To: St. Francis de Sales School Board
CC: Kitty Lovell (Principal)
From: Edith Erickson
Re: Accelerated Reader Program
The Accelerated Reader (AR) program deserves some reconsideration as an element of our school’s overall reading program. The Accelerated Reader parent company, Renaissance Learning, claims that the program is “fully supported by scientifically based research” and that “AR is effective in improving students’ reading achievement.” (Renaissance Learning, 2012) However, opponents of the program claim that the program does little to improve student reading achievement because it does not use “theoretically sound instructional practices.” (Biggers, 2001)
Based on observations of my students who have used the program, I do not think that AR is effective in improving reading achievement and does not promote a long term desire to read. AR was sold as a program that helps to differentiate instruction. The problem is that it does not provide instruction; it is an assessment program, so differentiation of instruction is not possible. (Biggers, 2001) In addition, research shows that independent reading, as promoted by the AR program, is most successful and beneficial when paired with “direct instruction in reading strategies and with reading extension activities”, both of which are not elements of AR. (Elley & Mangubhai, 1983) In addition, the questions presented on the quizzes are shallow and do not require critical thinking. Since the program relies heavily on rewards, students will lose interest in reading if the motivation to read does not become intrinsic. In fact, in a study conducted about the topic of reading for enjoyment, it was found that middle school students who took part in AR in elementary school read less than their middle school peers who had not been exposed to the program. (Pavonetti, Brimmer, & Cipielewski, 2002) Instead of looking at a book and evaluating it for interest, the students are simply concerned with how many points it is worth, leaving them without the skills needed for making independent book choices.
To solve the problem of reading achievement in our school, we should consider adopting a new reading program that focuses upon teaching reading strategies and offers greater choice for students in their independent reading choices. In addition, we need to either scale back the focus on AR or completely discontinue its use altogether. Before jumping to rash decisions, as policy makers for our school, I suggest that we explore a variety of options and learn how to best develop not only fluent readers, but readers who will be life long, self-motivated readers. I suggest all board members read, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. In the book, Gallagher addresses many of the practices used in schools that discourage lifelong reading, one of which is the idea of overvaluing the creation of test takers over that of lifelong readers.
In order to make a positive change in the direction of our reading program, we need to establish a vision for reading in our school. What should our students be capable of in terms of reading when they leave our school? What attitude should they have towards reading? We also need to develop the skills of the reading teachers in our school. There are online professional development opportunities available that could be taken advantage of in order to help our teachers grow. Improving student achievement needs to start with improving how we support our teachers’ professional growth. Another important element is the inclusion of incentives. Rather than providing incentives for earning points as in AR, is there another way we can provide incentives for students that would lead to an intrinsic motivation to read for enjoyment? We need to examine the resources in our building to be sure we have the materials to successfully implement any changes we decide to make to our program. Finally, we need to establish a plan for action, taking into account our building’s resources, up to date reading research, and proven best practices. If we can do these things, I have no doubt that we can provide our students with a quality reading education and instill a lifelong love of reading in our students.
Biggers, D. (2001). The Argument Against Accelerated Reader. In Journal of Adolescent
& Adult Literacy(Vol. 45, pp.
72-75). Retrieved from http://dianedalenberg.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/argument-against-ar.pdf.
Elley, W., & Mangubhai, F. (1983). The Impact of Reading on Second Language Learning. Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 53-67. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/747337.
Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Pavonetti, L., Brimmer, K., & Cipielewski, J. (2002). Accelerated reader: What
are the lasting effects on the reading habits of middle school students exposed
to accelerated reader in elementary grades? Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference, Scottsdale, AZ.
Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED456423.pdf.
Renaissance Learning (2012). 171 research studies support the effectiveness of accelerated reader. Retrieved from http://www.renlearn.com/ar/research.aspx.
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