I have always loved to read. A considerable chunk of my time outside the classroom in school always involved my nose being burrowed deep into a book. So, as you can imagine, having the opportunity to be rewarded for reading (beyond the sense of fulfillment experienced after one finishes a particularly good book) was one that I was more than eager to seize. So, what specifically was this opportunity that presented itself to me and my peers for the taking? Maybe this image rings a bell:
Ah, Accelerated Reader. Everything that occurred in my life before high school is kind of a blur in my mind, so I can not exactly recall when the start and end of this program occurred in my public school experience. At the least, I know that I started Accelerated Reader sometime in early elementary school and either ended the program at the end of elementary school or the beginning of middle school. Regardless, my most vivid memories of Accelerated Reader are during my fourth grade year.
Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll explain Accelerated Reader for those of you who are not familiar with the program. Lake Street Elementary School provides a concise definition of Accelerated Reader on their library web page, which I’ll include here:
“The Accelerated Reader program is a computerized program that tests reading comprehension. Students select books on their reading level, read independently, and take an independent comprehension test on the computer. Each book is worth a certain number of points based on its length and reading level. Students get a percentage of these points based on how many of the test questions they get right. The program tracks their progress over the course of the school year.”
If you were to step foot in an elementary school library similar to my own, you would see stickers like these on the spine of most of the books there:
The color band at the top of each sticker signifies the level of difficulty to which the book has been assigned. One of my favorite parts about the Accelerated Reader program was that I had the freedom to choose the books I wanted to read and could read and test myself on them at whatever pace I chose. Reading goals are set for each individual student with the help of educators to ensure that they are both challenging and realistic. According to the Accelerated Reader website, there are over 160,000 quizzes available for students to take in order to accumulate points.
In the case of my elementary school, special experiences were given to students who exceeded a certain threshold for Accelerated Reader points. During my fourth grade year, students who exceeded a certain amount of points were given the opportunity to skip the latter half of the school day to play volleyball and eat pizza.
I acknowledge that the program is not perfect. Just because I had a positive experience with Accelerated Reader does not mean that every student has had a positive experience. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I have always enjoyed to read — so this program was something that I (naturally) always enjoyed.
There is a number of literature that currently exists that makes the case against the implementation of Accelerated Reader. As this School Matters article argues:
“AR could also have the effect of discouraging reading in the long run: Reading is intrinsically pleasant. Substantial research shows that rewarding an intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. AR might be convincing children that reading is not pleasant. No studies have been done on the long-term effect of AR.”
Mark Pennington from the Pennington Publishing Blog is a reading specialist who is an ardent opponent of Accelerated Reading. In a 2012 post, he outlines 18 reasons why the program should not be implemented. These reasons are varied and are related to book selection (i.e. students are limited to the books Accelerated Reader has in its selection), reader response (i.e. it induces a student mindset that reading is like a chore that has to be done), reductiveness (i.e. program takes away time that teachers could be using to teach novels to entire class), and research base (i.e. short and long-term effectiveness is questionable).
So, what are your thoughts on Accelerated Reader? What was your experience with the program like? Does it do more harm than good for students and educators?