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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. Dawn Rutkowski
    May 25th, 2016 at 19:55 | #1

    I am a new principal of an elementary school that uses AR and honestly am not a fan however my teachers “love” it. I’m really puzzled by what they “love” about it. Our school spends over 5K for this program a year which in my opinion could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries. How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?

  2. May 27th, 2016 at 06:05 | #2

    By offering a more enticing alternative… See my new link in the article titled “How to Develop a Free Schoolwide Reading Program” for this article.

  3. Sarah K
    June 3rd, 2016 at 10:02 | #3

    I despise AR! My 12 year old HAS to use it at school, no chance to opt out. She is a fantastic reader, always has been; I’ve spent 7 years reading with her, discussing every book, but since moving up to secondary school and using AR that has had to change. They are given reading targets every 6 weeks, if they fail to reach their targets they are punished. Is that right? Her reading level at present is that of a 16-17 year old, does she still need to reach these ridiculous targets when she is already a happy and competent reader? I think not! AR should be banned from all schools.

  4. Shelley
    June 17th, 2016 at 05:30 | #4

    @Dawn Rutkowski
    They love it because it is so easy for the teacher. What does the teacher need to do? Nothing. Just tell them to do it. My problem is that I find it a waste of time and stressful to be tested on EVERY SINGLE BOOK YOU READ. Why would we do this? There is so much testing done these days that teaching time is being reduced. Why must we test on EVERY SINGLE BOOK? I love the AR program but would use it once every few weeks as a guideline and have the rest of the instructional time for reading spent teaching and free reading.

  5. June 25th, 2016 at 12:40 | #5
  6. April
    July 5th, 2016 at 10:39 | #6

    @Concerned Parent
    I agree with u. My son got all A’s and B’s on report card but didn’t have all ar points so he had to do summer school or not pass to next grade. It is ridiculous.

  7. July 5th, 2016 at 14:10 | #7

    Of course that craziness is not the fault of the Accelerated Reader program.

  8. tina
    September 5th, 2016 at 19:15 | #8

    I’m so disappointed by how one sided this article is. This was one of the best programs I have ever used as a teacher and the growth in students is evident. Proper training and utilization solves all these problems. It’s a shame people only read one sided accounts of things to make decisions.

  9. Kevin
    September 11th, 2016 at 13:06 | #9

    I’m not too sure about some of these criticisms. Certainly, AR is limited and can be abused, but that’s an issue, not a fatal flaw. Can it encourage competition? Yes it can. But, I can tell you that competition can be a powerful motivator. While many can be discouraged with trying to read difficult texts, I can testify that AR is responsible for making me the reader I am today. Within months of starting to take AR tests, I went from little more than “See Spot Run” to Harry Potter, Hardy Boys, as well as non-fiction. My spelling scores went from E (needs improvement) to B+ within a similar time period. It also introduced me to the fundamentals of reading comprehension. Should be the end all, be all of reading education? No, but that doesn’t mean it should be done away with.

  10. Kevin
    September 11th, 2016 at 13:19 | #10

    I agree. I had a school run by teachers who knew how to use it. I went from the smallest Magic Tree House books to Harry Potter and beyond within months.

  11. Colleen
    September 11th, 2016 at 14:29 | #11

    My son just a failed an AR test because there were questions on it that were not in the book. He wasn’t the only one. His teacher said “sorry, I don’t make the tests.” Why are there tests that don’t relate to the books or has the information is wrong? A friend had another test where the characters names were wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t find this to be “one of the best programs.”

  12. Akin
    October 28th, 2016 at 16:36 | #12

    @Dawn Rutkowski
    I do not see the benefits of AR and it is zapping my own boys’ love of reading. I teach gifted and I started using the Whooo’s Reading website. There is a free version and one that you can pay for. I am currently paying for it out of my own pocket, because I really love it. Students have owl avatars and can message each other about the books that they log on the program. In gifted classes, I allow students to read what interests them as long as the content is appropriate. The website has excellent questions (all different levels too) that students can answer. I love that the questions are not multiple “guess” and they have to put thought into their responses. I can respond to their answers and other students can respond as well. This makes it interactive. Students receive owl points and can buy items in the owl shop. This makes it fun. Students seem to enjoy being able to have more choices and freedom with their reading. As a student I would read a librarian’s list every year. The best part for me was talking to the librarian about the books that I read. Whooo’s Reading makes it fun and easy to talk to my students about what they are reading. AR does not do this. I hope this helps. BTW – this is an honest response and I receive no money from this company or compensation. I really do love it.

