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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. February 15th, 2013 at 20:56 | #1

    Cogent remark. CS Lewis placed great value on re-reading the classics.

  2. February 15th, 2013 at 21:03 | #2

    I would say “No.” And more importantly, the AR folks would concur as that is not the purpose of the STAR assessment. The STAR assessment is for placement.

    Much better to diagnostically, formatively,and summatively (if needed) assess with discrete reading measurements such as phonological awareness, fluency, work recognition, word identification, syllable division, etc. These produce data a teacher can teach to and legitimately measure improvement and mastery. Check out my free whole class assessments for ELA and reading on the Pennington Publishing site.

  3. christine
    March 8th, 2013 at 04:23 | #3

    I have had nothing but stress from my child who has ADHD since starting AR in September. He use to read quite happily to me or other relatives and enjoyed reading books. Since starting this program he has become angry and stressed, he has only passed 2/11 of the tests and hates the books he is able to choose from. Why change something that previously worked for a child. I now question if you have a child with a short attention span, is this the correct format of teaching for them. If you give some children with attention problems 30 mins self-reading time in a classroom, the chances are they will not focus on the task. If anyone else has found it has helped their child with ADHD I would love to hear how it has been implemented. I personally prefer to hear and see my children read and then discuss the content of their learning.

  4. willamina Forshag
    March 20th, 2013 at 07:06 | #4

    My child’s school is using STAR as 20% of their reading grade every 9weeks! Is this common?

  5. principal
    March 21st, 2013 at 05:46 | #5

    I have seen all points and do respect each person’s experience.
    I have seen the program used in many ways, good and bad. I agree that the program is not a substitute for a teacher nor the fix for kids who struggle with reading, etc. At our school, a good portion of our parents like AR and do so because it gets kids motivated to read. We use the program as a means for students to set goals for themselves and to reach those goals. I agree that students should have the freedom to read books, at the same time, we want to make sure they are being challenged to progress at their level and beyond. We all take into consideration the needs of our students and will not use it to punish nor to make a student feel bad about reading. We want to encourage a love of reading and if I saw that this was bad for our kids, I would be the first one to not purchase it. The program does not go above basic comprehension but if a student cannot get the basic comprehension then I would be worried. We are also on the lookout for any other program that goes deeper into comprehension but our teacher’s should be teaching this and not the program. I am not worried about the quizzes as much as just having children read. If they are motivated and are taught to set goals then great. It’s all about teaching and guiding…. While some criticize AR, don’t forget that some people who do so also have an incentive and a personal gain. Nothing wrong with it but don’t make it a general statement about everyone. No program in any content replaces good teaching… I tell my teachers, when it comes to STAR, that they need to look at it as one piece of information. If they know a student scored low and they can do better then work with the student or use another method of finding their level. So we discuss and assess based on what we know of the child and not the program. The more they read the better readers they become!!

  6. steve
    April 17th, 2013 at 07:24 | #6

    I feel that AR should not be the reading program, but part of it. 90% of the kids seem not to read with out someone monitoring them. I did not as a kid. I told my parents I read. I made up vague reading projects that I said represented my book, but I did not read.

    A program that can at least prove they read a book is a great idea. This should not be the only part of the reading program, but I think it needs to be part of one. How would you replace it? Teachers trusting the students that they read, or doing a project, which again the teacher will have to trust represents the book (teachers can not read every book out there). That sounds like a way for more kids to cheat and waste time.

    The problems listed in this article have to do with teachers, just using this program and not teaching.

  7. Rhonda Ashcroft
    April 23rd, 2013 at 13:10 | #7

    @Christine Rinehart
    We are having the discussion at our school about whether or not to continue using AR. Many teachers talk about our students’ hating AR, and the leadership is asking if the program is actually helping to improve our students’ reading abilities (i.e. their lexiles). Granted, we only have 15 minutes allotted for AR time each day; and the way it is used varies among teachers. In the past, I have seen success with many students. Now, I would like to know how the program is used on a voluntary, individual basis. Can the amount of money we spend for it be justified? How can we use it to help our students who are struggling readers?

  8. April 23rd, 2013 at 18:29 | #8

    As a reading specialist, I would argue that AR is not an effective tool in meeting the individual needs of struggling readers. Creative teachers and librarians can develop site-specific independent reading programs for free.

  9. Sanehi
    April 24th, 2013 at 15:27 | #9

    i dont like AR. It so frustrating.

