Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Accelerated Reader

Has anyone ever heard of Accelerated Reader, the tool for awarding "points" to books for children? This NYT article is the first I'd heard of it--but how crazy! This makes me, well, sad, from the select examples in the article. But maybe it's something for competitive types to compete for--maybe it helps, in its place. Any thoughts? How about all my kidlit experts?


Shannyn said...

Hi Moonrat - I'm usually a lurker, but I thought I'd come out for this. I used to be a teacher and Accelerated Reader awards points based on the length and difficulty of the text. In a classroom with high ability kids and struggling readers, you can have kids work independently on appropriate books.

For me, the points were simply a way of keeping track of who was reading what and how well they understood what they read. I set a point total for the kids per quarter or semester. Let's say I told them they had to earn 30 points. Some kids could read 2 difficult books and others would read 5 easier books.

This is of course oversimplified, but you get the idea

moonrat said...

thanks, Shannyn. helps to hear from an experienced user.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, Order of the Phoenix is one of the most boring books in the English language imo. Anyone who struggles through it deserves 44 points!

Dawn VanderMeer said...

I'm not a fan of the Accelerated Reader program, though my kids' school district--a fabulous school district--uses it in some grades and classrooms. I get what people are trying to accomplish with it, and I see some positive things about it, but it makes me sad, too. I believe in the power of intrinsic reinforcements rather than kids/people in general being motivated by points or prizes. And dang, these are books we're talking about! Shouldn't reading be a reward in itself? At least our schools allowed them to pick books that weren't on the list.

julieann said...

When I was in elementary school (15 or so years ago, maybe), we did AR. We actually had 15 minutes of enforced reading at the beginning of every class, and there were certain activities at the school that you just couldn't participate in if you didn't have a certain number of points.

Of course, my mother, being a 6th grade teacher, was wholeheartedly for this. (She teaches math.) The highest prize you could get was for about 300 points, and so my mother enforced a rule that I'd get 100 points per 9 weeks, or be grounded until I got that 100 points.

I did, naturally, but I had to read a lot of books - the top points you could get was 34, I think, and that was for reading Little Women and getting a perfect score on the computerized quiz that you had to take afterward to test your reading comprehension. I think I remember about three people finished that particular book and quizzed on it. Sad times.

Erin McGuire said...

For kids who already like reading, the system is kind of pointless. It's also discouraging to kids that certain books aren't even counted on there or have a lower rating than they should.

But for the kids who just can't stand reading, maybe having a set goal to get to could be a motivator and way to make the task of reading more manageable.

For me, I remember being a student using this system (about 10 years ago) and I thought it was pointless and the apprehension tests were tedious. Takes some of the fun out of it.

Larissa said...

I'm kind of on the fence about AR. It does have benefits in that kids who weren't excited to read may be excited to read to earn points.
However, I have heard that libraries are seeing kids only checking out AR books. If there's no test, they won't read it.
I've also heard (and I don't have a link or anything to back this up) that studies have found that reward programs like AR are beneficial to students who would not normally choose to read, but detrimental to students who would normally choose to read.
So there you go.

Amanda said...

We used AR in my elementary school too. I was already in a gifted program, and most of the books in our "point" level were actually way below our skill levels. My teacher didn't like the system, but kind of let us know we had to do x requirement, but encouraged other reading. There was definitely backlash from students who felt "forced" to read certain things when they enjoyed a lot more diverse books on a regular basis. Also, the tests were not very challenging, if I recall.

JenE said...

We did not use AR at the junior high level when I was a teacher. Now that I have a son in second grade at a school that does use AR, I can see the merits of it for younger students. As these young children are learning to read, this program helps them pick suitable books for their reading level. And there are a LOT of titles to choose from. Working to earn points means more reading practice for them, which in turn helps them to become better readers. And while my son already enjoys reading, he also really enjoys the challenge of meeting his goal. It's a win-win for us, but I can understand how it might not be for that way for everyone, especially older students.

chelle said...

My 7 nieces and nephews all have AR. They've all done well. The ones who naturally like to read rake in the points and lots of prizes, until they don't care about the points anymore. My one niece, who didn't like books much, read for the points, built up her skills, and now likes to read. So there's a plus.

They're in a very small town, and prizes include going out to pizza with the principal - or driving an hour to see a movie - or a swim party. Pretty good incentives.