  13. Wesley
    November 3rd, 2016 at 07:09 | #13

    Ar is one of the dumbest things ever seeinnng as it is so stressful for kids

  14. Renee Badenoch
    November 3rd, 2016 at 13:45 | #14

    I am a youth service provider at my library and I cannot describe how much I hate the AR. The books they have listed on their website are incredibly limited. A few schools I serve use AR and I spend hours trying to find books in the appropriate AR reading range, and the ones I do find are very often, old, uninteresting, outdated and are incredibly non-diverse. If teachers are concerned about their students not reading at grade level, I recommend using Fountas and Pinnell, which has a much bigger range of books.

  15. Michele Perez
    November 7th, 2016 at 08:07 | #15

    I am a teacher and would like to know if AR should be used as an extrinsic Reward or Punitive measure? Personally, I don’t use it as such but I am having conflict with other colleagues that believe it should be used to “punish” children and have something to “hold over their heads” if they do not meet their AR goals. If this is the case, then how can a low level reader or even a SPED child ever keep up with the other students??

  16. Elizabeth Straley
    November 27th, 2016 at 19:33 | #16

    Like most things in schools, AR is a tool. A tool in the right hands can build and create; a tool in the wrong hands can destroy. I have found AR to be an effective tool as I help gifted, regular, or struggling students find books at their own levels, stretch for higher levels, find new interests, or focus on favorite hobbies. Teachers who use it in punitive ways are probably using their other tools punitively as well. Being able to co-write tests with me has allowed my strong students the opportunity to hone their writing skills as well. In the past, the program might have been more limited than what it is today. This article is 6 years old and should probably be updated to accurately reflect the current AR practices (especially the literacy skills quizzes which have a greater depth of knowledge than the basic AR tests). AR is one tool which makes my differentiation more effective and lets students explore their favorite genres more deeply than I have time for in my whole group instruction.

  17. November 28th, 2016 at 19:12 | #17

    Well said. Although the questions have improved, the bulk of the criticisms remain valid. Again, teachers can certainly create a more effective independent reading program without the drawbacks, downsides, and expense of AR.

  18. Jennifer
    November 29th, 2016 at 09:03 | #18

    @Michele Perez
    Michele–simple answer: NO. Just don’t even start down that AR path as the company will try to rope you in to using it more and more and more. You as a teacher can create fun incentives which will appeal to the students who respond to competition and which also stimulate kids who just like to read. I’m at my 3rd school currently and it’s the first one that’s used AR and I can tell you it is absolutely worse than I thought it could be. I’d had experience with it from working both at bookstores and public libraries but seeing the kids stress over the tests, being told that a book is “too hard” for them and feeling the joy once obtained from reading slowly ebb away is just too much. Do a “Book Bingo” or have a book club for Goosebumps or a gross, funny or scary book. Do monthly “Guess the Character” with prizes. Get magazines for the kids to read. Just avoid AR.

  19. Dana
    December 1st, 2016 at 04:47 | #19

    I agree that it is a tool and, if used correctly, can be great. My daughter’s school uses it as a supplement to the curriculum and rewards for reaching a goal. There is no punishment for not reaching a goal. Individuals that reach the goal receive a reward. This is the first year she could participate and, so far, I like what I see. My daughter is not always naturally motivated but this was an area that she totally did on her own. She knew the goal and made sure she met/exceeded it. We don’t limit her reading to only AR books. When we go to the public library, if she happens to choose a book that is on the AR list, she can take a quiz, if not, it’s no big deal. I just love that, as a 2nd grader, she now enjoys reading and has taken responsibility for reaching her goals. If your school is using the program in a way that is discouraging or counterproductive, I don’t think it’s appropriate to blame it on the program. Any program you use, if not implemented properly, will probably fail.