  10. Mersadies
    May 9th, 2013 at 15:10 | #10

    I do not like AR because it feels like i am forced to read

  11. DaveInChina
    May 18th, 2013 at 16:03 | #11

    One solution to the limited selection is to allow the children to select books not on the list and then have them write a quiz for the book. If the teacher deems the quiz worthy, the teacher enters it into the AR system, the child gets the points, and the reading list is broadened for others. Yes, this may require teachers to read some additional books that they currently have not, but hopefully most educators have a joy of reading themselves.

  12. Stephanie
    May 26th, 2013 at 20:14 | #12

    I find a few of your points to be invalid. First, points 2 and 6 are making the exact same claim, that AR does not acknowledge maturity levels when marking readability when in fact, they do. The interest level is not only “cautionary” it is to allow teachers and students to understand, that while these books may be easily decoded they are NOT necessarily recommended for that student. In so many ways, “the burden” for teachers and parents to approve books is completely appropriate. It is a huge part of reader and task, which according to CCSS is 1/3 of determining readability. No reading program can step in and simply understand what the students can handle or understand specific content, this is the place of the teacher and parent.

  13. Gen
    May 27th, 2013 at 18:24 | #13

    Thank you for this post! AR is started in 1st grade in my district. By middle school, children are required to gain so many points by the end of the trimester or their grade suffers. I currently have a fourth grader who loves to read, but HATES AR. Your point about the test questions being nothing more than meaningless recall/trivia questions is SPOT ON. My daughter frequently fails AR tests because she can’t remember minor details. It’s completely frustrating and discouraging. Recently, she read The Book Thief and we had a wonderful “book chat”. We discussed WWII, Nazi Germany, why Leisle steals books, the narration by Death. It was a great discussion! Then she goes to school and fails the AR test by one question. It was demoralizing.

  14. May 27th, 2013 at 21:15 | #14
  15. May 27th, 2013 at 21:22 | #15

    Stephanie, you miss the point. AR does so inaccurately and leads students and parents on to inappropriate book selections. Also, nothing to do with decoding…

    However, you inadvertently make a more important point re:”No reading program can step in and simply understand what the students can handle or understand specific content, this is the place of the teacher and parent.” This argues against AR better than any of my 18 points.

  16. Mercedes
    July 3rd, 2013 at 17:58 | #16

    Mark Pennington, you hit it right on the nail. My son, was reading, according to the AR system, 2-3 grades above his reading level. He got home with AR books from his school library that I considered were inappropiate for his age, with plots and characters for early teenagers. Also, his teacher reported us, that he was constantly reading under the table and not paying attention to his classes. I spoke with him several times about it; and he explained that the teacher gave those books to him to continue accumulating AR points. When I asked the teacher to please remove those books from his desk, and give them to him at a different time. She refused to do it, and said that giving those books during class was a must. And he continued to be pushed to (multitask)read during class. I also realized from looking at his reading logs that he was feeling the preasure to work on accumulating AR points regardless of the content or the reading level appropiate for him. He started to just get anybook with the higher amount of AR points, browsing and trying to take the test to get the points. Because of the AR system, I felt that I could not be more involved and completely lacked of the power to chose what I considered appropiate for him according to his age, values and priorities.
    I am so happy that you wrote this article.
    Thank you.

  17. Jeannie Knotts
    August 25th, 2013 at 00:28 | #17

    I have a second grader; In the beginning of first grade I felt that the AR program did a good job in the sense that she was getting a lot of volume and I felt that this large volume of books under her belt was a good start to a great love of reading but as the year progressed I noticed that every Tuesday (AR club day after school) she would gravitate toward short books in her AR level that she could quickly read and test over for points. She is a very competitive girl and she was trying to get the most points in her class. The program at our school is mandatory and there is a base level of points required, she was far above her minimum each semester. Anyhow, toward the end of the year though, although finishing 1st grade, she was reading somewhere near a 4th grade reading level. This reading level would suggest that she read some chapter books, but because they take longer, she is personally discouraged from reading them because she will not get her points as quickly. This year already I feel the pressure of AR because I know her reading level has improved over the course of the summer and as others have suggested, the maturity level of the books available for this level often tend toward the pre-teen. She is in SECOND grade. I am an involved parent that models reading as a fun pasttime. I am worried that this program will kill the love of reading for my very intelligent child. For her birthday her aunt bought her the “boxcar children” set. I loved these books as a child, we started reading them aloud at bedtime, I looked up their AR level, most are below her reading level, she would not even be able to test over these books. They are age appropriate and chapter books which are a challenge for a child her age. I will continue to read them to her and her sister (kindergartner) because I want them to enjoy reading for the sake of reading (not for the sake of testing) but I continue to be frustrated.

