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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Accelerated Reader is not a reading program

October 14, 2009

My friend B called yesterday to talk about her second grader. A former teacher herself, B was worried because she hasn't seen any language-arts related papers come home. When she asks her daughter about reading groups at school, her daughter simply says, "We don't do reading groups. I take tests on a computer."

Her daughter is right; she is taking tests on the computer. Her school uses Accelerated Reader, which according to the AR site is "the world's most widely used reading software." AR works this way: Student reads a book, student takes a quiz, teacher gets a report that outlines the quiz scores. Students' scores accumulate during the year, and the number of points available differs by book. The easier the book, the fewer the points. For example, in browsing the AR BookFinder site, I learned that Jerry Pinkney's Little Red Riding Hood is worth 0.5 points, Abel's Island (William Steig) is worth 3 points.

The What Works Clearinghouse review of Accelerated Reader found two studies that met the WWC evidence standards. Based on the data from these two studies, WWC concluded:

The WWC considers the extent of evidence for Accelerated Reader to be medium to large for comprehension and small for reading fluency and general reading achievement.

I'm okay with a school having AR in place, and using it for what it may be: a supplemental intervention that may encourage kids to engage in more independent reading. But a word of caution: 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), so AR really shouldn't be used as a large part of the LA block.

Accelerated Reader doesn't provide reading instruction. Teachers do. I've encouraged B to call her child's teacher and find out more about the 90 minute block of LA time. Chances are there's a lot more going on than B's daughter recognizes. Stay tuned, I'll let you know what B says when she calls me back!


Joanne, The one thing I find missing is an honest discussion of what can be done to encourage a reluctant reader. From a parent's point of view, when you are sitting with your kid and encouraging them to read, meanwhile they are tired and bored and guessing at words and making up games, what can you do? You either get angry and say, "just read this, I know you can and it's getting late and I'm tired!" or you can bribe them...."if you read this, you'll get some sort of special treat." I really haven't seen a deep discussion of how to help during those little times. No practical tips. I hear things like, "pick a regular time each day, continue to read to the kids, make it fun!" but not a lot of practical advice. Can you make a blog post about helping a kid get from basic phonics reading to reading level 1/2? It seems like getting to phonics is easy, and getting past level 1/2 is easy, but it's that middle area that is toughThanks!

I agree with the post by Alex. That is exactly the stage that I am facing with my son right now!Does anyone have tips for this stage?

I agree that AR doesn't provide instruction, but the teacher does. That doesn't mean AR is bad. It is one way I can see if a student understands what he/she reads independently. I can use that information to help form my small groups. I can conference with a student about their quiz, was the book too easy? Too difficult? Did they like the book? Where was the problem with comprehension? They read so many books that I can't keep up with independent comprehension. It helps me see if they are using their own reading time and really reading the books. Because I have a large, younger class, they can read several books before I get back to a conference with them. A quiz report can give me solid, hands-on information for conferences. It can be a great tool for a teacher who uses it correctly.

I am so glad for AR...but then again my kids loved reading before having the chance to use AR in their classes thus this was a perfect add on to their reading education (for comprehension purposes). I agree that teacher time is needed too. I guess I lucked out in that dept. Both of my kids so far have had teacher time reading on top of AR time. I don't think AR should replace teacher time reading. Pronunciation is a concern if all a child receives in reading time is the AR application.

I have raised a reading machine. She loves to read and hates AR. It bores her. She did horribly on easy books in first grade but when the teacher allowed her to read chapter books and test on them (Flat Stanley) etc. She scored 80 to 100%. I read for pleasure whenever I can. At 7 she has finally discovered TV. She has seen me read since she was 3.5-She is adopted and is has physical special needs, articulation Cleft palate, hearing loss. She wanted to do what I was doing. To get your child to love reading, you have to model the activity-say nothing except if they ask tell them you are having fun time reading the book. I am a special ed teacher and I can take a non reader and have them reading at 1st grade level in 9 months. At home my child likes to read my books to me-the back page so I have to be very careful. One thing that is interesting is that she reads much more clearly than she speaks. This is an intersting thread. At the start of 2nd grade she is reading 4th grade level.

