Accelerated Reader (AR) is a popular computer-based reading program. It does not remediate students with dyslexia.

It just offers books at different levels and nudges students to an “appropriate level of challenge,” in addition to offering comprehension tests to check understanding and quantitative information for parents and teachers in the process.

The promises of AR are attractive and at least some studies show improved reading of groups of students (some studies show no increase and decreased motivation).

Because some classes celebrate high AR point scorers, it should not be surprising that lower scorers are less happy, have lower esteem, and become dis-incentivized to read for pleasure. AR goals are individualized and the AR company does not encourage open competition or achievement-related rewards, but all these things happen, regardless, adding to the stresses that students might already have.

From Teach from the Heart (Jen Marten is the author and she’s a teacher and mom).

“I’ve seen the damage Accelerated Reader can do. I witnessed it for the first time when I tutored a struggling 5th grader…eighteen years ago. He hated to read. He hated being locked into a level. He hated the points associated with the books. But more importantly, he was humiliated when he didn’t earn enough points to join in the monthly party or get to ‘buy’ things with those points at a school store full of junky prizes.

I’ve seen kids run their fingers along the binding of a book, a book they REALLY wanted read, but then hear them say, “But it’s not an AR book,” or “It’s not my level.” I’ve watched them scramble to read the backs of books or beg a friend for answers so they can get enough points for the grading period. And I watched it slowly start to unravel S’s love of reading. It’s why I gave her permission to practice a little civil disobedience and Stop Reading for Points.

Excerpt from Jen’s latter post:

From a conversation overheard between her 7th grade daughter S and friend:
“Friend: I hate reading!
S: I like to read, but lately I like it less and less.
Friend: Why?
S: I feel like I’m rushing; reading for points instead of enjoying the story.
Me: Then stop reading for points.
S & Friend at the same time: WHAT??
Me: I said, stop reading for points. I don’t care about the grade. I don’t care about the points. I care that you enjoy reading. Stop reading for points and just enjoy the story.”

What did Jen do? She asked that her daughter be opted out of AR’s quizzes (previously they were 25% of the reading grade. It might be that Jen was more successful at this because she was a fellow teacher.

If AR is working for your student – then no problem; but if it isn’t and they are collapsing under the strain of it, then try to advocate and change things up.

There is a place for comprehension questions, and it is always valuable for a student to have a chance to talk about a book and make sure they understand it; but the end goal in reading (besides proficiency) is to fall in love with it…and AR may have the opposite effect.

It may also help to know that many teachers allow audiobooks and books read with e-readers to count toward their AR goal Some IEPs or 504s may include a 2-3X bump up in AR points for their plan.

But most of all, Jen’s posts resonate, I think because although there are benefits to testing for comprehension, there are negative effects for over-testing. Create more opportunity for reading for enjoyment and see if you can opt out if your student is experiencing stress from AR or AR-like programs. Reading can take many forms – whether it’s magazines, graphic novels, or books – decodable or not.



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