Friday, May 14, 2010

Decelerated Reader

Before my sudden and unexpected move to the United States in January, I had had no first hand experience with Accelerated Reader (AR). I had, however, taken a course in which I was required to read several articles about the program and evaluate its effectiveness. You can find much of the criticism of AR online, and you can also read the studies done by Renaissance Learning, the company that produces AR.

Now my child is in a school that uses AR. She is twelve years old, and to say she is a reader would be like saying Mozart was slightly interested in music. She probably averages four books a week, and when her pile is getting short, she starts to panic. She carries a book with her everywhere she goes. Obviously my daughter needs no program to encourage her to read. She's going to read, no matter what.

For her, the way AR works is that she reads stacks and stacks of books, and then when she goes to school she finds out which of her books, if any, has an AR test with it. If it has a test, she takes it, and gets points. She had to set a goal of many points she would earn. Since she had no idea, she asked the teacher for advice and was told that she shouldn't aim too high - perhaps 100 points? This goal-setting is important because part of the reading grade is calculated by whether the students reach the goal they set.

A couple of weeks ago, the teacher asked my daughter if she realized that she had surpassed her goal. Since we arrived here, she had earned 500 points. She was eligible for all kinds of prizes and would be invited to a party for all the kids who met the goals they had set for themselves. She would have a lot more points if she had taken tests for all the books she had already read this year before we came to this country. Also, many of the books she reads, including the Discworld series, to which she has recently become fanatically devoted, have no AR tests, so she can't get any points for them. (She does have the option of writing a summary of a book with no AR test and getting some points, but she doesn't care about the points enough to do that.)

The prizes mean nothing to her; she calls them "goofy little prizes." (She makes an exception for chocolate.) She doesn't want to go to the party. She just doesn't care.

The number of points available for each book (and my daughter has no idea how many that would be) varies according to the length of the book and what the reading level is. The books in the school library have stickers on them indicating their reading level. These are calculated very closely; a book might be a 6.5 reading level, or a 4.1. If a student chooses to read a book that's a lower level than her tested reading level, her average level goes down. Unlike my daughter, most kids wouldn't choose a book that looked interesting if it wasn't an AR book. It's all about the points.

I asked my daughter if she thinks that the AR program motivates other kids to read, kids who normally wouldn't read at all. She said yes, probably it does, because meeting their AR goal is part of their reading grade. But once they are out of school, why would they keep reading, if getting points is the only reason they are reading?

AR has been explained to me as a good idea because it's a way you can check for comprehension if you have kids choosing their own books. That's great, except that the tests are mostly factual and don't get into any kind of true comprehension of the issues or ideas in a book. Conferencing with kids seems as if it would be more effective, at least in addition to an AR test if not instead of it.

The title of this post? That's what my daughter calls AR. She's not really a fan.


Janet said...

Wow, your daughter sounds like a phenomenal reader! A book-breather.

This program sounds... complicated. I agree with your point about testing for comprehension. A conference seems much more promising than a factual test.

I need to have more such discussions with my 9-year-old, but I haven't perfected the skill of discussing books I haven't read myself...

Ruth said...

That's definitely the challenge, and for those of us with children who are readers, it doesn't take long before we can't keep up with our kids' reading, unless we sacrifice our own (which I'm not willing to do).

theorivas said...

What a silly system.

With my kids, my goal is to instill a love of reading, and you can't do that with trinkets and parties and tests for comprehension.

Fostering a love for reading can only be done, I think, by knowing the child's interests and abilities, and tailoring reading selections accordingly, whether the child reads alone, you read aloud to the child, or the book is on tape.

Otherwise, reading is just a chore. And who wants to do chores?

Tricia said...

Decelerated reader - that's great!

I know of schools that use AR, but I don't think any in our district do. Certainly our school doesn't. My 12yo would find all that stuff silly, too. The district does do reading level testing in 6th grade, and he was rated at a college level, which kind of blew my mind.

Speaking of Discworld, he made a stuffed model of it last year - you can see the photos starting here:

Bridget said...

Having used AR as a teacher, I have to agree with's ridiculous. My kids who were not readers would read books solely based on points to get the grade. The kids who loved to read were frustrated because many of the books they read did not have an AR test. The tests were random facts/details, some of which did not really seem important, even to me. It was a pain to manage, and I'm not sure there is much benefit.

So I'm with her, not a big fan.