I agree that AR can be a decent supplement to a solid reading program, but what concerns me is the quality of the comprehension. AR, in my brief experience as a parent of students who used it for a couple of years, seems to ask the most basic of comprehension questions. It doesn't touch on higher order thinking skills (ex. author's purpose) or thinking beyond the text. My children only used this program until grade 2, so maybe the questions get more substantial in the upper grades, does anyone know? Again, I think it's a good motivator for reluctant readers, and may have a limited amount of valuable information for teachers as stated above, but it seems too basic to really develop meaningful reading skills.

I am teacher who, this year, is teaching 4th graders. We use AR a supplemental reading program. It is an excellent motivator for reluctant readers. Its intent is not to develop meaningful reading skills. It is assess children's understanding of what they read. After students take a few AR tests and not doing well on them they soon realize they have to pay more attention to what they read. I have found the AR questions to be a good indicator of whether my students can identify the problem presented in the story and the solutions. Also, my students reading ability levels range from 2nd grade to 6th grade, so I am able to provide my students a variety of readings that are there reading levels by using AR. I also enjoy that there are several AR non-fiction books available for children to read. I have that children have a hard time finding the important facts in non-fiction books.

My problem with AR is that in our school a child is assigned a certain reading level which is reassessed from time to time and MUST choose books in that reading level. If that had happened to me in third grade I would never have discovered Little Women and Charlotte's Web and Lassie because they were all "too high" a reading level. That challenged me and made me a better reader. Sure I skipped over some words, but I reread those well-loved books time and again.

I teach kindergarten, and my comments are directed towards Alex and Pam above. I realize that your students are probably older then kinder but here are some tips or suggestions on how to move your children along in their reading. In order to make reading a positive experience it is important to pick books that are interesting to them, and are at the right level for them. To do this at home have them to the Five Finger Test. REad one page of a book. Raise one finger for each word on the page that you don't know. No fingers or one finger: This book is easy for you to read. Have fun! Two Fingers: This book is just right for you. Enjoy your reading. Three Fingers: This book is challenging, but you may still enjoy it. Try it! Four Fingers: This book will be very challenging. Read with a partnerand /or a ditionary handy. Five Fingers: This book is probably too hard to be fun. Save it for later, or read it with an adult who can help you. This technique can help your child choose books they like, but are not at their frustational reading level. Another way to move a child along is to have them do repeated readings. The first time, you read the book to them. The second time, read the book together. The third time have the child read the book to you. Make sure it is a book that they like! I'm not a big fan of AR. My daughter is in second grade and her school does AR. I think it's more important to go to the library and choose good books your child is interested in and can read or learn to read easily. By improving their overall reading skills then the AR books can be read and then tested on at school. Hopes this helps!

I am a 4th grade teacher at a TITLE I school. I am also a grandparent of a 3 year old reader. When parents ask me what to do about their struggling child's reading ability, I answer that there is no magic. Children will learn to read if you sit and work them an hour a day. I haven't had a planned agenda with my grandson. He knows that we have the time everyday set aside to WORK with books. Granted, I see the big picture, and I know what to look for developmentally. I also know ways to make the process fun, and how to choose material . . . however, I have proven to myself that the gift is in the time. What else can I say?

I had to SUBMIT before I had finished explaining about AR . . . (please see above submission).AR is not a teaching tool. It is a diagnostic and assessment warehouse! The program gives teachers valuable information about their students’ reading skills. Specialized data such as time spent reading, word count collected from books read, flags for problem areas, etc. are included with a click. If the STAR reading assessment is included along with the AR testing program, teachers can show student growth in reading level over time. A vocabulary tracking system also keeps a record of words learned and even prints word cards for words to be studied. In today’s climate of mandatory standardized testing, data collection throughout the year is crucial. And students must read material that is assigned for standardized tests, not self-selected. I use AR and all of its components to plan individualized goals and strategies for my classroom. It is the only program that I have available to monitor progress constantly. If students dislike taking tests on AR, they probably haven’t bought into the idea of yearly progress testing as well. Maybe the choice of AR or no AR depends on the security level of the child’s reading ability. Our grade level has collected data on end of year state test scores which points to a connection between the grade level on STAR (AR diagnostic portion) and the student’s ability to pass the test. So, we plan teaching strategies to get students where they need to be.

