pleased. But in the 4-6th building implementation was voluntary, individualized, and within 3 years I had won over the students, the skeptics, and even the teachers providing special education services. It is true, NO child should be made to feel bad about participating. It should not be one more thing a student cannot be successful at, one more treat or party missed, one more way to “let down” the rest of the class.

    A pencil can be used to create beautiful literature but it can also be used to poke someone in the eye. The trick is to not allow ANY of the tools (no such thing as a perfect “fix”) be used to poke someone in the eye.

  11. Cal Mommi
    May 21st, 2012 at 13:01 | #11

    Reading this breaks my heart. The idea that a teacher/school would shame a child and punish them for not meeting some randomly chosen norm is ridiculous. The ends do not justify the means. My son is at the opposite end of the spectrum, but we have alike problems. He is 5 and in the AR program because the computer calculates that he is capable of reading at 3.0-3.8 level.He is repeatedly given goals that far overreach the abilities of a 5 yo, no matter how well they read. All of your above points are spot on. Last week my little guy, who LOVES to read, paused while reading to me and said” Wait Mommy, I need to remember this, it will probably be a test question”. I told him to enjoy the story, but he is so busy trying to 100%, I’m afraid he’ll burn out.So I feel for you, and your daughter. Just an idea, if you can, maybe take her and 3 friends out for pizza and ice cream and say it’s because you’re so proud of her effort. Good Luck. 🙂

  12. Mary
    June 2nd, 2012 at 13:05 | #12

    Reading shouldn’t be a chore for young readers. It’s that simple. My boys love reading for pleasure and they despise doing AR reading. Our school’s book selection stinks and I’ve seen how the kids are rushed when picking a book . We’ve spend entire mornings at the library picking good books. Interesting to read here what implementation with fidelity should look like.Assembly line learning isn’t really learning, now, is it? I’m raising critical thinkers, not sheep.

  13. Mrs. J.
    June 11th, 2012 at 07:18 | #13

    Are any of you AR people aware that this “program” is simply based on syllabication? Nothing else. Not content, not word meaning, not even the most important issue–interest level. Therefore, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” earns high points, while the word “rue” with a deep and profound meaning earns next to nothing.And judging from the number of “hits” on databases between schools doing AR and those who don’t (but who emphasize reading and research instead through elementary/secondary), those who do AR are not teaching students research skills. In the 21st Century, that’s a crime. AR? Just say no.

  14. Joanne
    June 18th, 2012 at 16:00 | #14

    I am a children’s librarian at a public library. #4 really hit the nail on the head for me. It is summer reading time. I have students coming into the library with a note from school saying “find 2 AR books” or who tell me that they need “level 6.0 and higher.” My god, do you know how hard it is to find books that are LEVEL 6.0 that sound REMOTELY interesting to them? Even something like the Hunger Games is a Level 5.3 and I’ve been told by kids when I recommend books that, no, they really do need level 6.0. So we have these kids just thinking of reading as this chore, never reading books that they might actually love. Do you know how heartbreaking it is to hear a kid say they can’t read Percy Jackson because it is a 4.7 and not a 5.5. This whole system is ridiculous.

  15. Danny I.
    July 3rd, 2012 at 10:25 | #15

    It seems to me that the criticism of the AR reading program stem from educators and parents that push the program on the children in a negative way. My kids love to read and have grown into magnificent readers because of this program. We let them choose the books THEY want to read, regardless of level or point count. And if the book is not listed in AR, so be it. They’ll get points from the next book.
    Forcing kids to read only specific book levels is absolutely wrong, but who says they can’t read the lower (or higher) level books? Go ahead and read any book you want, the points will still count.
    I agree that teachers who make the point system into a contest or competition are ruining the kids attitudes about reading. We’ve been in two different schools that used AR reading. One school had a chart in the 2nd grade classroom that tracked each kids points. One kid read over 80 books and earned 50+ points, while other kids read less than a dozen and had less than 10 points. This is not the right way to do it because of all the criticism mentioned in the article. The right way to do it is the way the other school did it by keeping it individual. A weekly report was sent home to the parents tracking the kids progress. We decided on our own to reward our son with a trophy if he reached a certain level by the end of the year, which he did with flying colors.
    Again, I think it’s the way the program is presented to the kids. Allow them to read ANY book they wish (even if it’s not an AR book) and don’t make it into a competition. That would solve most of the criticisms listed in the article.
    The fact of the matter is, kids need to see that reading is fun and not a chore. That lesson will come mostly from parents and their peers. Unfortunately in this digital age, reading books is seen as a chore by many parents. I admit, I fall into this category, but I am doing my best to show my children how reading and using your imagination can really expand your mind.
    Renaissance Learning should work together with educators, parents, students, and Reading Specialists to find the best way to implement this program. It doesn’t seem to me that they are purely profit motivated. They are trying to do something good for children and run a business.