My frustration has been that great new books usually don't have tests yet, so few of the books that I send count for points.

Heather Lane said...

I think that there is a lot of merit in being able to pick your own books as a child. Our library does a kind of incentive to keep the kids reading during the summer, and my kids love it, although they would read no matter what. All books are equal in value for that library incentive.

I think something is lost when we are telling kids what to read in their free time, for pleasure. Incentives are fine. A value judgement isn't. I think that a love for reading comes from reading what you love.

Kronski said...

Ha. The concept is nothing new. In my old middle school we had a mandatory thingy called WARP (it stood for something) where different books had different point values, and you had to get a certain number of points per month, or your grades took a hit. The whole program is the silliest thing I've ever encountered - you CANNOT teach coercively. In education, you always have to use the carrot; the stick never works.

The system doesn't help kids who like to read, because they already read things. And it doesn't help kids who don't like to read. Forcing someone to slog through books if they don't want to get an F will not make them like reading. It will make them remember reading as a painful ordeal that school inflicted on them, and the chances of them becoming functional members of society (i.e. bibliophiles) later in life if, in fact, decreased.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

If that program awards points based on difficulty of text, I find it pretty mind-boggling that Heart of Darkness is only awarded ten points.

My elementary school had something similar, a Reading Olympics. If students didn't read at the prescribed pace, from the limited reading list, they'd be denied recess breaks until they finished books. I hated it. And I still don't see how making a competition of finishing books is supposed to encourage an honest enjoyment of reading (in kids, anyway). Competition emphasizes the goal of "okay, I got to the end, where's my reward?" instead of the pleasure along the way.

Watery Tart said...

I'd never heard of this (rather shocking, as I have a 9th and a 6th grader)--Ann Arbor must not use it. As a statistician though, I sort of get the point... a teacher needs to have some way to assess books SHE hasn't read to keep track of where kids are, and a system like this means she doesn't have to limit their options nearly as much as she would need to by only including books she knew.

And I get why the two HP books (honestly both favorites of mine) are high--it's because they are both over 700 pages--that's a lot of reading.

That said--I STILL think teachers need lists of 'must reads'--a collection of books that make a person really think and evaluate (like To Kill a Mockingbird)--number of pages is never a substitute for that.

Rebecca Knight said...

This is the first I've heard of it, and while I'm not bothered by the concept, I think the choice of which books get which points is rather baffling. From the article's example of Hamelet being worth fewer points than Gossip Girl, I'd say something in the system is broken.

Shouldn't the points system be encouraging kids to try more challenging books, like classics? I'm kind of horrified right now...

Suzan Harden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzan Harden said...

Thanks for reinforcing my decision to homeschool this year, Moonrat. My opinion, based solely on my painful experience trying to shepherd my kid through the public school system, is that programs like AR and No Child Left Behind are great for kids who are having problems learning, but are totally counterproductive for kids at the opposite end of the bell curve.

LOL I'm homeschooling and I can't freaking spell.

Kristan said...

"For kids who already like reading, the system is kind of pointless. It's also discouraging to kids that certain books aren't even counted on there or have a lower rating than they should.

But for the kids who just can't stand reading, maybe having a set goal to get to could be a motivator and way to make the task of reading more manageable."

Erin hit it on the head with that.

I had AR throughout elementary and middle school, and I loved it. I was an avid reader anyway, but it was FUN to accumulate points. Kids who liked to read often competed for the highest amount; meanwhile, kids who didn't like to read met the minimum and moved on. BUT HEY, THEY READ!

I think it's unrealistic and naive of us book lovers to say, "Oh, AR corrupts literature and makes it about quantity when it should be about quality." Because when you look at the situation, who needs the most help? That's who you have to address.

And hey, no system is going to be perfect.

I think the NYTimes article doesn't do justice to the AR system because it only talks about titles and their points, but doesn't really emphasize that you have to get a certain score on the test to get those points (so there IS comprehension and reflection occurring) AND it doesn't make much about the PRIZE of additional books or games. So even the prizes encourage further education. (Or at least, they did when I was a kid.)

Sure, Gossip Girl isn't my ideal choice for a kid to read, but you know what? Reading that is better than spending 6 hours in front of the TV or computer. You gotta start them somewhere, to help nurture the interest and develop the habit. Otherwise you've lost them before you've even started.