To Alex and Pam - I was in the same place with my oldest son. Turns out he was having vision issues. He had had his eyes checked by an optometrist (and through the school every year) but it wasn't until an occupational therapist at a handwriting summer camp suggested that we should have him evaluated for convergency issues that we even know there was a possibility of a problem. His eyes weren't working together so he was working so hard to read that his eyes would fatigue quickly. During that process, we took him to a pediatric opthamalogist who also discovered that my son was blurry in one eye (this is significant because your brain will only adjust to only one distance and will stop using the eye if not corrected). After doing vision therapy and getting glasses with one prescription lens, his reading has soared. A year ago he would read for about 10 minutes and be done. Just last month, he read the first three Harry Potter books in one week. Part of the growth is developmental, but I am very thankful the occupational therapist suggested we have him evaluated. The convergency issues weren't that bad - it took about three months of therapy to correct (our younger son had the same issue too). Finding out he was seeing blurry in one eye was huge because eventually his brain would have stopped using that eye, and he would have lost vision in that eye permanently. Someone else we know had her child evaluated (about a year before us - as suggested by therapists at the same company who runs the handwriting camp) and they found he was seeing 4 of everything. Kids just do not know that they aren't seeing the way they should. Your child's issues might not be related to vision at all, but I through this out since we had no idea our son was having eye problems. Good luck.

My problem with AR is that I have a son who has autism, he is in a regular class with an aide but he really struggles with the hole AR concept, and it not that he has not read the book or is not paying attention because I have him read me the book out loud and after every chapter have him answer questions. It He has a very high reading level but the books at his level are so long that by the time it comes to take the test it is hard even for me to remember those details, I think they should split them into two parts for really long books for kids with special needs or word the questions different, it is almost like they are trying to trick them.

Ok so what is the consenses? Do I look into AR for our private school with a population of 400 students? I know the teachers are already carrying a full load so adding one more thing is going to be a tough sell. Can I run the program out of the school library? Is it worth the costs? I am confused and the AR website is overwhelming!

Kathy: As with most things, it's tough to come up with a consensus. AR has its proponents and its critics. And, as with most things, the purpose and implementation can make or break its success. I recently came across a blog post that lists 18 reasons not to use AR - but if you read it carefully you may also learn some things about how it COULD be used. Maybe it will help?

AR is a great way to encourage reading, and contrary to some opinions, I have seen it help with reading fluency because, as with most things, reading requires practices, and more practice leads to greater proficiency. Of course, AR does not exist in an educational vacuum, and it is essentially supplemental, but it is a powerful supplement when used wisely. Having said that, I would like to pose a question: could tests be designed which would include more in-depth, analytical, inference-type questions? If you peruse any number of AR tests, you will find that most queries simply ask "recall" questions with little higher-order thinking involved. I propose this: once a child has reached his or her prescribed goal for a six-weeks, they be allowed to reread a book and take an additional test (possibly for a lower point value), which would ask questions involving more in-depth literary analysis. I understand this idea carries some logistical issues, but I think it has merit, and most of the problems could be ironed-out with a little creative thinking. For example, tester-creators could exclude from testing those books with values less than 12 points, so only works with sufficient complexity would be analyzed. In addition to encouraging deeper thought, this idea could help young readers who have exhausted a school’s supply of those library books which are appropriate for their maturity level. There are, for example, forth graders who can read at level 12.5 and can tackle the vocabulary in Fahrenheit 451 or even Jane Austen’s catalogue of works. But are they ready for the themes, imagery, and the detail of historical context involved? At the very least this is food for thought, so let me know your opinions.