  18. Gayle
    September 7th, 2013 at 12:19 | #18

    Ways that our district and creative reading teachers are making AR be all that it can be to a reader:
    1. We do NOT use the point system. Students who achieve a 90-100% on a test receive a bead on their own set of dog tags that hang on a bulletin board. Regardless of a student’s reading level, as long as they achieve a 90 or 100%, they receive a bead. This encourages the student to first, read a leveled book and then carefully read the book and take the test. They cannot beat this system because they are not allowed to read books that are a breeze for them and then they do not get a bead if they miss more than one – so they have to take their time. I don’t know about older kids but I have done this for 20 years and my third graders LOVE their beads. They have NO idea that on the last day of school they will receive a bag of prizes (all that junk they LOVE), the bag’s size based on the number of beads they earned. (For example: top 4-6 get a large bag, under 10 beads a small bag, and everyone else gets a medium sized bag.) There is nothing like taking home a sealed SURPRISE bag to open when you step off that bus for the first day of summer vacation!! But, they do it for the beads and the dog tags. Truly.
    2. Taking AR tests does not take up significant instructional time. We have 3 netbooks in our classroom and in Readers Workshop students work in small groups. When they are in their “read-to-self” work, they may take a test. They also know they can take one as soon as they get to school or at the end of the day when I read aloud or during intervention time. Many will come in and take one before they skip out to the playground. It’s all in the attitude toward AR.
    3. The only books I will not allow my students to read are books that are WAY below their reading level (i.e. a level 4 reading Henry and Mudge). They are welcome to read any book they want (we call it “breezy reading”) but for reading conference and AR it must be a leveled book. That is just good reading practice as proven over and over again in research. But, they can read a chapter book of any level (because there are very few below level two (red).
    4. We use Columbia reading units and book clubs are encouraged in the curriculum as well as Common Core. So, there are groups of children reading the same book. If there are districts using only AR as their reading program then that’s a problem. That is either laziness on the teacher’s part or administrator’s mandating it so they have “proven data”. AR is one part of a balanced reading program. It should not be the only thing. However, with independent reading required along with taking home books in a book bag, it would be a nightmare for teachers to monitor reading logs and keep up with what each child is reading. AR gives me one more piece that should reflect what I am seeing in guided reading groups, one-to-one conferences, fluency and comprehension and oral and written retellings by the student.
    5. Now that AR is web-based, most books have a test. If there are other books that are not on AR, teachers can write a quiz for it. It is unfortunate that they have to be called tests or quizzes in the first place because the states have demonized all tests. I teach my kiddos that there are 3 ways to read a book (read the pictures, read the words, retell the story) and that AR is another way we re-tell the story. Students could even be encouraged occasionally to write the answers they chose in their readers notebook to show that the correct choices all add up to retelling.

  19. leydemax
    September 9th, 2013 at 15:48 | #19

    I agree with Gayle. I have a 4th and 2nd grader. they enjoy reading, and the chance to earn more ar points to go to the “store” with. Our school is set up like Gayle says. There is about 30 minutes a day that is set aside for kids to read, take test, get new books. It is an additon to reading NOT the only learning for reading. And IT IS UP TO THE SCHOOL, on how they handle things. it sounds like a lot of schools on here and that you ppl interviewed have their standards way to high for their kids. Cuz for one our kids can read “breezy” books and test on them. but they are highly encouraged to read at their level and most do. as with all schools there are a few that can’t read at the level they should be. alot of that has to do with parents. a quote i saw said that parents who are not involved with their kids and there school are lower level kids. I am a school volunteer, i am there every chance i get doing everything i can, i check ever paper they do and check their homework when their done. and they are the top of their class. i see the parents that show up for meetings and the staffs kids, are right up there with mine. the parents who never show for meetings, parties, bookfairs, etc., their kids are the ones that have trouble with reading and school in general. so its not the AR program, its the parents, and probably the school system. those that are haveing problems with ar need to get with there school and fix it.

  20. leydemax
    September 9th, 2013 at 16:00 | #20

    ar is a great program at our school. I see comments on here from i’m assuming kids, so you would be older. our school doesn’t press ar test on jr and hs kids. cuz they have alot more homework, sports, ffa, and other groups that take alot of their free time. oh and whole #9 cheater… what a crock. a cheater is a cheater and has nothing to do with ar. and altho the kids are on the computer, the teachers/librian (at least at my kids school) keep an eye on them while they take their test like they would do with any paper test.

  21. Cbb
    September 9th, 2013 at 17:59 | #21

    I could not agree with this article more. My children just changed elementary schools, and moved into a school that uses AR. I can find nothing positive to say about this program. Book selection is very limited. I can’t get on the Kindle and download a book that my children are interested in because the school may not have the quiz. I hate that my children are being encouraged to read to get a party rather than for the love of reading and knowledge. My son will read the first chapter and the back cover of the book and then attempt the test just to get the points. So, now my extremely bright and well-behaved child is in trouble at home for not putting forth effort.