I think JenE, chelle, and Heather all have very good comments too. Probably saying what I'm getting at in a nicer, more eloquent way.

~Jamie said...

I am putting on my teacher hat here, because I have a LOT to say about this.

First of all... the AR scale is totally wacked out. It gives kids certain points based on certain kinds of books (difficulty level, content, etc.)

It doesn't take into account students and their individual reading needs at ALL! For example, you might have a kid that's a fantastic reader... he might read two really hard books and be done in no time, but a kid that's a struggler might have to read FIVE books to get caught up to them. Um, how on EARTH is that supposed to make the kid who needs reading help feel?

This is a bad program all around, for books... for students, for pretty much everyone except lazy teachers.

Oh, and if a book isn't on the list... why would a kid even read it?

GRRRRR... I am mad just thinking about this program. A couple of years ago they let us decide rather or not we wanted to use it in our classroom instead of requiring it, and almost every teacher stopped.

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

I remember growing up there was a pizza chain that had a reading incentive program. You had to read x number of books and you got to check them off on a chart, and once you reached that goal, you got a prize. I can't recall what the prizes were, but I remember loving that contest.

Barnes and Noble does a summer reading contest. Parents can get a chart for their kids and when they read x amount of books they get a free book from a select list.

I think programs like this where the reward isn't tied to some arbitrary value judgment are better, but I'm no expert.

coffeelvnmom said...

Haven't read the other comments, so if I repeat someone else, I apologize.

All of the schools in my town do AR reading. The local Borders here even has a huge binder (about a year out of date, but still) full of all AR books and their levels. The range of books children can read is huge.

My daughter's 4th grade class, for instance, has AR books ranging in levels 2 all the way through 6 in their library (and that of course does not count for all of the books in the actual school library).

I have been purchasing books for about 5 years now for my kids...and so far, aside from the occasional book, have not had a problem finding any books on the AR system.

The kids read in the classrooms and at home, and then take the tests independently in class when they complete a book. Each test states the correct and incorrectly answered questions, and sometimes I even receive papers along with the results pointing out areas my kids need to work on pertaining to comprehension.

Points are based on not necessarily the amount of pages, but more the difficulty of reading at that actual level. So some books may be .5 points because they're a quick read at that level, yet others can go from 3 to 5 or more points, if they are longer and a higher (yet appropriate) level.

Prizes are not a necessity though, and most teachers simply state a point goal for each quarter instead. I personally think the latter is the way to go - it's part of the grade, and that's that. As for the teachers who do offer prizes, they're usually more like "free time" during class - not actual toys or anything.

My middle child loves to read, so she reaches each goal quite quickly...but I don't allow her to stop reading for the rest of the quarter - instead I encourage her to begin reading for the following quarter, or just for fun.

My oldest, on the other hand, cannot stand to read - and the point goal (last year I believe it was 30 - this was 5th grade - she read the Lemony Snicket series) really helped push her to read more.

kathy said...

I'm a teacher, and I've never used AR as part of my reading program. However, it is used in other schools in my district, and my older son had to participate.

I don't believe there is ANY value in the program. The reading kids get a bazillion points, and the kids who don't like to read cheat. The kids come from that middle school to my 9th grade classroom and tell me the 800 different ways to cheat the system.

The only way to create lifelong readers is to match kids up with books that lie within their interest and their ability to understand.

Yellow Trash Diaries said...

They used to really stress AR at my son's elementary school. Seriously, the principal would stand in the hall between classes and tell the kids that if they didn't reach their AR goals Santa Claus wouldn't leave them any presents and Daddy might just stay away for good. This year they've decided to make it more "voluntary", so they don't need it to pass. (But the rumor is tiny monsters will jump out of their closets while they are sleeping and chew off their feet.)

ella144 said...

My kids have had AR forced on them on and off over the years.

We have to pry the books out of my oldest's hands and remind him to eat and sleep. The AR program is fairly pointless for him. He usually met his 9-week goal in the first week or 2. (He called the quizzes "stupid" and I have to say I agree. Five questions along the lines of "What color were XX's eyes?") He also figured out what books were worth more points and would get him out of the program faster.