I am the librarian at a small independent school in Mississippi. I am begging our administration to discontinue AR. The children hate it, the parents hate it, and the teachers hate it! My own children, once lovers of independent reading, now HATE TO READ, because they were forced to read specific books, at levels lower/higher than their interest level, then test on them. I'm all for encouraging kids to read, but AR just doesn't work for us.

My daughter is a 4.0 student but has many issues with the AR program. She reads but when it comes to the AR she is failing?? This is really amazing as she has A's in all classes but fails the AR everytime? Even in English she is getting an "A" but failing the AR program?? Very hard on her as she is a really hard working student. Not sure how to handle this with the AR Stuff?

I don't understand why my childs teacher is restricting what books my child can get from the library. My child is in third grade and reads at a 6th grade or higher level. My child has followed all her teachers guidelines, and after she meets and exceeds the goals set out before her she tries to get higher level books. The teacher then tells her to put it back that her points are high enough and that she must stay at the level she was given. I'm confused and my daughter is frustrated! Its as though they don't want my child to get "too far ahead of her class" I have also heard from my children and other parents that the teachers are deteting points when the the advanced children are getting extremely ahead of the class. It boggles the mind. Also, My daughter is in an advanced class always gets highest honors and is in both gifted and talented programs (regular and art). They are now breaking up the advanced classes and mixing fast and slow learners together because teachers were complaining that it wasn't fair that the advanced teachers had it too easy. I guess they are hoping for a midas touch but it doesn't seem fair that the fast learners have to slow down. I am considering homeschooling for this and MANY other reasons.

I am feeling very discouraged for my 3rd grader. I may need to talk to her teacher a A/R and have her score lowered. It is difficult finding a book with a 3rd grade interest at the 5.0-9.1 reading level. Yes there are 1000 books to choose from but very few are books I want an 8 year old to read.

Accelerated Reader started out with good intentions. However, the program has been misused time and time again. When schools use it, everything a child reads is assessed. They not only are tested over content such in reading, science, and social studies, but now their independant reading is tested as well. There is nothing my kids can read that isn't assessed. Think about how discouraging that would be as a student. If you haven't, you need to read the book by Kelly Gallagher called "Readicide". It talks about how schools are systematically killing the love of reading and points to Accelerated Reader as one of those factors. It isn't real world reading and all the testing is discouraging. There is no reading for fun anymore and that is a big problem.

As a second grade teacher I agree that AR can be used as a supplemental tool for comprehension, but I find it inconsitent in results and do not use it as a sole source of information on a child's reding level or comprehension. I do not restrict my students choices of books from the library - except in cases where I can clearly tell the book is impossible for them to read. I do however, think that lots of book on or just above their level are a boost for moving on down the I make sure they have a small collection for home and school in their "range" ( in a Guided Reading folder) to read and work on comprehension and language arts skills.

My son started with AR books in 2nd grade. He's always been a very avid reader and reads well above his grade level. I was immediately frustrated when I learned that he could only read certain books at a certain level and once he was in 3rd grade the AR tests would be part of his grade. He has now just begun his 3rd grade year, and as I anticipated his only goal for reading is earning points. He has no interest in the books he's reading. He barely even retains the information in them except to take his test and move on to the next one. There is no challenge or interest for him. I am truly disappointed that my tax dollars assist schools in paying for programs such as these.I am a lover of all books and have been always of the opinion if you find it interesting you will read it. The AR test to me is, as usual, a decent idea that should have only been used to assist teachers in identifying students' reading potential, to a poorly executed program that encourages standardization, mediocrity and keeps children from realizing how truly wonderful and fun reading can be.

I hate the AR program in my sons school. they give him a book send it home for me to teach him then the computer gives him a test and what is his teacher doing for the reading class not one thing each child gets a different book each day so there is no way any teacher can help 22 students with reading in 60 minutes some of the students and parents are trying to get AR out of schools and put the teachers back to teaching the students all of them using the same book so each student at least has a little bit of a chance of learning to read

What if....if there is not a quiz available for a specific book that a student would like to read, to replace the grade of a quiz could the student make up his/her own quiz questions (and answers)? That way comprehension is still the goal and the student is not restricted in any way. Just a thought......