    The worst part is that my 3rd grader has informed my that his teacher hasn’t listened to him read ONE TIME this school year. We are more than a month into school.

    I have seen no real reading progress so far this school year, but I feel forced to continue with AR because I don’t want my children excluded from the AR parties.

  22. Susanne Reeder
    September 11th, 2013 at 16:48 | #22

    What about schools using AR as a grade? And AR progress to evaluate eligibility for Honor Roll? I don’t think this is what the program was designed for. Am I wrong??

  23. Mary Goodwill
    September 18th, 2013 at 02:25 | #23

    My son (8 1/2 years old) came home with a book last night after the AR system had assessed him on the same book band as my daughter (5 1/2 years old). You can imagine how upset he was – ‘well she can read this one too!’ he shouted. I went in to see the teacher and she said this is his level and there are plenty of books to choose from and that it will help his comprehension skills (they are weak). His reading level is higher though and to be reading books which he tackled back in year 1 (he’s in year 4 just started) isn’t going to stretch him or interest him. She said we’d just have to see how it goes. I’m not happy. HOw can he can excited about reading if he’s been set back. And what can we all do if this is the school’s new scheme? I’m thinking we’ll just go with it and try and get books from our local library ….

  24. September 18th, 2013 at 15:38 | #24

    Yes, Mary, you’re going to have to supplement. A child’s self-esteem is tough to repair. How much easier (and more accurate) to use a simple word recognition level of 5% unknown words to select books for children to read independently. It takes away all the pigeon-holing. How much better to actually discuss the book daily with a child rather than take some simplistic recall assessment.

  25. Ellis
    October 1st, 2013 at 07:45 | #25

    It really works for kids at schools it helps them read more and learn how to read!

  26. Dennis Robertson
    October 8th, 2013 at 07:21 | #26

    My daughter (9-1/2) read books that interested her before kindergarten. She would pick pick all sorts of books, from picture, to craft, short stories, fables, etc. She got caught up in the AR craze at her school and would regularly receive awards at assembles for her reading “achievement.” In third grade, she finished her 4th Harry Potter novel and began her fifth over summer. Beginning 4th grade her teacher abruptly told her that she would not be able to read beyond her third grade level because her STAR score came in at 3.9. She was told to to choose only books within the 3.0-3.9 range. She came home in tears with a “Curious George” book. She threw the book on the floor in anger because she had read it in kindergarten. So far, she is barely keeping up with her mandated goals for AR. She continues to do A+ work in language arts, and the other subjects. It is sad to see such enthusiasm for reading squashed by a computer program. We encourage her to read at home what she wants. We still read a chapter, or two, with her to assess that she understands what she’s read.

  27. October 8th, 2013 at 17:00 | #27

    Thank you for sharing. A professor colleague of mine refuses to allow her daughter to participate in AR. The teacher lowers her grade. The child wears the B (lowered from the A) as a badge of honor.

  28. Paula
    October 13th, 2013 at 09:41 | #28

    I am a special education teacher of 1st through 5th grade students. At this time, I instruct reading, writing, and math.
    The kids really enjoy true historical reading projects, phenomena that actually happened and no one can explain why. It tweeks their interest to read. I have several of these old stories that have high interest but low vocabulary to start my students down the motivation road to read.
    My school has the AR reading program. In the initial stages of reading I consider AR to be a good program. But if the child is an independent reader (4th grade reading skills or above), I would not recommend the AR for the point system to supplement grades unless, of course, that student reads below skill level.
    I also have to write that I am the mother of five—now all grown—two are teachers, one is a scientist, one is a dentist, one is a trainer of horses. No child learns or enjoys the same thing. Children do like computers, they are awed by them, and therefore, I think that is one plus of the AR system. But to reach the child, the parent has to read to the child — I will repeat — the parent has to read to the child to develop that child’s interest. Let them know that reading is important to Dad and Mom. Therefore, reading must be really important. No AR system or teacher can replace this memory.

  29. October 13th, 2013 at 13:34 | #29

    Thanks for your post. Yes, AR is motivational for some. But its downsides out weigh its upsides. Additionally, your post certainly begs the question: Aren’t there other ways to motivate readers without the expense and problems of the AR program?

    I also fail to understand your distinction between re: independent readers and those not yet at that level. Why would AR benefit students not reading at independent levels? After all, AR does not teach phonics, sight words, phonemic awareness, explicit comprehension strategies, syllabication, word families, etc. aka the mainstays of reading intervention… I would think the opposite would more likely be true.