My second son likes to read, but prefers comics and audio books (of course I just discovered he needs glasses so that might be why). He endured the AR program as just another assignment. The books we read together at home he rereads and loves, but the ones from AR he barely remembered even the day after he finished the quiz.

The schools don't seem to be using the program this year, I'm glad to see. I wasn't impressed.

Kathleen Elizabeth said...

My school started using the AR program when I was in second grade and I absolutely hated it. Each school picks the books that will go into the system by the average reading level of the kids and the kids HAVE to read books that are in the system which means that above average students who want to be reading Gone With the Wind and Tale of Two Cities are reduced to Goosebumps and Babysitters Club until they get to middle school. Plus it doesn't teach kids to love reading, it teaches them to think of reading as homework and I hate that.

Monkey Mama said...

Human kids are lucky to have thumbs for page-turning activities.

Alexandra said...

My brother is going through this right now (he's 16). Unlike myself, he is not a reader, and has problems with pronouncing, understanding, and spelling words (which I am angry at the school district for, as his problems started in elementary school and the "help" they gave him was a joke). This gives him problems, as the books that he *does* like to read are not on the list. My dad and I are going through the list for him to try to find books that either him or I have read and can help my brother with, or books that have relatively faithful movie adaptations out there. We've gone through the Lord of the Rings already and are looking at probably doing Dune (the Sci-Fi channel did a relatively faithful adaptation) or the Harry Potter series.

Like the education system (as mentioned above, I already have issues with it) this point-based thing is "one size fits some." I finished the year's goal in the first month, but for my brother it's a struggle. For both of us, the list didn't and doesn't include the books that we normally read. I am a voracious reader, but I usually dislike the classics that they stick on this list. *I* at least could suffer through them to take the quiz, but now my brother is going through this and it has become a whole family event (and not in a good way).

Mette Ivie Harrison said...

I think AR works for kids who are in first and second grade. After that, I hate it.

My son once spent an entire term reading Harry Potter, but he didn't get enough points on the test, so he failed reading for the entire semester. And you can't reread books and get any credit, if you've already taken the test.

Also, what about if your school doesn't have the test for the book your child has read (which happens A LOT at my house, since I buy new books frequently)? So then my kids can't get credit for those books and the school is always harassing parents to pay for tests.

I will NEVER donate money to buy a test. EVER. Books, yes. Tests, no. This is just a clever way for a company to earn money by telling parents and teachers that kids are learning more.

They're not.

Whirlochre said...

Is that AR for arbitrary?

Word counts, I can handle, and sentence-by-sentence grammatical analysis, I'll stomach if pushed.

But from whence, these 'points'?

And who weilds the yardstick?

Jenna said...

AR was HUGE when I was in second-fifth grade. I never really liked it, honestly. The prizes were kind of cheesy and I read a lot anyway, so it didn't do much for me. It annoyed me because it was just more tests for me to take.

Kim said...

I wholeheartedly agree that this program is great for younger kids. My daughter would come home *so* proud of herself last year when she got a certain number of 100% AR tests in a row (big prizes for that in 1st grade- sparkly pencils and your choice of book to keep!).

That said- I don't think our schools go by points for the early grades, rather they just encourage kids to read from the age/level appropriate list. My daughter is an avid reader already and *loves* to read pretty much anything. I can see where this will get dicey for her as she gets older.

The biggest issue that I have with this is that kids are only reading books that will earn them points. Are you kidding? Take all the freaking joy out of one of the best things in LIFE, why dontcha? It makes me want to cry.

I'm a big advocate of letting kids read what they'd like to, as long as it's appropriate and challenging. I'd be royally pissy if someone told *me* what to read. I don't think (for the most part) we have the right to tell high schoolers in particular what they "should" read and what we think has value. Let them figure it out for themselves. The "hard way". You actually reading.

Just my 2/c...

L.H. Parker said...

Ah, yes. The AR program. I remember doing that in the 8th grade. Of course, it turned into a huge scandal when the kids in my year learned how to outsmart the system. They each read one book, switched username and passwords, and paid each other to take the online tests. As a result, no one read more than one or two books the whole year.

Working at a library, I now get the kids coming in for AR books. Unfortunately there are so many great and new books excluded from the list--they all end up reading the same ten books. My heart breaks.

Kronski said...

"But for the kids who just can't stand reading, maybe having a set goal to get to could be a motivator and way to make the task of reading more manageable."

