Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Do You Think of Accelerated Reader?

This post originally ran at my blog, Caroline by line, in September 2009.

In honor of the new school year (which for us started yesterday), let's get talking about reading programs, specifically Accelerated Reader. 

I have read a lot lately about AR: the program, the books, the ways it encourages/discourages reading, advantages/disadvantages in participating... the list goes on. The discussion has been lively, interesting, and broad in the opinions expressed.

Every year, more schools are participating. Every day, new books are added to the system.

For those of you who aren't familiar with AR, it is a testing program meant to encourage children to read more. Though schools handle the specifics differently, children earn points for passed tests which can then be used to earn rewards. For example, my son, now in third grade, earned the most points for his grade last year (86, but this Mama's not counting, or anything) and received a trophy at the end of school closing ceremony.

Where do I fall on the AR debate? Below I've pasted a comment I left at Goodreads several months ago.
This is such an interesting discussion to read, as a teacher, mother, and writer. When I first started teaching, AR was optional, and I avoided it, feeling the way many of you have mentioned. Later I became part of a school where it was required. I've seen it push children to read. My own sons, natural readers, are very excited about it. It saddens me, however, to see kids held to a reading range, where they can't sample titles above or below. Several of my older students told me they couldn't read certain books that connected nicely to my curriculum because they were below their reading level. And many, many kids only pick up books if they are AR, the saddest aspect of the program. However, new and old books are being added to the list daily. 
It's a mixed bag, isn't it? Natural readers will read. My sons read both AR and other titles, happily. Children not so enamored with reading might struggle or find success with AR. What really needs to happen, AR or not, is for teachers and parents to be passionate advocates of literature, reading what's current and what's classic, discussing these titles with their children, asking questions, engaging in the conversation great literature creates. This is how to "make" readers!

Are you familiar with Accelerated Reader? What do you think?


  1. What really needs to happen, AR or not, is for teachers and parents to be passionate advocates of literature, reading what's current and what's classic, discussing these titles with their children, asking questions, engaging in the conversation great literature creates. This is how to "make" readers!

    I agree a 1000% with this! We have mandatory AR at our school, but it doesn't feel "mandatory" most of the time. It's up to the parents and teachers to have the right attitude and FLEXIBILITY when it comes to any system that is meant to encourage kids to read. One of the best things our PTA did was to purchase an unlimited AR license, so kids weren't restricted to the tests purchased by the school library. I've seen some teachers (and parents) become too rigid about AR - not "allowing" children to read outside their reading range, etc - rather than using it as a goal to strive for. But overall, I think it's a great program.

  2. I've been teaching ELA at the junior high level for twelve years now. And I'm a writer as well. As teachers, we like to remind students that "hate" is a strong word. That
    HATE, HATE, HATE the AR program. The STAR test my district uses to gauge the reading level of students is completely inaccurate, so that means many students have been inaccurately and improperly labeled, yes LABELED, to begin with. That ruins the whole idea of a tiered leveling of books from the jump. And the whole read-an-AR-book-in-your-range-only thing drives a teacher like me nuts. I'm all about letting my STUDENTS select the books that get them excited. I say over and over that many things can and will get that "this book looks so good" vibe going inside them (cover, back flap, first few pages, the open-blind-and-see-its-kind deal I recommend where students open to a page deep in the book and read it). What's wrong with, dare I say, challenging students to explore books that might SEEM to be a challenge (it might not be a challenge, after all; or perhaps they'll meet the challenge and bolster their reading confidence level, which is the only level I really care about)? I'm feeling my ears burn as I type this, so I will stop before I get an ulcer.

  3. In my last year as an elementary school librarian, the principal pushed through Accelerated Reader. It became Mandatory for the library to purchase, support, and promote the program. As a result, my entire purchasing budget for the year for all books went to purchasing titles on the Accelerated Reader list.

    And, as a result, the library began the slow transition to looking like all other Accelerated Reader libraries.

    My biggest problem with AR is that it's really nothing but a trivia contest. The questions are simplistic, only checking to see if you remember specific events, items, people in the story. The multiple-choice aspect of AR lends itself to little else.