  20. Sharon Barney
    December 5th, 2016 at 15:27 | #20

    I totally agree with your comment. I have been using it for 15 years, was trained with the AR program, and my students use it daily. I don’t ever punish a child for not reaching their goal. I keep encouraging them to meet their goal, by listening and following along with a book on tape, have parents come in to read, and keeping on top of each child and their progress. AR has many forms and data to keep track of each child’s success. I have to tell them to put their books away to start our regular curriculum, each day. Honestly, I don’t have time to make tests to go with thousands of books, and teach the Common Core, grade, differentiate, get ready for evaluations, which determine if I will still have a job. I need to have a program like AR that has everything done for me, except the encouragement, keeping track of what they read and signing off on their AR chart after each test they take to hold them accountable. What I do feel needs to happen is for Renaissance Learning to send representatives from the company, before school starts and retrain the faculty to make sure we are using the program correctly and for the benefit of the children. Please don’t give up on AR.

  21. Sharon Barney
    December 5th, 2016 at 15:55 | #21

    Well, then her teacher is not using it correctly. That is not Renaissance Learning’s fault. Her teacher should be trying to figure out why she is not doing well.

  22. Sharon Barney
    December 5th, 2016 at 15:59 | #22

    @Jack Jarvis
    I had a child who had done that the year before and because no one ever checked on him, he took many many tests, failed them all, and didn’t read any of the books.

  23. Michael Larson
    December 8th, 2016 at 13:01 | #23

    As a librarian at the middle school and high school level, my issue is motivation for students to read; period. We scrapped the AR program at the high school and middle school and students checking out books went way down. At the middle school level, students have to complete in a Reading Plus program (and the response has been very negative) with several parents wishing that we could go back to the AR program.

    I have tried different incentive programs to lure students back into the library and reading. I have embraced the concept of making the library more than a quiet place to read a book, but students feel that they don’t need to read unless it is assigned to them.

    While not every book in the library is an AR book (I do not purchase books based on AR availability), it does offer students more choice than requiring lit circles at our school (we have some titles with enough for a group for four or five, but it is limited) or any other program we have used.

    I think that AR can be used in a very negative sense. It has to be up to the teacher to try and understand the needs and abilities of the student. I don’t think AR is a solution for every student, but nothing it perfect for every student.

  24. Vicki Mlinar
    January 4th, 2017 at 08:01 | #24

    @Elizabeth Straley

    @Sharon Barney
    Accelerated Reader has been working well for us for the last sixteen years. As a small, private school, we can’t afford to have a reading specialist on site. As the librarian, I work with the individual teachers to encourage the children to read at their level and beyond in every genre possible. Utilizing AR correctly encourages the children to explore new titles in a culture where reading is rapidly being replaced by hours of electronic use. Many parents just allow their children to be babysat by their devices. We work hard to use the AR program correctly, and we have the pleasure of watching new readers bloom.

  25. January 4th, 2017 at 17:39 | #25

    May I ask how much you are spending on AR per year, including AR book purchases?

  26. Pablo
    January 20th, 2017 at 07:47 | #26

    AR is bad for the brain thay dont now how much stress it puts on the studints

  27. Amanda Whtcomb
    January 23rd, 2017 at 10:19 | #27

    My 3 children have this Ar reading in there school. We started out ok, but over the years it is becoming a problem. My daughter is very smart. She has a problem every year finding a book that interest her but is also in her Book level!!! As a parent this is very frustrating!! My son on the other hand does’t want to read. He never met is ar testing points. I was not worried about it but school was. So we have had to bribe our kids by paying them per point they get. My youngest has just started Kindergarden, so none of this for him yet. But it is coming!!!

  28. JOANNE
    February 1st, 2017 at 04:50 | #28

    We use AR for Year 7 (American friends this is the first year of secondary school age 11/12). For many students the reading habit falls away as soon as they move from primary to secondary and reading ages can crash. AR is not perfect but it helps with this problem. I notice a lot of critics say their child is very smart and don’t like the scheme. If they don’t like it the school is at fault as they should treat each individual child for their own needs. I run the programme here and I have all kinds of students – smart/ not smart, poor/wealthy enthusiastic/switched off etc – and believe me most of the students would not read if they were not made to do so. It is not that they do not like reading but because the habit is not there or has vbeen allowed to slide. Many parents do not bother to keep the habit of reading once their children are independent readers or give up when there is resistance from the child to read and who wants to watch TV or play on PS4 instead, so we have to step in. For some students AR doesn’t work but for most it does – it keeps that reading habit often formed in primary school and gives structure to a child’s progress. I do not advocate the scheme beyond age 11/12 or before 7, but for junior years (7-11yrs) and for the first year of secondary it is a huge help to very busy teachers who now have to act as parents as well as teachers to classes of very needy, often deprived and challengingly behaved children. Sitting in your middle class world with your smart kid who you can afford to take out to choose lovely books and read with every day, Im sure AR seems unnecessary. Challenge your child’s school on how they are providing the scheme not the scheme itself. We are all in this together.