  16. July 3rd, 2012 at 17:17 | #16

    Very thoughtful comments, Danny. Your “tweaks” do help to ameliorate many of my concerns regarding AR points and reading levels. I guess the questions would be… is what you are doing really AR? Couldn’t you motivate readers in other ways? Couldn’t you build reading comprehension and vocabulary development within your independent reading program with appropriate accountability other than by using the silly AR multiple choice tests?

  17. August 24th, 2012 at 04:52 | #17

    I think the great debate is how to get kids to like reading and have it come intrinsically. If it becomes a chore they don’t like it, if you reward them they stop when the reward is removed, if you do nothing they tend not to read…huge dilemma. I think there are a lot of ideas out there. I love hearing some of the cons to the ideas that are widely accepted. Thanks Mark!

  18. J. Forest
    August 28th, 2012 at 15:36 | #18

    I would love for someone to give me an answer to the following question…”What is a reading program that will meet the needs of all of the students in a reading class when the ranges of their IRL is a PP (pre-primer) to a PG (post graduate)???? I would really like to know because here is my problem. We have people in our district telling us to differentiate our instruction based on the students needs and levels, but that is the range of readers in 1 of my classes. I have the highest test scores year after year and I contribute it to AR. WHY? Because students must be given time to read from their ZPD and most of the time your PP leveled students won’t read at home and your PG students are bored to tears if you’re reading a book to the entire class that is way beyond their level. No, this is not the only tool I use in my class, it is one of many, but without it, my students reading wouldn’t improve year after year!!!! I wonder how many people that say it doesn’t work, have taught in a classroom recently to see the different levels of readers there are. If there is a program out there that targets their individual needs based on their IRL, I would seriously LOVE to know about it. Every child is different and so are their levels of learning and this program targets those. Sounds like to me, a lot of teachers have misused it and have focused on their points rather than goals!

  19. August 28th, 2012 at 18:51 | #19

    Why… Teaching Reading Strategies from Pennington Publishing, of course.

  20. Michelle M
    August 28th, 2012 at 20:14 | #20

    I am an educator and I am not a fan of AR. It is possible to differentiate instruction by having your students read a book from within their ZPD and then talk to the student for a few minutes about what they learned from the story. (If you don’t feel like you have time to spend with your students then have them write their information.) Was there a message? How did the characters develop? Did they wonder anything while they were reading? We need to teach comprehension strategies to our students. Literal comprehension isn’t enough. When was the last time we found it necessary to know what color dress the character was wearing?

    There might be a place for AR, but it is not in a classroom that is promoting a solid reading foundation.

    @Mark Pennington

    @J. Forest

  21. Jane
    September 12th, 2012 at 08:04 | #21

    Most of the problems that the author of this article seems to have with AR are not the fault of AR, but rather, the way in which it is implemented within a school. We don’t do pizza parties, or competitions to earn points. We tell students that they are to read within a certain range, and earn a certain number of points because that is a goal that will help point them in the right direction of what and how much to read, and it is specifically for them. Nobody else needs to know how many points you have, or what level you’re reading! Students also don’t just read AR strictly. We tell them one AR book to quiz on, and one fun book each week. The fun book can either be something without a test available, or a book that is above or below their reading level range. It is a system that works well for us, and they are just as excited about choosing their AR book as they are their fun book!

    We like AR, because it is a quick and easy way to tell if a student is reading, and if they are comprehending what they are reading. It’s not an inconvenience at all to take quizzes, because classes spend time in the computer lab anyway.

    At one point, we didn’t have many quizzes available, so a teacher set up a system where a student could either take a quiz, or do a project for a reading grade. It gave students the option of getting a reading grade on books that they couldn’t quiz on, to widen their reading spectrum even further. To put it simply, parents hated it. Time spent reading is considered outside of the limited amount of time that students were expected to spend on homework each night, so adding extra work for reading took too much time, and overwhelmed the students. After that, the PTO decided to donate a large chunk of money specifically to AR, to prevent the frustration of having students not be able to take quizzes.