But that's the thing! To make a good reader out of a bad one, you have to make them realize that reading doesn't have to be a task to be made manageable. You have to inspire them!

Dr Disto said...

Great, now I'm getting flashbacks of my old life as a teacher. Shudder.

The kids at the school I taught at were the kind who'd prefer to sit under trees picking their noses and scratching their privates than ever pick up a book.

AR managed to inspire a handful to read. Which meant less kids to hassle. Which meant less stress.

AR = good teaching tool.

Moira Rogers - Bree said...

AR is why I read Gone With the Wind when I was in 7th grade. I actually posted about this in my blog a couple days ago when talking about the books that shaped my formative years, but I couldn't remember the name of the program. All I could remember was that GwtW was the book worth the most points in the library (the website tells me 71) so I knocked out my book report requirement for the year by reading that and read the stuff I wanted to for the rest of the year.

Probably wasn't the best book to be reading as a 12 year old, but I was a competitive little snot and needed to have the highest score.

storyqueen said...

Scholastic has a similar program called Reading Counts. I took the quiz on one of the books that I wrote....I almost failed.

For real.

So, there you have it.


BuffySquirrel said...

Interesting range of viewpoints. Kinda reminds me of the claims that Harry Potter books had got kids reading again. Turned out they hadn't got them reading anything else.

~Aimee States said...

I'm nowhere near the fence on this one, I'm all for it. We make AR points a competition in my house. My son read The Scarlet Letter and War and Peace, he had the second highest AR points in the entire 8th grade class. My kids belt those numbers out of the park. I can see where it's a hassle for parents, because if you have a child that doesn't like to read (my younger son is one of them), you really have to push it on them. But honestly, I don't see this as any different from the "reading bucks" my daughter earned at the library this summer. She read her pants off and was able to "buy" a huge art set. The points system may be flawed, but nothing is stopping these kids from reading other books. If a high-schooler can't manage a book like Harry potter every nine weeks, they aren't even trying.

Anonymous said...

Our middle school uses AR, but the elementary schools do not. No prizes per se, but they do have an AR 'honor roll' for cumulative points earned from 6th-8th. Teachers use it to set performance standards for outside reading. So basically, my 4th grader has to read "x" minutes of non-schoolwork per night, and my 7th grader has to earn "y" number of AR points every quarter.

They're both addicted to reading, so these programs are pointless for them - just another task to cross off the list. My son doesn't take any more AR tests than he *has* to in order to get his minimum number of points, and may actually still be meeting his quotas by taking the tests on all the books he has read in the past. He'd rather use his free time reading for fun, not for "work."

AR is just one of many tools; works for some kids, and not others.

Maureen McGowan said...

Wow. Crazy. That's all I have to say. Crazy. I have never heard of this. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Если врач знает название вашей болезни, это еще не значит, что он знает что это такое. Никогда не приписывай человеческой зловредности того, что можно объяснить обыкновенной глупостью. Человек может долго жить на деньги которые он ждет. Реальность это иллюзия вызываемая отсутствием алкоголя. Женщины едят за разговорами, мужчины едят заедой.

britmandelo said...

Oh dear sweet lord. I was one of those little ones when they introduced the AR system in the fourth grade. The problem? I tested at a college reading level. There were maybe three books in the school library I could test on because of that level, so my mother had to buy me books by the truckload/take me to the public library just so I could fulfill my testing requirements.

Yeah, that made me forever bitter about AR.

Anonymous said...

When my kids were in public school they had the Accelerated Reader program in their school library. The problem was, lots of great books that my children read (many of them absolute classics) weren’t on the list. I told my children that reading is supposed to be for pleasure and a journey of self-discovery, not a competitive sport. They actually gave out certificates in each classroom to the student who accrued them most points over the year – it made me nauseated (even when my kids won). When will Americans learn that what really matters about education can’t be measured with points? We must teach our children that reading (like learning) is wonderful for its own sake; and that the purpose of education is not to gain credentials but to gain a deeper understanding of who they are meant to be as full actualized people. Litgal

Joy D. Wilson said...

I had to do this program when I was in school.(about 10 years ago) I was a reader already so I liked getting the points because at the end of the year you got to spend them on things. I don't think it really encouraged other kids though, unless they already liked to read.
It was always just an easy assignment for me.