    For any reading program to be successful I believe it needs to (a) incorporate kids talking to other kids about the books they read, telling not only what happens in the book but why they liked it or didn't like it and (b) there should be a discussion about the story outside the confines of the book. What was the overall theme? What choices did the characters make? How would the story have turned out differently if other choices had been made? What would you have done in that situation? Etc.

    The beauty of literature is its ability to immerse us in a different life, help us to get a sense of what living that life is like, and allow us feel something far outside of ourselves. Answering multiple-choice questions about the events/people/things in a book drains all of that magic away, leaving only trivial dust.

    AR, to me, is another way educators are trying to allow computers to do the work of teaching. AR will not inspire life-long readers. Teachers, librarians, parents, all do that by talking about books, by recommending them to other readers and engaging the readers in a discussion -- a mutual connection made over a shared literary experience. That's what we need, not AR.

    -- Tom

  4. I think AR does help with reading comprehension (something that, though I have always been an avid reader, struggled with). However, the reading levels of books don't always fit to me. My older daughter was a struggling reader at first until she discovered American Girl, now she is reading a grade ahead. But we have seen other books that are supposed to be on or below that level that are too hard for her. As for the testing, my daughter will read like crazy but can't always get to a computer to do the tests. As for the shared literary experience--that would take time and I'm seeing schools wanting more and more to have quick, easy, take-test-and-score-a-grade systems versus really engaging and preparing kids.

  5. I am a teacher, our first day is tomorrow, but I'm not familiar with AR. I spent many years teaching in an alternative school program where I basically met the kids where they were and tried to move them forward. So, I built up a classroom library of YA/MG fiction, introduced books kind of like how Michael described in his comment, and went from there. I think if I had to use a specific program I'd take advantage of the structure but at the same time try to bend it so it would benefit the kids on both ends of the spectrum. I don't know how possible that is with AR because I've never used it. (Now I'm teaching ESL at a high school--which will me totally new for me this year, i.e. steep learning curve.)

  6. Thanks for all who have so far contributed to the discussion! One thing I learned while working with the AR program is that many popular YA books (such as Twilight) are written on a fourth-grade level. I'm not disparaging this; USA Today, I've heard, is written on a fourth-grade level, too.

    What happens (beyond the appropriateness discussion) is that older kids who want to read newer titles are often told the books aren't in their reading range, while the books themselves are aimed at and appeal to them.

  7. Thanks for posting this. I am not very familiar with the AR program. A school librarian showed me my book in their system and it was very odd to read the questions asked in the quiz! My childrens' school doesn't use it. How do books get put into the program?

  8. I know nothing about the specifics but as a literary specialist and author of a few books in this field my 2 cents worth is this:
    1. Many readers, especially struggling ones, loathe having to answer (boring) written questions on what they read.
    2. It's much better for a struggling reader to read, say 3, "too easy" books and get a sense of fluency, than for him to struggle and lose heart (which happens in a, ahem, heartbeat).
    3. Reading tastes, and preferred platform, vary so much, and so many kids already struggle, it would seem a terrible shame to impose restrictions when a kid asks, "Can I read this?" or "Can I read on the computer?"
    Not saying this happens, because I don't know, just saying is all. :)
    Oh and, yay, you go, all you great teachers!!

  9. Personally I don't have enough knowledge of exactly how it works to properly judge it for myself. All I can say is this: both my daughters participated in it, and always enjoyed it.

    They were always strong readers though, and the fact that it worked for them does not mean it would work for all students. In general I think any approach that assumes all people learn and are motivated in the same ways might be missing something.

  10. My son did not do well with AR for a few reasons. He is an advanced reader at a younger age. So..books deemed "his level" often were too mature in content. Also, he missed out on several great classics that were "too easy." And finally, his point goal was set so high he always had to pick a book from the list rather than explore at his own pleasure. This year we have a teacher that isn't doing AR, and instead the kids are to find interesting books and bring them in for book shares with each other. He is very excited!

  11. Dee, I believe your publisher submits a title for the program or AR discovers the book and adds it in themselves.

    Really good discussion on a many-layered topic. Thanks, guys!

  12. My son has no problem reading AR, he's just drawn to funny books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc. He's not only a reluctant reader. He's a lazy reader!! ;)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!