Wow . . . Sure are a lot of emotions out there regarding AR!!!! Here's my thoughts. I teach fourth grade LA with a Master's in El. Ed. I am also on faculty at University of Phoenix. I think some good valid points were raised in opposition to an AR program. It is important to mention that a 'good" reading program should have a rich environment filled with various L. Arts opportunities. There is not a single program that is a "cure all" to help all students, guaranteed. I believe the main reason though that kids can't read is because they simply don't read. AR programs, if used by a teacher who understands that a student needs many methods for enrichment, can be a fantastic tool. I have seen kids get excited about reading by using a Scholastic Accelerated Reading Program (SAM). I also use audio books, various diagrams and graphic organizers, rubrics when doing group read-alouds, various language arts learning centers, flash cards, videos, writing prompt dice, various word games, etc. AR or SAM has actually helped in having a wide variety of differentiation in instruction (helping advanced learners and slow learners. Just like you would not use a hammer to cut wood, you would not use an AR program as the only tool to help a kid read. The hammer is great though for pounding in a nail !!!

What is not to like . . . setting goals, helping students select books at their independent reading level, and motivating them to read. For the teacher, it is a great way to track what students are reading, check AR quiz performance, and confer with students that are not reading or are not getting passing scores on their quizzes. I like to sit down with students and observe them as they take quizzes to see what strategies they are using. With informational text, if a student doesn't know an answer, I encourage them to pick up the text and skim and scan to find the answer. This is an excellent way to improve reading and test taking skills. My students can't wait for me to update the class chart I keep that tracks their individual percentages toward meeting their goals. I set goals at a very achievable level so students are successful. Some of my avid readers have point goals that are extremely high while my struggling readers have goals that encourage them to read and are set at a level that ensures success. I will end this by saying I am tired of those that put down a program that I have found extremely helpful.

I agree 100% with RKB. I have been teaching for 23 years (1st grade). AR gives me hard evidence about each child. There was one statement made earlier that said the teacher needs o be teaching all the children on the same text. How boring!!!!

I'm raising a granddaughter whose parents were druggies & AR is a dissaster for her. Her assesment of herself is she's a nobody because she's more than 40 points behind in AR. reading compehension & retention aren't a happenning deal for her & it's not her fault. She dpoes fine in school when she can refer back to what she's read, but this isn't allowable with AR quizes at her school... she just gets more discouraged all the time. I'm sure the program is a well tought out program, it's not a one size fits all... I work with her constantly and I wish I had some answers...

I deplore AR. It's laziness for teachers, who rely on scores for grades (yes, they do...) and a Nazi system for students, who deserve to choose their reading material based on THEIR interests. Reading levels were never meant to be written in stone, but only guidelines. Children should be allowed to select books at, above, below or anywhere around their "reading levels", and these "tests" should be trashed. This company has made millions off the backs of taxpayers, to the detriment of reluctant readers and a child's freedom to read. My own children, all of whom were avid readers at home and school spent one miserable year being told what to select. My husband and I moved them to another school, where their love for reading was honored, and the choices were theirs.

Wow! I cant believe there is so much anxiety about AR. My daughter is an exceptional reader and I owe it all to AR!! Yes, the teacher has always taught my daughter the basics of reading and how to, but unless she reads on her own and practices, there would be no way she would be at the level she is at now. AR gave her ideas on what books to read on her level, gave her confidence in reading when she took the quizzes and scored a perfect score, taught her comprehension since she was held accountable on knowing what she was reading, AND she was rewarded for her independant reading which only gave her more motivation. She is NOT graded on AR, and in fact in LA she received a B! However, she received the 3rd best in her class in pts. in AR. Over the summer she read The Red Pyramid, gave her 16 pts. right off the bat for 3rd grade! Good for her! She was rewarded for her reading because that is not an easy book for a 2nd grader. Also, since her school is so into reading and the AR program the kids themselves are talking about books everyone is reading. She would never have, nor myself picked that book until a friend said that she was reading it. No, I am not a teacher, but I have seen my child thrive right in front of me on her reading due to her independant reading and the emphasis AR puts into it.