Alina said...

Oh this is one of my soapbox topics. This will be long. :)

I worked as a Children's Library Assistant for several years and--as a lover of and reader of children's books--I DETESTED the AR program. It may well be that the majority of books published end up with an AR test being created for them, but each school has to buy each test. And, of course, they don't. And, if they don't buy a test, then the associated book is not an option for their students.

At the library where I worked we had folders for each of the local schools that listed their specific AR books. When a child would come to me requesting help with finding a book I would always start by asking them about books they'd read and enjoyed in the past. I'd get a shiver of excitement when, based on that information or on other things that interested them, I KNEW a book they'd love. That's when they'd usually break it to me that they needed it for school and it had to be on the AR list. It invariably wasn't and then neither was the next suggestion or the next one or the next... Soon we'd just be scanning the "correct level" and desired "point value" for ANY book the library carried regardless of subject or interest. It was traumatic for me, honestly.

There were even cases where I'd have gotten a kid so excited about a certain book that they would want to read it anyway only to have their parent tell them they couldn't "waste time" reading it because they couldn't get any points for it or get tested. Ooooh, I still want to shake those parents. :(

I never saw a case where the AR program lit a fire for reading, but I saw numerous heart-wrenching cases where a fire was being smothered. :(

Tracy said...

I think AR is awesome for about K-2, as it reinforces the skills they're in the process of acquiring in a way that little kids usually enjoy. Beyond that, it's pointless.

Um, pun not intended. :)

jellybean said...

This summer, my four-year-old joined the summer reading program at the local library. She picked her own books, read them, then took them back to the library where she would spend a good fifteen minutes explaining the books to the sweet girls running the reading desk. The prize? After twelve books, she was given a book to keep. She loved it.

Choose a book you want to read. Read it, with help or on your own. Talk about it with someone who wants to listen.

That, my friends, is what builds a reader.

Elizabeth Lynd said...

My kids' school uses this program, and I'm fine with it. My kids are big readers, so-so on taking the quizzes, but they do win a few books each year courtesy of our library and PTA by accruing points.

Interestingly, I found out you can get word counts on the website (renlearn dot com) by searching for a book, then clicking on it. Really interesting for writers of YA and MG, finding out exactly how long some favorites are.

Horserider said...

As someone who used AR recently (well, three years ago anyway...) I really liked it. I actually really started to miss it when I moved to HS and we didn't have AR anymore. We got prizes by how many points we'd earned and, loving reading, I always managed to get quite a few. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, but of course, if anyone read like Harry Potter over the course of one year, you knew they were going to be at the top. Because those books were like 50 points each.

Ebony McKenna. said...

It's such a tricky concept. I'm all for encouraging people to read but whatever system you try, some will see it as a competitive sport. Others will do the bare minimum to scrape by.

I'm not sure how else you'd allocate points anyway - some people's lives are changed when they read To Kill a Mockingbird. Other's lives are changed by Harry Potter. You'll never find a 'one size fits all' system because reading and enjoyment are so subjective.

Now, what do I have to do to get my book on that list? :-D

Bookman said...

I've worked in educational publishing for almost a decade and the publishers level their books according to this system. I honestly cannot stand it, I think it takes away from the joy of reading and replaces it with tests. The really sad part is that many schools/districts are basing grades upon how many AR points a student has. Why this makes a difference, beats me and I've worked with almost every curriculum system out there and nobody has any solid evidence to point to AR helping to improve reading abilities.

There are positive aspects of getting kids to read. However, when the reward is points that they can buy pencils, erasers and other, sorry "crap" with them, it's ridiculous. Even worse, may libraries budgets are depleted to buy these quizzes which is a curriculum item and should be supported by classroom funds not the library fund, but nobody wants to discuss that or hear it.

All in all, AR needs to go away, and remember, I've sold this product for almost a decade and I'm always honest in my view of it with librarians and teachers. To me, more books will help kids learn, not more tests.


cristin-terrill said...