  30. Linda
    October 13th, 2013 at 18:39 | #30

    I am a retired teacher and I also think it is time for the AR reading program to go. My granddaughter is in 2nd. grade and her teacher is expecting her to take 6 AR tests each day. She is not failing, but her teacher also wants her to stay in after school for tutorials just so she can read at least 2 more books each day to take tests over. Her mom and I refused to sign the tutorial paper. She already hates reading because she is required to read each book 3 times each before taking each test. She usually makes good grades taking 3 or 4 tests a day, but then her grades start going down when she has to read more. She gets so tire at night and cannot always finish her homework. We do not want her to hate reading at such a young age.

  31. Linda
    October 13th, 2013 at 18:47 | #31

    Yes, this program has made my 8 year old granddaughter hate reading. She has to read 3 AR books three times each every night and also her regular class reading book. She read 65 books last 6 weeks and her teacher did not think she was reading enough to get the points. When she was younger she loved trying to read, but not anymore. @Gen

  32. Lisa
    October 14th, 2013 at 09:10 | #32

    My 9th grader is a voracious reader who has been tested at the college level since 6th grade and cannot put books down…ever. She was in the AR program from 5th-8th grades and has expressed several times this year that she is “So happy to be done with AR” now that she’s in high school.

    My 4th grader has been reading since pre-school. While she is not as fond of reading as my oldest child, she is a strong reader and tests high on the AR scale. As a result, the teachers assign her a larger point goal than other children

    The problem is that most of the books at her reading level (especially the ones with decent point values) are completely content-inappropriate. The highest point value books have either mature relationship content(with sexual/romance plots and information)or are violent (with fighting/sorcerer/science fiction content). Neither of these are good for a nine year old!

    The program has really taken the desire to read “wind” out of her sails because she cannot read the books that interest her the most. Now I worry that she will never acquire a love of reading. Thanks AR!

    The end result is a negative experience for my two oldest children who have participated in the program…scary because I have a kindergartener who is currently reading at a strong 1st grade level!

  33. Ann
    October 17th, 2013 at 07:50 | #33

    I have a child who has participated in AR since he was in Kindergarten. He is now in 5th Grade. Tomorrow, I am meeting with his teacher and his Principal to discuss the current administration of AR. I have completely support the AR program at our school since its inception. I will say the administration of the program will definitely make or break its success.

    The beginning levels with emergent readers was quite successful for my son, reading and racing to the next book. The programs was administered a bit loosely, but it served its purpose. My son was reading at a 4th grade level by mid second grade. However, due to loose administration, his gains started to slow, as there was little direction on book selection. We finally after repeated requests for assistance, helped him select by the end of second grade he read a series with a ATOS average if 5.3 and achieved an 85%.

    The next year continued much the same and we directed his selection in as laid back manner as possible – we believe the the value of leisure reading.

    Last year in fourth grade something happened and getting him to read anything we nearly impossible… he managed to finish the year reading a series with an ATOS average of 6.3 and achieving and average score of 85%. And these books were all read in “free” time in the classroom. Please note, he is a straight A student with little effort. (not gifted, just a good student)

    Over the summer there was NO reading…we chose not to push it as he had been averaging about 1000 pages a week (and reading three books at a time) since second grade. His Grandmother noticed the lack of reading and asked him why he never had a book anymore… his response… Why would I ready anything I can’t take a test on? As we headed back two school, we talked about how excited he was to get back into school and connect with all his friends. We talked about how they would be doing the beginning of the year assessments and he needed to focus and do well, not to let his excitement at being back (yes, he does love school)distract him. He told me that he would do his best, but that he had thought about not doing his best so that he could read any book he wanted… It makes us so sad…

    Now we have learned that starting a year ago, the person who was administering the program had changed, and the person had implemented significant changes – to the detriment of the program, I believe just not for my child, but for all children. The new program is punitive and an almost constant case of who moved my cheese! As little bit by little bit of the actual administration of this new program has been revealed, I’ve tried to support the program, after all how does one teach a child to respect the rules, but last week the gloves came off! My son had started a new book over the weekend. It was a bit above what he’s been reading (he was told he had to pick a book between 5.6-5.8) while his ZPD is 4.8-11.6 and the new book was a 7. We were excited as it seemed like he might finally be on track again to reading what he loved and he was willing to try something a bit more challenging. the first three books of the year he loved, but they were in the prescribed range and he scored 100% on all tests. He went in 82 pages into this new book, and was told he really couldn’t read it, because he might not do well on the quiz… I agree with most of the points of the article (even those that are redundant)I am still a supporter of a well executed program that is not restrictive nor punitive.