I have been teaching for 25 years in grades 1, 2, 3, and special education K-6. I am also a reading specialist and a lifelong reader. My school uses AR but fortunately does not require teachers to use it a certain way. I know that it motivates some students to read longer and more challenging books but it can stifle enthusiastic readers if they have to take a test after reading each book. A parent told me her child refused to reread a beloved book because you can only take an AR test once! I feel AR should be used with caution and taking a certain number of tests or earning a certain number of points should never be a requirement. Good readers don't need it and struggling readers don't learn from it.

From all prospectives, most of you are making valid points. But in the end children are suffering. Students in our district that are A students now are getting D and F marks because the # of books and scores are added to the English grades. if the student reads the book and doesn't comprehend it well enough to make a good grade the child's grade suffers or if the total number of books were not read in that graded period the child's grade suffers. there has to be an educational solution.

My only problem with the AR program in our school is this. I have 3 sons, grades 11, 9 and 7. All of which have scored exemplary on their state assessment tests. They also score very high on the STAR test for AR but they don't read for pleasure. They read when it is assigned for class. So now my 9th grader, who missed the gifted program by 5pts, has had his overall grade in English dropped by 20% because he hasn't met his AR goal! How does this foster a love and enjoyment of reading? It is not that he can't read. I have had several of his teachers (middle school English teachers mind you) that they love to listen to him read aloud in class. That it is nice to listen to one that is so articulate. Uses voice fluctuation and knows when to break due to the punctuation. He just hasn't found anything that he enjoys reading. He gets bored with the books and never finishes. And it isn't that he spends all of his free time on the computer or video games. He is very active in Scholars Bowl, Football, Basketball and golf in school. Please...explain to me, someone, anyone how is it than using this program in this manner is going to benefit my child? What good is it going to do to "force" him to read for "pleasure" something that he has no interest in. I have already seen his displeasure with having to read just about anything as time goes on.

While "reading for pleasure" is a reasonable goal, it is not the only reason schools ask students to read. We want them to improve their comprehension and reading ability. AR & STAR are simply tools to help us assess whether a student is making that improvement. Being tested on achievement is what schools do and, unfortunately, we must now test everything to document attainment or the lack of it. If a student is not moving forward in comprehension and improving reading ability, teachers must know this and be able to develop strategies to help the student. AR has been misused in many ways over the years but the basic function of the program - to provide solid data as to a student's comprehension and reading level - is a legitimate means for teachers to tailor instruction for students. The program does not - should not - stand alone. It should be one piece of an overall approach to help students achieve. If students develop a love of reading along the way, great, but some will not. We don't tell science teachers that they shouldn't test students on science concepts because it "turns students off" to science! We are SCHOOL! We have to be able to assess our students in many ways and AR is one that works.

Titles are essential for reluctant readers. Big Nate and Flat Stanley lead the way to Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing. Reading to your child is as beneficial as having them read. The skills will come with enough positive exposure.

At the particular school that my grandaughter attends the AR testing counts for 5% of the grade. They should not be penalized if they do not take the AR testing. Some kids o not do well on these test. It should be they get an extra 5% on their grade if they do AR testing and pass the test.

I get that ar can be used to encourage kids to read. However, just this week my son who is in fourth grade failed two half point tests and the teacher benched him until he passed two tests. Today ends Reading Rocks .. A two week program to get the kids reading. The class with the highest # of points within the two weeks in each grade ( k-6) gets a pizza party. Teachers that use the Ar as a competitive sport need to be stopped. My son who reads at double his current grade level now hates reading because of the AR push. I hate it too!

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"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." — Lemony Snicket