  29. Kathryn
    February 14th, 2017 at 10:29 | #29

    As a teacher and a parent I love AR. My (7yr old) son reads with great comprehension around 2 grade levels above his grade. He finds reading to be a joy and reads 3-4 chapter books/week. I actually have to make him take a reading break (go outdoors and play with the dog et cetera). He cares little about how many A-R points he gets. His school does not use up class instructional time for quizzes. The quizzes are taken at home. There is no goal, and no set A-R book requirement for the year (he is in 1st grade). I like it because I can see that his comprehension averages 85% with ATOS BL 4.0-4.4 but 100% with ATOS levels below 4.0.
    The teachers requirement is that they spend 20 minutes daily, outside of school on free reading within their ZPD. My son’s ZPD is 3.2-5.0. I will agree that the content of many books in the 5.0 range is not appropriate for a 7 year old, I have found many that are. One Example: George Washington Soldier, Hero, President.

    This helps me to know that he is actually comprehending both the fiction and non fiction books he reads. He loves basketball and snowboarding and biking but reading is just as appealing to him. I find most of the arguments against A-R are not relevant in our situation.

  30. Mom
    March 3rd, 2017 at 17:02 | #30

    My daughter in 3rd grade just came home after the class had their third party for those who passed the AR point goals. She missed it for the third time. Not punishment?! Ha. She feels mortified. She is a brilliant reader. She reads chapter books and even the Bible with good understanding. This program is encouraging her to not challenge herself if she wants to get the needed points.

  31. September 13th, 2017 at 09:40 | #31

    #19 Using AR does not promote a love of reading. Period. Please add that one and move it to the #1 spot.

  32. September 13th, 2017 at 17:09 | #32

    I can’t believe I didn’t include that one. Now we have 19 reasons.

  33. Graham
    September 19th, 2017 at 02:31 | #33

    “Using AR does not promote a love of reading”

    Why would you expect it to? Surely that’s the job of teachers!!
    It’s about how schools use it. We find it an extremely useful way of monitoring pupils’ reading and an extremely good framework when used with some common sense and a professional judgement – there are no rewards attache, but our classes love the shared data that it produces – not individualised. We also encourage children to read their own books/magazines too. We also run regular small group Guided Reading sessions where reading skills are taught. AR is not a substitute teacher and requires a teacher’s input to make it work successfully.

    Many of the criticisms raised are not the fault of AR, but the people who are using it in these schools.

  34. Melinda
    October 18th, 2017 at 17:38 | #34

    Using AR is lazy and irresponsible. Schools that willfully continue to use it in the face of the research that deems it ineffective are participating in the monetization of students in the name of “data.”

  35. Mike
    October 29th, 2017 at 15:59 | #35

    AR is a tool. It can be used properly, or improperly, BY THE USER. All these complaints I read here have the same element running through them… parents want to blame something, other than themselves, for their kids reading troubles. Stop thinking that someone else is responsible for your kid’s education! Age appropriate book selection???… that is the parents’ job, not AR, not the teacher, not the school. If you send you kid to school everyday thinking the school is going to “handle” their education and you don’t have to do anything, you will be disappointed. You do not have to engage in “public school thinking” even if you are in public school.

  36. Nora Najera
    October 31st, 2017 at 06:48 | #36

    I used AR unconventionally a couple of years ago, and I got a lot of flack for it at my campus, but I don’t regret it. I started using it at our library as a grade book. My kids were in the bad habit of taking a test and rushing through it. They would get excited if they would get a 60 because that meant they got a fraction of a point. They did not care about understanding the book; they just wanted points. It took me gradual steps towards having them understand that it wasn’t about point, rather it was about comprehension. It was not until I sat with every individual student and showed them their averages and quiz scores that they suddenly got it. How did I get in trouble? I told them that I would delete their lowest grade every 6 weeks to improve their average, like any classroom teacher would have done. I know, I know. That is not how AR is supposed to work, but you know what? I don’t care. I used this to manage their work, and come October of that year, I got a phone call from my district supervisor chewing me out for “cheating.” She said my deleting privileges had been revoked to which I was indifferent because by that time, my students had done a compete turnaround. They were so diligent about getting 100s in their quizzes, protecting their averages like over-achieving A students. They read all their books for pleasure and only tested on the ones they felt comfortable with (no one should be forced to test on all the books they read!). As a result, that year we were 3rd place in the district for reading comprehension. The following year we placed 1st where we had always placed at the bottom. This year again we are in 1st place. It is still the beginning of the school year, but I no longer have to sit with each individual student to show them their progress. They know already that they are to test responsibly, read for enjoyment, and grow as a reader (I challenge them to increase the level of their books slowly as they master a level). If I had not used AR in this radical way, I think it would have taken so much longer to achieve success. And it is not success in placing 1st in the district. I’m talking about individual success. These kids are in the poorest side of town in a city that has been labeled 1st poorest city in the United States in the past. These kids have also done amazingly well in their state exams. At times like these, using a product like AR in an unconventional manner pays off when we see direct success in students’ mindset towards their education.

