The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader

5 10 2012

This is a great article that should be required reading for any teacher who uses Accelerated Reader, or for that matter any teacher or administrator who works in a school where it is being utilized.

Now, let me make it clear that I’m not anti-AR by any stretch of the imagination. I love it. I think it’s a valuable resource that can be used to gain good information about a student’s reading abilities and habits. It’s also a good motivator for readers that need a challenge or a little kick in the pants.

I also have a love-hate relationship with AR, because I’ve found it to be misused or overemphasized. AR shouldn’t be — nor was it meant to be — a comprehensive reading program. Many schools treat it like that, though. It isn’t a replacement for guided reading, or running records, or lit circles, or anything else that will help a kid become a better reader. Meanwhile, there’s a lot it can do that a lot of (I’m tempted to say “most,” because that’s been my experience) teachers don’t take advantage of. 

Here’s an example from my own experience. Toward the end of the school year, it was decided that we should give each student a ROLA test. Yes, the end of the year. Don’t ask. Anyway, I was able to use the Instructional Reading Level from the AR/STAR test to find a starting point for the ROLA. I found that most of my students ended up with a ROLA level that was very close to what the STAR test said.

A running record-based test like ROLA gives a lot of useful information, such as helping to diagnose decoding and phonetic issues. On the other hand, these types of tests are based around reading a single, short passage. AR can actually give diagnostic information that is more relevant to longer reading passages and chapter books. There’s a lot of stuff “under the hood” in the AR application, but many teachers don’t know it’s even there.

If all you’re doing with AR is telling kids to take quizzes on the books they read and tracking their points, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not getting a decent value out of the application, and most likely finding that the kids who are successful with the program are those who would read independently anyway, while banging your head against a wall trying to get the unmotivated to even try. That’s a waste of time.

My feeling on AR is that it’s like a bowl of cereal in a 1980s TV commercial. It’s “an important part of this nutritious breakfast.” It’s not supposed to be the whole meal, and if you’re eating a bowl of Rice Krispies every meal, you’re going to wind up malnourished. Make the most of what AR can do with you, but recognize that it’s intended to be a component of a comprehensive literacy program. It’s not the whole thing.

– dEV

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The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader

January 24th, 2010 | Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist

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. 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 ten minute computer-based reading assessment that adjusts levels of difficulty to student responses. Among other diagnostic information, 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  thesereadability 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. They consist of multiple choice questions, 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. The TOPS Report (The Opportunity to Praise Students) reports quiz results after each quiz* is taken.

Both teachers and students have access to the following from the database:

  • Name of the book, the author, the number of pages in the book
  • ATOS readability level
  • 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.

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 100,000 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).

3. Using AR tends to discriminate against small publishing companies and unpopular 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.

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.

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.

(Full Story)




One response

14 10 2012

So reminds me of these old SRA Kits used in classrooms pre-computer. Ah, the challenge of individualized rdng. programs. By career end I just was happy to see some rdng. whatever without tracking pages and points. Enjoyed this commentary/review. Take care

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