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Accelerated Reader-Help or Hindrance?

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Accelerated Reader-Help or Hindrance?

At Jump Into a Book we are dedicated to creating fun reading-based activities and adventures for children, families, and all who love books from “our” favorite children’s books. We strive to help children pull books off shelves and adventures off pages.

But sometimes this involves asking hard questions, and today is no different. Today we want to discuss Accelerated Reader.

Accelerated Reader

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a program which is used in school systems throughout the United States. Using actual literature to create enthusiastic readers, AR helps:

  • Personalize and guide independent reading
  • Develop lifelong readers and learners
  • Tap into unlimited quizzes and enjoy online support
  • Increase parental support with web-based, school-to-home communications
  • Equip students to meet the rigors of state standards and CCSS ( Common Core Studies)

A student’s reading level is determined by the STAR test which is partnered with the Accelerated Reading Program. Children are encouraged to select books within their reading levels. After reading the book a child takes a short multiple choice quiz no the computer. Students must answer 80% of the questions correctly to receive AR points for that book selection. At the end of the semester, those children reaching their AR goal receive a prize or some sort of reward.

AR consists of 4 components:

  1. It provides a wide variety of books
  2. It allots a designated time to read. The AR program recommends an hour a day.
  3. It includes a test based on the low level facts of the book.
  4. It awards prizes based on the number of points scored on the quizzes and our school gave awards based on how many books read.

AR, accelerated reader, has been a part of my life as long as I’ve had children in school. In the beginning it was quite exciting. Each week my girls would go to the library and pick 2 books at their AR level. They had many great bonding moments with Ms Cox the librarian and both excelled  into voracious readers. As they moved up the AR scale to higher and higher reading levels appropriate age level books began to dwindle. My girls didn’t seem to mind, they would read the “required” AR book and supplement their reading interests with books they enjoyed more. As I look back at those moments I can tell you they were uneventful.

All this was to change when my son started reading. Though always positive, he was a child who liked to be read to and wasn’t keen on learning to read for himself. Going through the same steps as his sisters before him; weekly he would go to the library to pick out his two books. The only difference is that he fell in love with one book, “When Grandpa was a Flyer.”  Every week he wanted to check out this book and he would kindly tell Ms Cox that she could keep the other book he was to check out for someone else.  Every week became a struggle as new books were checked out and reluctantly read. AR time became dreaded with lots of tears,and a lot of avoidance. He quickly learned to work the system however, because he had to check out two books. He would check out two books which could be read easily to quickly earn AR points. He would even opt out of a longer books he really wanted to read for “more” points because it would take too long and he might not reach his AR goal.

AR also bled over into our family reading time. As we would choose our books for family reading young son would mention that it wasn’t  at his AR level, that he wouldn’t be getting any points for it, and so therefore was a waste of his time. This was a huge concern for me as in my opinion reading is a reward unto itself. To have a system in place which deems a book “worthy” or “unworthy” based upon reading level points became very frustrating for me. When one has a resistant reader in the house any reading time becomes a discussion, a well thought out process on the part of the reader, i.e. my son.

Now we are in the middle school years and I’m happy to say that Wonder Son loves to read but it isn’t because of AR. It’s because we supplemented his reading with a wide variety of books he wanted to read and we designated a different time for his personal reading. I don’t test what he’s read but it becomes very apparent if he understood what he’s read when we go to create a book adventure or jump into a book with his friends. He is very much on the organizing end of these events. Enjoying time with family and friends organized around our favorite books is the reward for finishing the book.

In my opinion, in the early years of  the AR program there are so many great book selections but is what often happens is the child excels to a high reading level before they’ve matured age wise. I do not know many 9-year-old boys reading at a sophomore level who  could really grasp Between Shades of Grey or a 6th grader reading Catcher in the Rye. It’s just not age appropriate. With my son AR was just a chore and I really worried about him not loving to read.

I think to be fair I need to talk on the flip side of AR. Clearly I’m very involved with my children’s reading and learning in general but those students that do not have parent interaction and support at home are at risk. The AR program does put books in the hands of children, monitors them, and rewards them for their progress.