    As a librarian, I can say with all certainty, that when students aren’t held accountable over what they read, many of them won’t read at all. Some will, regardless of if it is for a grade or not. Some just check out books every few weeks, and when asked how it was, reply with “I don’t know, I read a few pages, and didn’t like it.”

    The solution of this is to have an awesome librarian 🙂 and reading teacher work together to try and find books that will interest the students that will be on their level (to neither bore them, nor overwhelm them). The way to check to see if you were successful is to have them use AR to see if they really did read it, and if they were able to grasp what they read.

    AR is not a bad system, but can be implemented in very bad ways.

  22. September 15th, 2012 at 07:18 | #22

    Good thoughts. If you re-read the post, I am certain that you would change your “most of the problems” to “many of the problems.” However, the misapplication of AR by teachers does not negate the inherent problems of the program. You are the first librarian to post any positives about the AR program.
    Again… there simply are much better alternatives to AR to encourage students to read and hold them accountable for what they do read. If our goals are to stimulate a love of reading and build vocabulary/increase ability to comprehend text, much better (and less expensive) approaches are available.

  23. Bill Johnson
    September 18th, 2012 at 06:17 | #23

    @Mark Pennington As I said in an earlier post, I do not believe AR is the be all end all, silver bullet Reading program that should take the place of anything else. As a teacher and administrator, I simply disagree with some of your points. I have seen the program HUGELY increase a love of reading in many students. It isn’t perfect, and I do agree with a lot of your concerns about substituting AR for a comprehensive reading program. I have also seen first hand, many more positives than negatives. And I’m not a salesperson for them, and don’t have an unlimited budget to go buy whatever I want.. Small school, tight budget, small library.. and I think it’s worth the funds as ONE piece of our Language Arts program.

  24. L. Goings
    September 18th, 2012 at 17:51 | #24

    How many schools use AR as part of the child’s grade? I have a child who has a reading disability and this is a struggle to accomplish the amount of points in the time frame given (ex. He has to earn 10.5 points in a 7 week period and his book level requires him to read 1.0 point books. In essence he has to read at least 11 1.0 point books and miss 0 questions on every quiz to accomplish his goal or he gets points deducted from his grade and he doesn’t get to participate in fair day activities at the end of the school year) as well as complete other homework. I love to read and encourage him to read. However, this is very laborious, and a lot of times I end up having to read the book to him so that he can take a test. I would like to know how the number of points is established after the student takes the test. This is very frustrating.

  25. Candy Pitt
    September 25th, 2012 at 14:23 | #25

    I don’t think I have ever posted a blog in my life, but I felt utterly compelled to do so on this matter. Devastatingly my sons Secondary school has signed up to this ridiculous ‘Accelerated Reader’ scheme. It is in place for all year 8 students, my youngest son (aged 12) has SPLD, he is dyslexic and dyscalculia. I cannot believe that that educators could be so short sighted as to think that such a scheme is giving children the opportunity to love literature. Its prescriptive and restricting and has been said many times here, where are children to find the joy in reading, what about freedom of choice? stripped away from pupils due to a colour coded level system. Why can”t a child discover for themselves if a book is suitable for them or not, if a book a child chooses is too difficult to comprehend they will soon discover this and move on to something more appropriate, the difference being it was their choice.As for the idea of a quiz, a test under any other name, what is wrong with children writing a small evaluation, a book review of sorts a couple of lines or more or less depending on their enthusiasm for the book. Reading should NEVER be a chore, to enter a world of fiction should be a joy, if it isn’t put the book down. School life is hard enough without creating a culture of reluctant readers. As a student teacher with English as my specialist subject, I am totally disheartened, as a mum of a wonderful bio who is dyslexic it is totally breaking my heart. The book level he has been given belongs in a primary school, there are roughly six words to a sentence and there is no plot at all. He may be dyslexic but he isn’t six years old.