    Thanks for the insight. Many of these points will be used tomorrow in my meeting.

  34. Aendra
    October 17th, 2013 at 08:54 | #34

    The AR program works wonderfully in my children’s school district. I find most of the “18 reasons” very weak and mostly invalid (although constant tweaking and improving is a must for any program). Almost every one of the 18 reasons is remedied with 2 simple solutions: Good Parenting and Good Framework – meaning requirements and incentives set up by the school. Children will always find a reason to complain about assigned book reading. AR, when set up correctly, gives students a sense of independence in book selection and in choosing when to take AR quizzes.

    For the most part, a child’s attitude towards reading is created and nurtured at home from early childhood. Unfortunately, too many kids will not read any books on their own without a program like AR. Many of those kids will certainly not like AR, but are probably the kids who stand to benefit most from it. I don’t know of a school program that does more for encouraging those students (who are probably the vast majority) to read, and almost all students to read than AR.

    If you don’t like the way your child’s school district does AR, take it to the district. AR may not be perfect, but it does a lot of good. It would be a shame to eliminate it and go back to teachers simply encouraging kids to read books, and most parents doing nothing to help their kids actually read books at home – because that was the book reading program before AR. There are parents who will independently do a much better job at helping their children read and develop a love of reading, but those parents are the exception. Our education system is set up to help the rule. There will not be a better system for the masses until the masses do a much better job at home.

  35. Lisa
    October 18th, 2013 at 17:03 | #35

    I am disappointed that you decided take the easy route of “blame the parents” in your comment. Just so you know, there are going to be plenty of cases where the parents and kiddos have worked very hard to successfully participate in the AR program, and to get the schools/districts to work on making the program better, but it still does not work for them. You certainly don’t need to “blame the victims” just because it works for you.

    What is important here is to consider that there may be major flaws in the program that need to be addressed. Saying it’s good for everyone because you like it, and being closed to the possibility that there may be legitimate flaws, is not what should be encouraged in our school system.

    The AR publisher (Renaissance Learning) certainly is not open to hearing any concerns/suggestions (I’ve tried). Also consider that many of the schools and districts don’t want to hear about problems because they are financially deep into the program and want to save face.

    It is critical to have articles like this one and an open forum to tell our personal experiences so we can be supportive of each other and know we’re not the only ones out there. It’s too bad that you can’t consider the possibility that the parents who are writing about the negative experiences their children are having might be the most caring and involved parents of all (proof of this is that they have taken the time to research and respond to this article, for starters).

  36. CMA
    October 24th, 2013 at 16:02 | #36

    One thing that is left out of this discussion is the arbitrary, petty, MANDATORY goals set by the school or districts themselves, and linking those goals to teachers performance evaluation. :O
    Our school requires each 1st grader to accumulate quite a few points in each grading period. This means they have to test a book pretty much every day, which is a huge investment of time on the teachers part, due to the high number of struggling readers. I think out students would be better served by taking those 6-8 hours a week and implementing a guided reading time which would get them reading independently and solidly by midyear. Let AR be for fun and supplemental.

  37. mcruff
    October 25th, 2013 at 14:16 | #37

    As a parent of child in an AR program, it sounds this program is not for kids who are at or above reading level. My daughter entered 5th grade barely able to read. After one year on the AR program, she was up to reading level and could then expand her reading to broader books not in the program. What it did was help to guide her. She was not “proud” to read 1-2 point books, and worked very hard to read books with many points. The fact that the school did not let you “game the system” was probably helpful. Students can’t get points for reading a lot of little point books, but had to ACCELERATE their level. Just sounds like some people had badly monitored programs, not surprising with budget cuts these days.

  38. Aendra
    October 27th, 2013 at 12:34 | #38

    @Lisa
    I acknowledge that given a different introduction to AR, my opinion could also be unfavorable. I feel fortunate that my children’s school district uses AR in such a way that seems to work and most parents are happy with. I certainly acknowledge that there are many parents who work very hard to help their children love reading and read well. What I don’t favor knee jerk reactions that eliminate a potentially good program (when implemented correctly) for no program at all.

  39. October 27th, 2013 at 20:04 | #39

    What many parents (as well as some teachers) assume is that it’s AR or no independent reading “program” at all. Apparently teachers did not have children read prior to AR… Of course they did and still do. It’s not rocket science. As a reading specialist I’ve implemented many school-wide programs with simple placement assessments, motivational components, and proven results. All without the AR baggage… Independent reading is not an either-or proposition.