Clearly I’ve had a mix of experiences. It’s only  now as I see my son wanting to read certain books like “Eragon” and told “No, that’s too easy for you” and then having to read something he’s not interested in doesn’t seem to be serving the idea of raising readers for a lifetime.

I’m so interested in knowing how AR is working in your  home or school?

Has it been a positive experience or have there been difficulties ?

If you’re a teacher, has it been effective with your students ? If so how ? If not why ?

I’d love to open this up for a discussion as it’s my desire to have every child  loving their right to read. Always interested in hearing the many perspectives out there. Please share your thoughts below.


 red book



19 thoughts on “Accelerated Reader-Help or Hindrance?

  1. This was a great post. My daughter is in third grade now and a very good reader. I worry about AR for her because it takes her passion and makes it a chore. We start to look at the points, level, and the real joy of reading is somehow set aside. She already has that joy, and I want the fire to remain. Plus, her school rewards for most points so now we start looking at how we can get the most points instead of “what would you just like to read?” For my child, AR drives me crazy. The school just this past year stopped AR in fourth grade and above because testing was showing that just simply taking tests on books was not helping overall writing and retelling skills. The blessing is my child will be done with AR this year, which I am glad for her because I was told as good readers get up in the grades AR burns them out more and more. I see a good place for AR but I think it can be overdone too. Loved reading your insight.

    1. Hi Becky, Thanks so much for sharing your journey with AR. I’m so happy that your daughter loves reading. I wish that for her for an entire lifetime.
      Happy last year of AR. 🙂

  2. We always requested that the boy be able to self select his reading materials. As long as there was Harry Potter to read he was okay. Now he’s more into reading how-to manuals and D and D stuff.

    I do remember one of his teachers saying that the boys in her class were reading lots of American Girl books because they gave more AR points. Not that that was a bad thing, just curious.

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      This is one of the problems with boys and reading. They really don’t want to read American Girl books, they’re just competitive and want the points. I’d much rather see boys reading for the love of reading what they truly choose to read. Maybe I’m asking for too much here but I don’t think so. Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us.

  3. I personally hate, loathe, and despise the AR program. I’ve never seen a success story with AR. I have only seen it turn reading into a chore for kids. And in my experience, the AR program, from the kids’ standpoint, becomes about gaining points instead of internalizing and retaining any contents of the reading.

  4. I forgot to add to my last sentence that the way the AR program is set up, perpetuates the problem of reading strictly to gain points but not retaining any content.

    1. Hi Megan,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience with AR. I love reading for reading sake and want that for my children as well. Your blog post is very well written with some very good insights. Thanks so much for sharing both your comments and your post with us.

  5. I was asked to go to the school during the day to meet with one of my clients. She was in the 3rd grade and struggled with reading (may have had some type of learning disability but had not been formally tested). Fortunately this was a private school and they allowed me, a reading specialist, to come to their school. I would take my student for 1 hour 2 days a week.

    One of the things the teacher requested from me was that I help this child with the AR test. She said that if needed, she could look back at the book to help answer the questions. This student was reading at the 2 grade level. Therefore she was reading beginning chapter books that were very easy.

    What I found when helping her with this test (via computer) was that the questions did not follow chapter order. In other words, a question from Chapter 10 might have been the first question. This seemed to confuse my student. (Again this showed me she had sequencing difficulty). When I printed off the questions and I put them in order of the chapters, she was able to answer 90% of the questions.

    Needless to say I am not a very big fan of AR! Just like any other program it is meant for good but often times the creators don’t take every scenario into account like what about the reluctant reader, or what about the boy who reaches a 9th grade reading level when only in the 4th grade. I think the AR is a great guideline for teachers to help them determine who’s reading and who isn’t. These AR stats could be used to identify the students who need more help and be pulled into a program lead by a reading specialist.

    AR is usually another burden on the parents. They have to read books to the students if the student can’t do it themselves. I’m all for parents reading to their children but what about the single parent with 3 kids. Is s/he going to read 3 different books to their children? Or what about a parent who is LD and they themselves have problems reading.

    This is a cookie cutter program which every school in the nation has adopted and has as many pros and it does cons! AR needs to be tweaked for the individual student when necessary.

