AR Programs: Healthy Competition Gone Wrong

When I was in elementary school, I remember participating in a program called AR, which is short for Accelerated Reader. For those of you who are not familiar with AR, it is essentially a competitive reading program created to promote a love and skill for reading in students. Basically, how this works is children choose books to read within their personal reading range and each is worth a certain amount of points, with the higher level books being worth more. After reading each book, the child has to pass an online test on the book in order to receive their points. This purpose of the test is to make sure that the students have fully comprehended what they read. The more a child reads, and the higher the level that he or she reads on, the more points that child is awarded and he or she is rewarded certain prizes depending on his or her points. To help further explain how this works and what the program entails, I have included a short video here (Click here to view).

Although this is the typical pattern of AR for all schools, different schools can choose to reward their children in different ways. For example, I found a video of a man speaking about the AR program at  Jefferson Elementary and how they reward their students for participating in the AR program (Click here to view). Some of these rewards included gift cards, trophies, movies, pizza, and even a “hall of fame” board if you reach a certain level. Although some people think that this reward system is an effective and fun way of promoting children’s love for reading, I would have to argue that there are some negative aspects of the AR program that make it more harmful than useful in promoting EVERY child’s love for reading.


The first issue I have with AR is that it enforces that reading is important for its extrinsic values, such as the rewards and prizes, not for its intrinsic value. Some students become so wrapped up in the prizes and rewards that they forget about reading for the love of it, and do it to “get ahead in the competition”, which ruins the main point of this program. Some children will simply skim through higher level books or read summaries to pass the test in order to get more points, instead of reading because they are genuinely interested in a certain book. If children are learning that reading is fun because you are rewarded for it, how well will they adjust to reading in higher levels of education, such as high school or college, when reading is more of a mandatory task of which you are not really rewarded for?

The next major issue I have with AR is how the competition affects certain students. Although I touched on how the competition promotes “cheating” in this program in the previous paragraph, I am more concerned with the negative effects it has on the children who aren’t on top in the competition. If we sit down and think about how this program works, the students who will most likely be on top in the competition are those who have higher reading levels and who have a lot of extra time to read for fun. These children likely have parents at home who promote daily reading and the importance of reading for fun. On the other hand, children who are slow readers or are behind in reading comprehension will likely fall behind in the competition. These children will likely become more self-conscious about their reading abilities and feel inferior to or less-capable than the children who are on top in the AR competition. This will likely turn these children away from reading, potentially throughout their entire school career,  unless someone intervenes and tells them that they are good enough and reading can still be fun. Unfortunately, these children who are behind their peers in certain reading skills might not have parents who are directly involved in their education or will promote reading outside of the classroom, meaning that this child’s only real reinforcement for reading likely comes from school.


This was always the problem I had with AR when I was in elementary school. It wasn’t that I was dumb or couldn’t read on a higher level, but I always read at a slower pace than others. This made it harder for me to read books as quickly as some of my classmates, meaning I was further behind my peers in the competition. Since I never received any rewards for my reading abilities, I felt that I just wasn’t good at reading and I held a  negative attitude toward reading throughout my entire school career.

Although this is not always the case, and there are some really good things about the AR program, I feel that it does more harm than good in promoting a love for reading in all children. It is a great program for those who are good readers and will succeed in the competition, but it is potentially detrimental for those who are closer to the bottom, which are usually the children we are the most worried about to begin with. Therefore, I think it is much more useful to use other strategies, such as teachers reading aloud with their students or allowing for free reading time in class, to promote a love for reading. Reading aloud is a strategy that I feel is very effective because, not only does it give children a role model for how good readers are supposed to read, but it also allows for animation and role-playing. This always makes reading more exciting and fun, especially for younger children. Instilling a love for reading in your students at a very young age is very important for each child’s academic career, but in my opinion,  there are far better ways to do this than through AR programs.




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