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Re: Experiences with Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader?

Accelerated Reader has become a very popular program, but it is very problematic. How problematic it is depends on how it is used, but I've always been troubled by its claims. AR supposedly claims that it turns kids on to reading by allowing them to choose their books, sort of. All AR books (and it uses real books) are leveled. Some teachers and/or school librarians hold kids tightly to these levels, not allowing students to go above or below the level that they are on, as determined by how well they answer 10 multiple choice questions on the book they have just finished. The problem with this is that readability levels are not accurate--ever. There are various readaility formulas out there and I'm not sure which one AR uses, but it doesn't matter. There is simply no way to use a formula to determine how difficult or simple a book is. For example, Toni Morrison's book Beloved comes out at about an 8th grade readability level, but there is no way that book is really for 8th graders. The magical realism that Morrison uses confuses college students. Eighth graders would be completely lost. But how difficult a book is depends on the individual reader, her or his prior knowledge and experience with that particular book's text structure, etc.

To compound this, AR determines whether a student has successfully read a book if that student can answer 10 multiple choice questions. Test savvy kids can answer those questions without reading the book. Really good readers often over-think their answers and fail. Less able readers don't catch the reading bug. Teachers, already strapped for time, think that AR provides a break for them because they can't possibly read all the books available. They over-rely on the quizzes. But the quizzes simply do not provide a good indication that a student has even read the book.

What many teachers find is that kids cheat like crazy, sharing answers to the questions amongst their peer group. But AR and its clones also send the message that reading is about getting answers to questions right, not about deeply engaging in literature. And, if a book is not listed as an AR book, kids won't read it (or aren't allowed to) because they can't get "AR Points." Those points can be used for grades or to "buy" trinkets. That's another problem. We want students to develop a love for reading, not a love of collecting points and prizes. Trying to suck kids into reading for points and trinkets doesn't usually translate into transitioning kids into loveers of reading. In fact, the point thing often turns kids off. Extrinsic rewards just don't work. (Pizza Hut's book it program doesn't usually turn kids onto books, either).

Schools that go directly from a canned literature program to AR sometimes find that students read more and use the library more. But that will happen even more when schools simply use a reading workshop environment. And, they can save themselves a bunch of money. They just need to buy a bunch of good books for kids.

What also troubles me about AR is their claim that their program is in keeping with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. That's an outright fabrication. Old Lev would would have a tizzy over that one. AR, I suspect, is counting on the fact that people will recognize the term ZPD and not know what it is.


Nancy Patterson, PhD
Associate Professor
Literacy Studies Program Chair
College of Education
Grand Valley State University

>>> Lisa Schiff <sflschiff@yahoo.com> 01/31/10 12:30 PM >>>
Hi Everyone,

Does anyone have any experience with or knowledge of Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader program? I've done a quick look and have not found much information other than promotional information about it.

Thanks in advance,

Lisa Schiff
San Francisco Public School Parent

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