  37. October 31st, 2017 at 12:22 | #37

    Teachers know their own students better than any administrator, district supervisor, or… program. We teach students, not stuff. Even important stuff such as reading comprehension.

    My take is that a quality teacher like you would do just as well, if not better, with your own independent reading program. Of course, it sounds like you might be fired by that crazy district supervisor 🙂

  38. October 31st, 2017 at 12:32 | #38

    Hi Mike,

    It’s true that some parents are looking to blame others (or a program) rather than themselves. I’ve included plenty of wacko comments from parents as well as many insightful ones.

    However, most all of the critical comments have come from teachers. As a teacher, and reading specialist, I do see the value of independent reading. My point in writing the article is not to have suggested that AR has done more harm than good; I’m sure that the opposite has been the case. However, in spite of some program improvements over the years, AR is still unnecessary. Teachers can certainly run their own independent reading programs and achieve greater reading gains than with AR without the negative ramifications of using the program. You are right; success depends on the USER. I just want to empower the USER TEACHERS to think a bit outside the AR program box.

  39. Rinza
    November 1st, 2017 at 15:44 | #39

    It is not the AR program itself that is a problem. It is a tool like many other tools that teachers have available to them. It becomes a problem when used to supplant other valuable tools instead of supplementing an already rigorous program. If teachers are allowed to assign a certain number of points per week, grading period, etc., that’s a problem. If students are not allowed to check out a book of their choice because it is not AR, that’s a problem. If AR is used for a grade, that’s a problem. I could go on and on because I’ve seen AR misused over many years. I have also seen it be used as a reward for 25, 50, 75, 100 point milestones with button award ceremonies every month, trips to some play land or other, and even cash prizes. I have even seen the AR program used in summer school instead of a teacher and instruction (for science or social studies). The problem is, there will always be children who will never reach even a minimum goal and thus never “rewarded” for reading, turning what should be a life-long love of reading and learning into something to be dreaded. In the right hands— fantastic tool. In the wrong hands— terrible weapon.

  40. B
    November 7th, 2017 at 08:09 | #40

    As a student with the AR program i believe it is very unnecessary due to many students attempting to petition AR but failed in the process

  41. December 10th, 2017 at 10:07 | #41

    In my school, I do not like AR. It makes me find reading a book pressuring. I do, love to read books but to have to take TESTS on a BOOK, it makes me think the other way about reading. Personally, I think people shouldn’t have to take a test on an book they’ve read, as well as books should just be for enjoying. Not having to stress about taking a quiz on it.

  42. Clint
    December 28th, 2017 at 08:38 | #42


    Almost everything on this list is a problem with the way the school/teacher/library implements the program. those problems are not intrinsic in the program itself. I have been an AR administrator, and have received several hours of instruction from librarians/educators and Renaissance Learning instructors. Most of what is on this list is bad practice, not problems with AR.

  43. December 31st, 2017 at 19:01 | #43

    I checked Clint’s assertions and would agree that 11/18 have some bearing on the way AR is implemented. Of course these 11 problems tend to be normal consequences of using/misusing AR.

    It’s a bit like potato chips. Having the bag in the cupboard doesn’t cause calorie intake; however, the availability of the bag tends to lead to munching.

    Having AR creates more problems than benefits WHEN ALTERNATIVES ARE READILY AVAILABLE. You can run an effective independent reading program without AR and keep your New Year’s Resolution to keep weight off as well 🙂

    Plus 7/18 are directly the fault of AR in my view, irrespective of teacher management.

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