  40. Victoria
    October 29th, 2013 at 15:33 | #40

    I’m quite frightened by some of the comments here. My son just began the 1st grade and he’s already being told he’s in danger of retention because his score is ONE POINT below where it should be. His grades are perfect, all A’s and B’s, but he’s still in danger of being held back because of this program. I’m a first time parent and I’m freaking out that he’ll be held back, bored (because he’s intelligent and he will have already done it all before), and as a result, lose any interest in learning. I have no idea and I feel that I have no control in my son’s future academically.

  41. October 30th, 2013 at 05:39 | #41

    Now, even though I initiated this conversation about the problems of using AR, this is clearly not an “AR issue.” Suggest you schedule an appointment with your child’s teacher, then principal, if necessary. I’ve never heard of a teacher threatening to flunk a child because he or she lacked AR points. Something doesn’t sound right, here.

  42. kris
    November 2nd, 2013 at 13:33 | #42

    I don’t like this program. All three of my children have been screened fir dyslexia and twobare pretty severly impacted and the other mildly. AR does nothing to address thebissues they have with phonemic awareness and decoding. We have to continue to read with our kids, to ensure they are reading correctly, so they can pass the ar quizzes. We are very active parents with our children and their homework and have read to them from birth. Schools shiuld focus more on the actual teaching of reading instead of how many points one can accumulate.

  43. Averie Rivera
    November 7th, 2013 at 20:00 | #43

    I love this article. I am currently a seventh grader at my school, and I want to share my thoughts on this article. First, I despise this AR reading program. I personally feel that it limits us to a small amount of books. I do have to admit, however, that I do brush off my reading habits. I feel like I am slowly drifting away from reading. I currently read, at my highest, 11.8. When I was first introduced into AR, in 3rd grade, I didn’t think much of it. I could pass it easily because back then, I was reading around 5.0-6.8 and I found that most of those books in that range tend to be chapter books, at least at my school library. Now, I have changed districts for personal reasons, and I have trouble finding books to be able to take a test on and pass. I have tried reading chapter books, and my parents even try to help purchase books for me, but it doesn’t work out. I barely made the requirements by reading The Kite Runner (which I feel is an OKAY book for 7th grade, despite its vulgarity and sexual refrences). Now today is my last day to meet my goal, which is 15 points in 6 weeks. They raise everyone’s goal by 5 points every 6 weeks, which I feel doesn’t help, especially when only 5 people have actually TRIED and made their goals. The rest either just try to skim through their books and fail the tests, or do not even bother because it is either too hard to accomplish with other homework, or they just feel it is too difficult of a task.

    Now, let’s go back to the point system:
    I would rather prefer the percentage system, as stated before. I would like it to work where it does not matter why STYLE of book you read, but if you UNDERSTAND the book you read. After all, that is what schools try to teach us right? It would only make sense to apply what we do in essential classes to AR as well, especially if you’re going to account that for a part of home room grade or whatever subject it belongs to.
    The points seem to fail, and let me explain why I see it this way.

    My school is encouraging us, as students, to read non-fictional books, such as books you would you to write a report. For example, let’s say there was one book that could get you all the points you needed, like a chapter book. However, there is another book, same level and everything, except that 1. It is an informational non-fiction book and 2. The points are worth .5. Now, normally, a typical child would be smart and go for the point book, because it has the points for the requirement and most likely, it will interest them. However, our school would strongly encourage us to go for that .5 book. Why? Because according to them, it helps us understand most of the books we will be reading in our future life. If they want us to read .5 books and expect 15 points in six weeks, that would mean 30 books. I am not saying this is impossible, I am just saying that, considering the typical student in this grade doesn’t want to read over the weekend, and probably has about 1-4 hours worth of homework every night, not including weekend homework assignments. I have tried, just one time, to read an informational book and I can say, the way the school wants us to read, will not work. We would have to either read the book twice a day throughout the 6 school weeks, or read one book a day and take a test. I have tried reading one of these styles of books for one week, and I STILL struggled. I failed the AR test, because their questions then become so technical. I stopped reading those types, and the chapter books fail to accommodate either.

    IF we used the percentage system, I personally feel that it would work WAY better than the points system. To me, the points system just tells me how many books you can find that can give you the points. We do have the percentage requirements as well, but the kids fail to look for that because the teachers seem to only emphasize the points part on us, and it also sounds like that’s all my teacher grades us on, which I am sure she doesn’t, but that is how it sounds.

    Okay, here’s how I would think the percent system would suffice better:
    If the teachers decide to mainly or completely grade us on percentage, students would be more encouraged to read a book a couple times over before they actually took a test, rather than getting a bunch of books and not passing all the way but getting the points. If we were more focused on the percentage, that could also lead us to read books that are non-fictional and informational, as those you can read a good amount over because they are short, and still take a good test on them in 6 weeks. However, as always, a minimum amount of required books must be set. Not too many though, just enough to have a good average. I would suggest 5-10 at a minimum. This would be MUCH more efficient, and I am actually considering taking my idea to the principal first, then possibly the district. I am not a student who likes to complain and then not do anything about it. If I feel something needs to be done, I will at the least, try to work things out.