  26. Laura James
    September 28th, 2012 at 22:30 | #26

    I am teaching 5th grade this year. My principal is new and gives each teacher the freedom to teach how they choose. The school has been accustomed to the AR program for 10 years or more, so the teachers are just as driven by the system as ever with still on average, the lowest reading and writing scores in our State. I told my 5th graders, I am not going to use AR because I will help them pick out brilliant selections of literature and teach them how to decode difficult words for 20 minutes a day through grammar lessons which will improve their vocabulary and allow them to read higher level books. I tell them they will end up loving to read for the rest of their lives. It works every year (18 years now in K-6). The kids feel so empowered with reading, writing and giving oral book reports once they have been introduced to quality literature. While the other kids are walking down the halls carting the Boxcar Children series books in their backpacks and taking AR quizzes and bragging about how “fast” they can read, my students are carting, the Junior Classics, award winning books, and writing amazing papers on their books, analyzing literature and now writing their own 3-5 page stories. None of my students 2 months ago really enjoyed reading and they all groaned when I told them we were writing essays, paragraphs, stories and book reports every week. Now on Mondays, they can’t wait to get started. In my community, the worst scores are in reading and writing. Don’t get me started on how poorly they “speak” while giving presentations. I help them with oral speaking (CCStandards) by holding a 1 hour Speech class every week where they are given the tools on how to speak publicly and present orally while their peers give instant feedback. Already in 2 months, the reading and writing and speaking levels have improved noticeably and more importantly, the students love doing each. They know they are different then the other classes and instead of pizza, stickers and cheap toys, they grin proudly, knowing they are building a strong foundation for the REST of their lives. They get it. I will throw them a surprise party at the end of the year and give them each a few books for their reward. They get another 9 months of practice. I can relate 100% with the above written blog and with the other responders regarding the “ridiculousness” of the AR program.

  27. September 29th, 2012 at 15:02 | #27

    You are my hero! Laura, check out my http://penningtonpublishing.com site and pick any book you want. I’ll send you an eBook version for making my day and, more importantly, the lives of your students better through your creative teaching. Email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com with your choice.

  28. Lance
    October 4th, 2012 at 11:46 | #28

    First I will say that I am an 8th grade English teacher and I have always taught in schools that use AR. I like using it, although I do agree with a lot of the drawbacks. But having said that, if I didn’t use AR most of the students in my classes would not read. It would be great if most of them would just read because the want to read–then I wouldn’t have to worry about it, but it isn’t reality. I would rather take the problems of AR knowing that it gets a majority of my students to read books.

  29. October 4th, 2012 at 16:10 | #29


    We all want to get our kids to read; however, me thinks you present a false dichotomy. It’s not AR or no reading. Teachers can craft independent reading programs which offer choice, provide accountability, and help students build comprehension and vocabulary development without resorting to AR.

  30. Ursula
    October 7th, 2012 at 22:29 | #30

    Danny I. :
    It seems to me that the criticism of the AR reading program stem from educators and parents that push the program on the children in a negative way. My kids love to read and have grown into magnificent readers because of this program. We let them choose the books THEY want to read, regardless of level or point count. And if the book is not listed in AR, so be it. They’ll get points from the next book.
    Forcing kids to read only specific book levels is absolutely wrong, but who says they can’t read the lower (or higher) level books? Go ahead and read any book you want, the points will still count.
    I agree that teachers who make the point system into a contest or competition are ruining the kids attitudes about reading. We’ve been in two different schools that used AR reading. One school had a chart in the 2nd grade classroom that tracked each kids points. One kid read over 80 books and earned 50+ points, while other kids read less than a dozen and had less than 10 points. This is not the right way to do it because of all the criticism mentioned in the article. The right way to do it is the way the other school did it by keeping it individual. A weekly report was sent home to the parents tracking the kids progress. We decided on our own to reward our son with a trophy if he reached a certain level by the end of the year, which he did with flying colors.
    Again, I think it’s the way the program is presented to the kids. Allow them to read ANY book they wish (even if it’s not an AR book) and don’t make it into a competition. That would solve most of the criticisms listed in the article.
    The fact of the matter is, kids need to see that reading is fun and not a chore. That lesson will come mostly from parents and their peers. Unfortunately in this digital age, reading books is seen as a chore by many parents. I admit, I fall into this category, but I am doing my best to show my children how reading and using your imagination can really expand your mind.
    Renaissance Learning should work together with educators, parents, students, and Reading Specialists to find the best way to implement this program. It doesn’t seem to me that they are purely profit motivated. They are trying to do something good for children and run a business.

  31. tmare
    October 11th, 2012 at 21:05 | #31

    The whole thing is ridiculous. My son just said to me, “I can’t wait until I am able to read books that I am interested in.” He’s eight years old. His school has a bunch more stupid rules as well. Since there are so few books available, they require that the child reads the book THREE TIMES before taking a test. He’s a very honest kid and while I want to tell him to just take the test, he insists that he has to read the book three times, anyone out there ever finished a book and then read it two more times immediately after finishing it? They also have to pass three tests at their EXACT level (to the decimal point) before moving up one more decimal point. There is no range, there is no ability to read above your tested level. He has a shelf of books that he has already read that are 1-3 entire grade levels above where they have placed him. I’m pretty fed up with it at this point but they are doing this for a part of their grade and they give them point goals for the month which are pretty close to being impossible given the three times rule.