We did Accelerated Reader when I was in school. We were supposed to reach our target number with a few age-appropriate novels (which I did, of course, being a book-lover and Type A goody-goody), but I remember a lot of people in my class would maniacally read about thirty picture books that were each worth a point or so at the very end of the semester. So, not so valuable in teaching kids reading as it was in teaching them how to game a system.

moonrat said...

wow, this has been really interesting... the range of opinion and experiences... i kind of see both sides. thanks, all.

and you've triggered a memory for me--i think we actually DID have something like this, back when i was in 6th grade. it wasn't quite the same--it wasn't standardized, and each book was either one or two stars, that was it. but my teacher let me *create* tests (which i'm sure were never used again) for books i read that weren't on the list. after my second 800-page fantasy novel he said i had to go back to the list.

Anonymous said...

I've seen my daughter go from a kid who loved to read anything to a reluctant reader -- and it's all because of the tests. I am NOT a fan of AR, so my kvetching will result in a long post.

These tests are five questions long, so you miss one question and you've automatically made an 80.

The thing is, at her school, getting the number of points to go to the AR party each 9 weeks requires that you make a 100 on the test and read a book a day -- that on top of some fairly substantial homework.

Also, she can read only on her level -- a very narrow selection. She can't test on any book that's either below or above her level, so that lets out a whole bunch of books that she has at home.

She comes home with books that she's not in love with because it falls within her level and she thinks it will be an easy book to test on. In her very early grades, she didn't do that -- she'd come home with non-fiction books about topics that she loved, but were very difficult to test successfully on.

My daughter at 8 is already something of a perfectionist who is afraid to try because she might fail. When she reads a book and then the next day tests on it and makes an 80, she comes home crushed. It drives me crazy to see her like this -- I want her to be a strong, confident woman, not afraid to try anything, not afraid to fail.

I see this reluctance spill over into our "for fun" reading -- she'll flip through pages of a book and sigh. "Too many words, Mommy."

This from a girl who, when she was four, loved reading (with me) Ramona Quimby.

I know it's subjective, and harder for teachers to "grade," but what happened to good old-fashioned book reports? I'd rather see my kid stand up by her desk and talk about why she liked a book or didn't than take a test. It would inspire her critical thinking, and perhaps inspire another person to read that same book.

150 said...

We had that in junior high. I don't know what it was like for the other kids, but I'd already read so many books on the list I just took the tests cold at the start of each grading period. Easiest grade ever.

Gerb said...

My son has been in the AR program. He reads above his grade level and thus receives more points than some of his classmates simply because his interests and abilities are different. He loves reading, but dislikes the tests and point system, and I agree.

The one benefit of the program is that he has read and enjoyed some books he might otherwise have not chosen. OTOH, there are an awful lot of great books he reads that are not on the list at all. Not a perfect system, to be sure.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I posted an AR comment at Goodreads last week. It's complicated.

californiameaghan said...

i did AR in school and loved it. we had to get a certain number of points per quarter which we earned by taking a reading comprehension test after we finished reading a book. i liked it because i was reading bigger more advance books than my fifth grade peers so i could read what i wanted and not be stuck with stupid "kid" books. plus i loved taking the tests on the computer.

i wish i could still do AR and earn points and get something out of it but sadly there are no systems in place for adults who like to take computer tests about books! :)

Anonymous said...

I hated reading as a child. I thought it was boring but when we started the AR program I slowly started to like it until it was something that I did for fun, not because I had too.
It's not a perfect system but it at least encourages kids to read and for me that made all the difference.

Amalia T. said...

My high school started using the Accelerated Reader program my freshman year-- My dad was an English teacher, so he had me sort of test the quiz program before classes started. My biggest problem with it was all the books that weren't even ON the list. I complained to everyone who would listen to me about the limitations of the list, but I moved before I saw any change, and the books I most wanted to see put on the list (I'm a huge fan of Robert Heinlein and was reading everything of his we had in the house--which was quite a bit, because my older brother loved science fiction) I was told they wouldn't add, because they were too adult/controversial. Of course I didn't let it stop me, but I was a voracious reader anyway, and managed for the most part to get the points I needed semester to semester by taking the quizzes on the backlog of books I'd read in previous years.

And those quizzes? I really hope they've changed them, because as far as I'm concerned multiple guess really does not test your retention of theme and understanding so much as it does your ability to recognize the thing that sounds the most right. And books I'd read and reread I'd still get the occasional wrong answer on because it was something totally ridiculous--like the color of someone's shirt when it had no bearing on the story, the plot, or anything.

