Muddling through the blogosphere

Accelerated Reader – Time to Say “No”?


Let me start this rant with a positive example of how the Accelerated Reading Program is used at some school sites. I’m thinking of the 5th grade teacher who is starting a unit on the American Revolution and is seeking historical fiction and biographies to supplement the history textbook.  The school librarian has used AR’s leveling and labeling system to make it easy for the teacher to provide his/her students with books that match a wide range of reading abilities.  If this is how AR is being used at your site, then I think the expense and time commitment is certainly justifiable.

I fear the above use is not the norm though, and the more common practice is that students take AR quizzes in a computer lab…where they receive no feedback on their answers.  I think Robert Marzano’s research makes visible the harm in using technology solely for assessment rather than as a teaching/learning tool:

I grabbed this screen shot from Marzano’s CUE 2009 keynote address (, which I highly recommend watching.

In my district, many of our elementary sites are paying for the pricey web-based version of the quizzes. For the most part, I’ve kept silent on the value of the program, since so many teachers seem to like it.  Several years ago, I heard Cheryl Lemke share research from the Metiri Group’s research on AR. Their findings were that AR was “a wash” – some students would improve their reading; others would show a decrease in reading scores.  Following Lemke’s presentation, I sent out an inquiry to the NCTE‘s Talkies group.  NCTE friend and mentor Nancy Patterson shared that “cheating was a major issue” and what the research really showed was “buy the books, not the tests.” A quick Google search on Stephen Krashen +Accelerated Reader brought up a white paper entitled Does Accelerated Reader Work? Here are the findings in a nutshell:

The results presented here strongly suggest that of the four aspects of AR, access to books, time devoted to reading, tests, and rewards, only the first two are supported by research. There is considerable evidence that providing access to books results in more reading and better reading and considerable evidence that providing time to read results in better reading. There is suggestive evidence that incentives do not promote additional reading in the long term. The AR research literature does nothing to change these conclusions.”

What set off this rant? A computer lab teacher at one of my EETT sites asked if it would be OK to load AR onto the laptops in the wireless cart that had just arrived for the 4th grade teachers.  I replied to her with a copy to the principal that I was OK with it as long as the taking of AR quizzes did not replace the blogging and in2books reading and writing that the students were beginning to engage in.  Since the goal of the grant is to improve literacy skills, especially writing, I felt the need to make clear that AR would not improve student writing skills.  I had a sudden nightmarish vision of the $20,000 COW becoming a vehicle for mindless time spent testing, via multiple choice, recall – with no time left for connecting, creating, collaborating, sharing, or any kind of higher-order thinking.  The principal responded that he doubted that would be the case with these teachers.  And from what I have seen during classroom visits, the laptops are indeed being used to promote 21st century literacies (by a 4th grade team that is for the most part new to technology – but extremely dedicated, talented and open to new ideas).

Because so many sites seem committed to the AR program (and expense), I’m hoping readers might have more and better examples of how AR is worth the time and expense. I’m all for the increased access to books; it’s just the testing part I question.  Am I missing something?


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