    Anyone have any great ideas how this can be used for a student with a learning disability or for the struggling reader that would help them like reading better instead of seeing AR as a chore, I’d would also love to hear from you.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with AR and your thoughts. I hear your viewpoint often but thought it might help to open this topic up for discussion so people could see they aren’t alone. I enjoyed reading your comment very much.

  6. AR becomes counterproductive when you have younger good readers. One of my grandson’s (age 7) reads at a seventh grade level. It is challenging to find books with a subject matter appropriate for a second grader that earn AR points.

  7. Greetings,
    I’m so glad you’re addressing the pros & cons of AR.
    I’m an old school middle school teacher, a huge fan of Frank Smith’s understanding of how we learn to read. AR flies in the face by limiting readers by assumed level. Smith said we learn to read because we humans like to think, consider, & understand. He also noted that our interests change & shift. He advocated people reading the book that appeals. Period. In my 32 years teaching & my 36 years working with youth, I concur. Should an 8th grader go back & read Dr. Seuss? If it interests him, absolutely. It won’t hold him back; he’ll see it a second time, through his 8th grade eyes, & just like the parent who read it to him when he was 4, he can enjoy it on a non-4-year-old level. Next, is it okay for him to put down Seuss & pick up Tolstoy? If Tolstoy appeals, absolutely. He won’t understand it all, but then, he didn’t understand all the levels of that Seuss book read to him when he was 4, either. Thanks for asking me to vent!

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I too am a big Frank Smith fan. It’s been so validating to hear everyone’s response to the post. I wrote it because oftentimes I feel like I’m alone on a little island. It’s nice to know we’re not alone. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  8. I am new to all of this AR stuff since our oldest in 1st and has just started the program. With only two weeks in….my son has taken off with WANTING to reading because he has goal and reason to read. Which has made his 20 minute read aloud time less of a painful for myself. Now with that said, we are avid readers in our house, and the main reason he doesn’t want to read books at his current reading level is because the plot lines are not like the Chapter books we have been reading to him for years. Mainly I just wanted to thank you for the reminder to just encourage him to read what ever he wants and just enjoy it. Also to continue to make it fun. Thanks for the post.

    1. So glad your young one loves reading. Like you my experience with AR has been a mixed bag. I wish you and your new reader many happy reading moments.

  9. I teach 1st grade and I must say that Iove Ar. I allow my students to read & take Ar tests on whatever book appeals to them. I also have a separate bookshelf in class that doesn’t have Ar levels for leisure reading. I’ve found that the manner in which Ar is handled has a huge influence. Yes, my students love their points and rewards but they also LOVE to read. I’ve seen such significant improvement. It’s by no means a burden on my students’ parents because I have an awesome Ar collection in my class. I don’t believe in telling kids that they could only read within their level. As a teacher, I feel that is a game changer & if handled positively can be a wonderful influence on reason.

  10. Oh. My. Gosh. Valerie. Thank you for writing on this! (Also, thanks for your website. It’s pretty sweet!)
    I am the mother of a girl who was raised on AR, which does have some benefit, as you stated above. We are Muslims and my daughter has gone to a private school for most of her childhood. I think that private schools generally do not want to be accused of producing kids who can’t read, so they push AR books with a vengeance! The problem is, books that these kids should be reading in addition to the mainstream, that feature Muslim heritage, Muslim-American culture, Arab, South Asian, Mediterranean flavors, etc. are’t being touched because they are not AR books! My personal attempts to get some books admitted to the AR program have been returned with dreaded email silence, and have been a source of frustration, to say the least. Unfortunately, I have been also unable to get enough interest among my daughter’s friends parents as well. ~sigh~

  11. I am currently a fourth grade teachers. Seventeen years ago when I started teaching in second grade AR was very strong in my school. After many tears and lots of stress, my school finally dropped AR. I have lived in blissfulness for years. I have just found out that our school will be doing AR again next year, against my wishes, yet I have been put on the implementation team. I know it has changed, but it is still rewarding for reading. So my question is: What are some suggestions of how to implement this program so that students have the best experience? Thank you for any thoughts.

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