  44. November 8th, 2013 at 17:53 | #44

    Thank you for your thoughtful and cogent response. Somethings ain’t worth fixin, though you give it a nice try with your percentage proposal. The Bible tells us not to place new wine into old wineskins, but to place new wine in new wineskins. Your point that students should be able to “explain” the book is what an effective reading accountability program should be all about. AR clearly doesn’t cut it.

  45. Cherry
    November 14th, 2013 at 12:00 | #45

    I think the AR program is a good program for lower grades 1-3 to get started with a habit and love of reading. Beyond that, its setup is destined to become tedious and counterproductive for children in middle school and junior high. By the time a child reaches grades 4 or 5, the AR program should be terminated and the switch should be made to introduce classics and other books that ALL the students in a class can read with the implementation of testing through book reports and/or short essay questions. I think it is definitely overkill to use AR in those upper elementary grades. At this developmental point in a student’s life, trying to keep up with reading books that are not age appropriate or that don’t fit the reading skill level is just a wasted of time for the student and can cause considerable damage to his or her enjoyment of reading and grades.

  46. APK
    November 16th, 2013 at 11:26 | #46

    I am a 6th grade teacher at a school that is heavily into AR. I agree with points made that many books that the students want to read are NOT AR books. I agree that AR limits their reading choices. Many of my students want to read what their peers are reading even if those books are not in their ZPD. My view is that students should be able to read the books that interest them, not just the ones that are at their level. Of course, I do, however, think that reading a book that is well below their level is unacceptable. Still, AR motivates children to read. For those kids who need the entertainment of video games, and visual stimulation, AR is a struggle. They just don’t want to read if it’s not interactive. I blame THAT on the influence of video games. So, I’m on the fence about the benefits of AR. I like the motivation for points but not the restriction of their book choices. At my school, it’s not an option for me to decide whether or not to participate. I can, however, adjust their goals and book level goals to accommodate their personal choices. I’m leaning more towards the side that AR is a good motivator for those kids who would not read as much if they didn’t have a goal to reach.

  47. Margaret
    December 5th, 2013 at 15:25 | #47

    I find your discussions to lack research support. I also find that your discussions only focus on the lower level usage of AR. What about the usage of AR at the high school level? I am an educator and have used AR for years. I have discovered its effective to create lovers of reading. The program can be adapted well to support a solid reading program to influence reluctant readers and struggling readers. I found the bulk of your arguments to be weak.

  48. December 6th, 2013 at 17:57 | #48

    According to the United States Department of Education Institute for Educational Sciences (IES What Works Clearinghouse, August 2010), Accelerated Reader™ was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency or comprehension for adolescent learners. The “What Works Clearinghouse” is our preeminent independent research review platform.

    Are you telling us that limiting reader choice, focus on mimimal “tests” to verify reading, etc. are good things for older readers? How about dialectical journals, book club discussions, literature groups for authentic and effective independent reading reflection and accountability for older readers? As an MA reading specialist, I’m amazed at the lack of creative solutions we tend to ignore as we throw good taxpayer money at a “program” that is simply unnecessary at best, and counterproductive at worst.

  49. B Gardner
    January 3rd, 2014 at 19:16 | #49

    I was a teacher for 15 years and a librarian for ten. We used AR a lot in our school and I find it a great program if USED PROPERLY. The main point is to get children reading. And by reading, I mean purposefully engaged in a book. Before AR, children would be assigned book reports and have to complete tedious SRA reading assignments. Kids who loved reading read while the stragglers didn’t. Accelerated Reading finally gave teachers and parents a way to really track what children read and know that they actually comprehended the material. Of course, there are lots of holes and problems. It’s not the Holy Grail, it’s a tool. Use it as such. I have seen AR used poorly, and I have seen poor or reluctant readers take off. To put it in a nutshell, many more children began to really read books after AR became a part of our school district’s reading program.I am all for that.

  50. January 5th, 2014 at 06:35 | #50

    Yes, reading is paramount. However, you use an either-or fallacy to prop up AR. The choice is not between the mildly annoying AR and the evil book report consisting of a shoebox diorama, sugar cube castle, or lava-flowing volcano. These are false choices.

    I have already mentioned numerous alternatives to those choices in my comments which provide accountability, reading comprehension and vocabulary development, choice, and fun. And all without the cost drawbacks of AR…

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