  32. Jenna
    November 1st, 2012 at 11:47 | #32

    I’m a mother of two very different kids, so I’ve got mixed feelings. My daughter(oldest) is profoundly dyslexic while my son is an AG student in a Spanish Immersion program. Before I pulled my daughter out of public school she was in one that started the AR program in 1st grade. She could read a book with me, but couldn’t independently read the questions on the screen to take the AR Test – not even for the Kindergarten level books. No assistance was given either. If I went in and read the questions to her, she could pass them – but that was discouraged.

    My son is the opposite, he excels at AR. He loves to take the quizzes and will ask me questions about the vocabulary reviews he gets that sometimes pop up after taking the book quizzes. His school uses the AR in their end of quarter reading grade, ie. so many points to fulfill their reading requirement, blah, blah, blah. I don’t like that at all.

    As a family we consume a lot books, everything – appropriate or not – if we find it interesting. We love our local library system. Due to my daughters profound dyslexia(it’s likely that while she can be might be taught to read, she will probably never read to learn), we listen to most of these books when we can find it in audio format. I usually keep one book going in the car and another in the house. We just finished ‘Life of Pi’ which was hard to listen to in the end, but sparked some amazing conversations. We don’t limit ourselves to AR books either, as I have a deep love of British lit/comedy – most of which don’t make the list.

    This has let me expose my children to some great books and authors; ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Pam Munoz Ryan’s work, Eion Colfer, ‘The Abracadabra Kid’-Sid Fleischman, etc. And don’t ask me how many times we’ve re-listened to the Harry Potter & Lemony Snicket books….

    So, for the last year or so, my son has taken AR tests on books that he’s read independently, listened to or read with me. They have a TWI (To, With, Independent) selection to choose from, and I’ve made sure that he’s absolutely honest about how he ‘consumes’ his literature. Of course, the books we listen to have higher word counts and thus more AR points then the ones he pulls off the shelf for the weekend. So it goes.

    Well, his teacher this year wants him only to take tests on books he reads independently. I’m suppose to go in for a conference, sometime in the next week to discuss this issue. I really don’t care for him just sticking with independent reading in his ‘window of proximal development’. I feel like it would kill his joy in the storytelling and become a chore. But he loves taking the little quizzes that go along with this system.

    Not sure what to do.

  33. Rob Sanders
    November 20th, 2012 at 23:06 | #33

    The day that parents and teachers decide that this program is ridiculous is the day that AR will go bankrupt and will cease to exist. What did teachers do before AR? They taught. This program is detrimental to students. Parents should absolutely refuse to participate in it. If a student takes a hit for not participating so be it. No college or university will look at your elementary or middle school grades to gauge potential. Stop the insanity!! Simply, tell your son’s or daughter’s teacher that you will not participate in this silly game. If enough parents woke up and did this, it would all stop. Take a stand.

  34. Suzy Daley
    December 1st, 2012 at 18:11 | #34

    I am a fifth grade reading teacher. I have been teaching for 27 years now. Any good reading teacher will tell you the single best way to become a better reader is to READ! Simple as that, people. I just started the AR program last January. I love it. I set a VERY reasonable goal for my fifth graders each quarter. They may read ANY book they choose to earn points to attain this goal. However, when I see students reading books that are way below their reading level, fifth graders reading Junie B. Jones, for example, I encourage them to choose a book THAT INTERESTS THEM that is more challenging. As far as the choices being limited, I have not found that to be an issue. Nearly every book a student chooses from my own extensive classroom library, our local library, or their own personal books from home has been on the AR list. I have seen SO MANY students become interested in reading as a result of this program. I must also stress, the AR reading is done IN ADDITION to the reading we do in class. We read paperbacks as a class as well as stories from our reading book and Storyworks magazine and other reading materials. Students are to do additional reading in their AR books daily either in study hall, free time, or for homework at least 15-20 minutes a day. This is not excessive. Parents, administrators, so-called experts, even legislators all over the country are lamenting the condition of our educational system. Yet when we raise our expectations and actually require our students to READ independently for reading class, we teachers are accused of taking the FUN out of reading?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I am creating better readers. And many of my students already this year have discovered amazing stories they would not otherwise have read without the AR program!! Once again, the only way to become a better reader is to READ!!! ESPECIALLY IF A CHILD IS A STRUGGLING READER!! AND YES, THAT MEANS INDEPENDENTLY!

  35. December 1st, 2012 at 18:26 | #35


    As an M.A. Reading Specialist I am thrilled to hear your passion for independent reading in your post; however, I think you miss the point of my article. There are simply much better ways to manage an independent reading program in one’s school or class than AR.

  36. Suzy Daley
    December 1st, 2012 at 18:31 | #36

    P.S. I do not know ANY teacher that uses the AR system to teach his/her reading class! I also do not know of any teacher who would require a student to read a book that is too difficult! Also, the example of one of my fifth graders reading a book that was more suitable for a high school student?? My students are required to bring their AR books to class each day. I know what they are reading. I also will have my students meet in groups and discuss different aspects of their AR books and engage in group activities that go with the benchmarks I teach, such as “character.” In this way students get to talk about their books, and other students are often motivated to read one another’s books. It is like a “book club” meeting. My students LOVE sharing their AR books! I also make sure students are not reading books that are too difficult for them. Many students will grab a thick book like Inkheart just because it is worth a lot of points. If I think the student is not up to the challenge, I will have him/her read to me, then tell me what the story is about. We will discuss if the book is too hard & then choose a more appropriate AR book.
    I feel like the overall tone of this article is that teachers are lazy, cruel, & use AR to teach their reading classes for them. That’s not even POSSIBLE! AR can be one TOOL that enhances a reading program. I believe it can be a very beneficial one when used properly and consistently. I love it.

  37. Lilou
    December 11th, 2012 at 18:39 | #37

    Thanks for this very interesting article.

    My son is in 1st grade, in an Atlanta Public School using the AR program.

    I never gave much thoughts about this program. But the school recently published a video about AR which I found very promotional. It made me question wonder if the video was sponsored and question the program.

    I do not like being pressed to “join in the love” of this program.

    It is only a paid (trademarked) computer program after all not a new education approach.

    See video here if you are curious:

  38. P. Johnson
    December 12th, 2012 at 07:33 | #38

    Implementing the AR program (that I am required to do, but do NOT believe in) in the school library is censorship in the truest meaning of the word. To restrict children’s choices by labeling books by reading levels, holiday stickers, genre stickers, etc. was taught in my “library school” as censoring reading materials. In addition, I know countless colleagues that order ONLY books for which an AR test is available.

    Shame on us for disallowing free choice in the Library!

    Wasn’t every librarian taught “free selection for all” in school????????

  39. December 12th, 2012 at 17:33 | #39

    I’d be interested in hearing from other librarians. As a reading specialist, I’m not as concerned about the fact that AR assigns reading levels as the fact that their criteria for doing so are arbitrary and nonsensical.

  40. Ian
    December 26th, 2012 at 22:32 | #40

    I LOVE reading. I read and read and read. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
    But, then AR came along. I still read just as much as I use to but it had become limited. I read everything from young adult to adult books, so my reading level is rather high. I need to get 30 points for each marking period to pass. There is NO rhyme or reason to how the books are scored. Frindle, for example, has a 5.0 reading level. Meanwhile, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness have 4.6-4.8. They’re FANTASTIC books and somehow are scored less than Frindle, despite he fact they’re a harder read (yet still easy).
    Then, Yasmine Galenorn and Sherrilyn Kenyon are some of my favorite adult authors. None of their adult books are testable so I have to read others till I get to my 30 points. It isn’t hard, but HAVING to read takes out the pleasure. The scoring is stupid. Sometimes I feel rushed (and I can read 100-150 pages in an hour).
    I hate this program and so does every other avid reader I know. People who hate reading hate it even more (though a select few started to like it) and our reward at the end of the year is some cheap notebook, a cookie and a cheap ballpoint pen. The top three get x amount of money which is unfair, I believe.
    After all, I read just as much– if not more and at a higher level than most of these blasted books they have. They do have some good… But all the same, in the end, the program is terrible. Even my teachers hate it for the reasons this person gave.

  41. Kathy
    January 7th, 2013 at 12:19 | #41

    My daughter is in first grade and, for now, the AR system is working for us. She enjoys reading and reads books just for fun. She also enjoys meeting her goal – which her teacher sets low enough for every child to reach. Her school does have a pizza party at the end of the year for kids who have meet their individual goals as well as a fun assembly for everyone if the students meet the school wide goal.
    For me, I love being able to easily find books for her to read that will help her grow as a reader. The AR Bookfinder is a wonderful tool for that, allowing me to select her reading range, an “age appropriate” range, as well as narrow the results by topic.
    Do I forsee potential problems? OH YES! For all of the reasons you stated. I am very aware of how quickly a love of reading can turn into a dread of reading yet another book. When meeting the goal becomes a chore and threatens to squash her love of reading, I will let her know that she does not have to take another test or meet her goal as long as I see her happily reading books. If the teachers fight me (which I don’t think they will at our school), I’ll fight for my daughter’s love of books over a silly goal system any day.

  42. Simone O.
    January 11th, 2013 at 08:31 | #42

    My daughter is a 4th grader, and she does AR since 1st grade. I heard our school will stop AR because it costs too much!! She is an advanced student and loves to read. I confess that She loved AR in 1st and 2nd grade, it did help her a lot. I do remember little competitions, but none that caused a big deal. However, since she turned to such a strong reader, in 3rd grade she didn’t enjoy AR, because she had to ready quantity and not quality. I remember her reading a chapter book every night to meet her goal. She always did, but it got to a point I tough she would go crazy!! Now in 4th grade, I told her teacher she loves to ready, she always pass her tests, so that is not a reason for reading just quantity!! Her teacher understood and in our class, the students decide how many books they will read. Our teacher knows who needs extra help with reading! I am very involved in her education, and I know her reading is perfect so as her teacher. In my opinion there are good and bad things about AR. Since I volunteer a lot, I know it was great for my daughter, and still is, but again, don’t push the kids more than necessary. Like I said, she always made it her goal, but I feel so sad for the kids that can’t!! Many times I helped those kids to stop crying because they could not go to the fun Friday or get a prize. I do think it is fair to recognize the hard work of some students, like my daughter, but I don’t think it has to be done on such a painful choices. That was one time that all the kids that made their goal had a special lunch in the class, my daughter was one of them, but we felt so sorry for our friends left in the cafeteria, that my daughter and I decided to stay with them and give them a support. I think that is the right way to teach my kids. You are good, Great!! I am proud of you. Lets help a friend that need it. Sometimes she has friends coming over to read with her. She is also an young author. I have to say that, we always had great teachers, and they did extra reading and talking about books they where reading outside AR. I agree a little with everyone. There are good things and bad about it, but there has to be a combination between school, teachers, parents and students. There is a limit. We parents know our children, what is enough is enough!! I have a little one starting K next year and I don’t know how her reading will be without AR program in the school. I am glad I have big sister to encourage her, but I have to say I am confused. Good with or without it? Lets just remember to respect friends and like I do, I teach my daughter no to use as a competition, because that can hurt her friends feelings.

  43. January 12th, 2013 at 07:05 | #43

    What a great daughter. One who would give up her reward to empathize with the feelings of others. Also an excellent teacher who would look beyond the program to the individual needs of kids.

    However, notice throughout Simone O’s post how much collateral damage the AR program produces, even with well-meaning teachers who adapt AR and de-emphasize many of its excesses. So many of the responses to this post have focused on “it’s not the program’s fault; it’s how it’s implemented.” Why not pour new wine into new wineskins, rather than new wine into old, cracked, and leaky ones (not to mention expensive old ones)? We can do better.

    As a parent Simone O. does not have the expertise to see viable options to AR and create those new wineskins. As teachers we do.

  44. Tammy
    January 13th, 2013 at 11:40 | #44

    Hi Mark,
    I agree wholeheartedly and appreciate everything you have pointed out about the AR program. While I can see the opportunities for motivating students to read (although not intrisic motivation!), there are far too many red flags overall. The fact that this program does nothing to support responsive instruction has always been my greatest concern. Having said all that, I am in a position where AR has been identified as a potential online reading support for my division, and I need to come up with alternatives. Do you know of any additional online reading programs that are superior? I would love to hear about them! Thanks!

  45. Melissa
    January 23rd, 2013 at 07:35 | #45

    I brought my children into books from the moment they were born. My daughter began reading at 5, and my son at 4. THey loved books and I made sure to surround them with books that touched on subjects they loved. My daughter read almost anything. My son was a little picker, liking books about dogs, and nonfiction about primated. When he hit the age where his school REQUIRED the AR program, they tried to pidgeonhole him. If he read books that were available to him on the AR program, he was reading below his reading level. And countless times, his teachers and school librarian would tell him he couldn’t read this book or that because it was ABOVE his reading level. He and I could not satisfy them. And now, at 15, getting him to read for enjoyment is like pulling teeth. I am angry at the AR protram for taking my bright, book loving little boy and making it so he equates reading with cleaning his room or mowing the lawn. At 8, he would read the encyclopedias for fun, because he could pick a topic on nature and just find out something new.

  46. Lily
    February 1st, 2013 at 10:35 | #46

    My personal experience with AR is that at our school, the kids with high AR points get lots of praise, their picture on the wall, etc. Other things, such as a high reading level and excellent grades do not get the same attention. I am going to scale back and let me daughter read books she enjoys, regardless of the point value. I need her to love reading again.

  47. Sam
    February 11th, 2013 at 05:36 | #47

    Our experience with AR has not been a good one.

    Last year our child was reading Harry Potter books in 4th grade. This year in 5th grade he is being told he is reading below his level. Well I should say so! If he were to read the books he likes he can’t take a test on them because the test is capped to his so called range. This is a ridiculous program that does not in our experience encourage reading.

    What on earth is the rationale for capping a reading test?

    This is a really stupid program.

  48. February 11th, 2013 at 13:07 | #48

    The AR program has pros and cons- I just stumbled upon your blog when doing some research to try to figure out what TWI means in the report column (still havent found that info) Your article is well thought out and brings up the many issues and concerns parents often voice about the program.. Parents whose students are subjected to it. Yes I said subjected to it. AR is not a pleasant experience- unless you are a STAR performer and you are the Proud momma or poppa of the kiddo with all the praise and kudos. For the struggling reader- there is public shame. Oh that is being dramatic you say. No, it really is not- see they have BIG MEASURING sticks of AR points and books read that cover the classroom walls- so for every holiday party and every parent night- there is CHILD SUPERDUPER up there as a STAR and then there are all the other children and then there are those that struggle- at the bottom of the barrell. Well yeah that sure is a motivator when youa re 7,8,9 years old. And be reminded of it daily around your classroom- on a public platform. But aside fromt hat, let’s talk about the program and the limited selection of books. Personally I have spent many hours looking up book after book in the system- because child was interested, we read a chapter or two together and he was into it, only to discover- it is NOT in the program. So now- I am faced with the dilemma- tell him to read it anyway- and ENJOY reading- or make him CHOOSE A BOOK in the system and get it done- to get the ‘required’ points. I choose to read for enjoyment, but this causes him friction with his teachers as he falls behind in points. The points are required- the goals are set every six weeks, the reading for pleasure is NOT ALLOWED until you meet your point goal. So what would you do? Well, I bet the same as any industrious 8 year old would do- GAME THE SYSTEM- and so he does- he and many friends- walk around the library or teacher book area- count up points of books- at low end of the assigned range- and they whip ’em off- sometimes taking multiple tests in a day- they stack the points on garbage reading- they guess at answers and they slide through on points- just to get to read the material they want to read! The system is not monitored. There are no teachers or librarians to be sure they are doing the tests accurately and correctly- there just isn’t enough teacher to go around when you have 24 plus students in a class. So in the end- AR teaches, in my opinion, nothing more than how to work around a required system that makes little to no sense and does little more than provide a way for over burdened teachers to point to a tool and say SEE it says little johnny can now read better than he did in September and look at all his points- therefore he must be doing well and therefore I must be a good teacher. The logic is flawed and the results are not as they appear. AR can be a tool in the classroom- but in my experience over 7 years- it is a crutch – not a tool- and in no way is being used properly.

  49. willaful
    February 14th, 2013 at 21:26 | #49

    A point that I don’t think has been brought up is how important rereading is to some kids. My son loves to read books about middle school — unsurprising, seeing as he is in middle school — and he loves to read his favorite books over and over. AR doesn’t meet his needs at all — since he’s an excellent reader, he’s required to read books at a higher reading level than the ones he enjoys and he gets no credit for rereading. (You can’t even retake a test you failed.)

    I’ve managed to find some books he enjoys that are in the “right” reading level, so he no longer has to steal as much time away from his pleasure reading to do his required reading. But the way he likes to read is not respected by the AR program and could easily lead to turning him off of reading entirely.

  50. Tera Donaldson
    February 15th, 2013 at 20:29 | #50

    Hi, my supervisor is using STAR data to determine the efficacy of my reading instruction. According to her research, 1/3 of my class (6) students’ scores remained static or dropped. According to my own research and using ZPD scores, only 1 dropped minimally and 3-4 remained the same. At the beginning of the year, over half scored PP IRL, now, only 1or 2 ar at PP. In a first grade class of 18 students the ranges are from 0.9-4.0. Is STAR data a legitimate tool to measure the success of a teacher’s reading instruction?

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