Man, listen to me. 10 years later, and I'm still ticked.

I think, honestly, that teacher-student conferences about the books a student is reading would be a lot more effective. And there is nothing better than having a captive audience to talk to about a book that excites you!

Asiafantasy said...

Well it only takes a fifth grader using common sense to understand Susan Straight's article.

Hmmm let's see: It's bad to make kids set goals, measuring and accountability are a cardinal sin, we should make 7th graders read Hamlet and not something they like to read like Harry Potter, and the drivel goes on and on.

Does she even realize that very few schools use AR over 7th or 8th grade. She thinks gradeschool and middle school kids are going to learn to love reading by trying to read the classics at an early age? She's just lashing out at AR because no one buys and reads her books - LOL.

The software is just a tool. Teachers are responsible for what their students read, the goals they set for them and for intervening if they need reading intervention. And, the software helps to do all of those things. The beauty of this software is that it doesn't purport to teach your kids and it lets teachers teach.

So to Susan Straight I say: "Thanks for the ivory-tower comments. Come join us in the real-world. Try to manage a classroom of 30 kids once before you slam Accelerated Reader or teachers for that matter."

Accelerated Reader has been a godsend for me. And rewards are a choice of each school and teacher, not something the software requires. How would software require that anyway? I choose to not use extrinsic rewards with my students, but I can see where doing so would be very effective, especially with kids who don't get much encouragement at home (and there are LOTS of them).

Yes, it would be a great utopian world if kids just read for the joy of it, but they generally don't. At least by getting them to read, we have the chance of getting them to read for the intrinsic joy of it. Susan Straight doesn't know what she is talking about and her story is based on her subjective opinion which doesn't even include her actually using the software herself. Be careful before you just swallow her story, hook line and sinker...

PaperbackWriter said...

I personally love the AR system. My 12yo son reads on a 9th grade level and being able to look at the list and see what is recommended for 9th grade readers makes it easier for me to buy books for him that aren't out of hi grasp or just too easy for him.
My son also likes that there are books in the program that he has read but probably wouldn't have if they weren't on that shelf.

I'm looking forward to what my girl will think of it as she develops her reading skills through this year of first grade.

Casee said...

I like the fact that it's a comprehension tool. The points also seem like a good motivator.

What I don't like is that my kid will be more inclined to read Harry Potter or Twilight than 1984 or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Are these going to be the "greats" of our kids' generation?

Sally said...

My daughter's elementary school uses AR, and if they get an 80% or above they can write their name on a slip of paper, and have a chance at winning a free book. So there's not a whole lot of discrepancy between a second grader who is reading Madeleine L'Engle and the second grader who is still slogging through Dr. Seuss. If you read the book, you pass the test, you get a chance.

Then the points are totaled for the whole school, and no one kid gets singled out.

I think it's a great program, done that way. It's incentive for less motivated readers, and everyone gets to share in the school-wide success.

I don't actually think my daughter is doing any AR tests this year--her choice. In Kindergarten she was all about them, but this year (she's a second grader) she's just not that into it, as they say. She prefers reading the books we have at home.

lucyclaire731 said...

I've read a lot of these comments and I've come to the conclusion that AR probably doesn't hurt anyone and might help a few.

In college I volunteered in a fifth grade classroom. The child that always had the most points wasn't the little genius with college professors as parents- it was a little girl who lived in a dumpy trailer park, smelled like a public toilet and had illiterate parents. She read anything she could get her hands on and loved taking those tests. She was just so proud of herself and to be honest, that was probably the only thing she had to be proud of. In that instance, AR might have been a tool that helped her pull herself out of a cycle of poverty.

When I hear people say "kids shouldn't be made to read, they should just do it because they love it," I think "Come off it." We're all have to do things we don't like to do! Learning to accept that is a part of growing up. We also have to do things that are difficult and don't come easily- and that teaches us perseverance and determination.

Anonymous said...

I hate A.R. My son has been competeing in it ever since he was in school. He has been trying to"win", I guess. It should not be a competion with other kids, only with yourself. He had over 1,000 points last year and he still felt like a loser because he came in second place. Many great books are not on the list. It is also so,so easy for kids to cheat by letting other kids take tests for them. You really never know if the kids and earning the points themselves. I do not think places or trophies should be given.

Mark Pennington said...

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: