Accelerated Reader (called A.R. by most students) is a computer software program that can be purchased by school districts. It is designed to encourage reading by children. A child selects a book from more than 25,000 titles (fiction and nonfiction), reads it, and then takes a quiz on the contents. The books in the database are classified according to their reading level. When a child masters a certain number of books at one level, she is encouraged to choose books at the next level.
Because each child is reading at his or her own level, children are competing with themselves, trying to better their previous reading levels. One student might be reading Junie B. Jones books while another student in the same grade might be reading Harry Potter books. Teachers usually set individual goals for students based on the number of books read, their quality and their difficulty level. Often school time is used for quiet reading of A.R. books and students are assigned A.R. reading for homework.
When a student begins an A.R. program, he is assessed to find his reading level. He is offered hundreds of books to read in this range. When he finishes reading a book, he takes a multiple choice test (usually ten questions) on that book online using a classroom computer, a media center computer, a NEO 2, a tablet, Apple apps, or other electronic equipment. Immediately the student receives his score which is converted into points using this formula: (10 + reading level) x (words in book ÷ 100,000).
How do students know the reading level of a book? Some libraries have three-ring binders listing A.R. books and their reading levels. In my neighborhood school, books have colored dots attached to their spines, and nearby, a prominent chart lists the colors and reading level they signify. Students look for books with their color on the spine. But other media centers have other ways of differentiating reading levels.
In my neighborhood school, students accumulate points to “buy” a cap and later buttons to attach to the cap. The more buttons, the more reading the child is doing and the more success the child is having. Hats are usually not allowed in the school, but students who earn A.R. hats can wear those hats and do so proudly. Other schools reward students in other ways.
Teachers receive feedback from the program, allowing them to intervene in a child’s learning if he is not making progress.
Students in my neighborhood school each have a Neo 2 assigned to them. This is a portable electronic device that they can keep in their desks and use to take A.R. tests. Additionally, they can use the device for other software programs, such as computing math facts. The Neos allow a student to take an A.R. test at almost any time of the day without forming a queue at the classroom computer. Students who finish assignments early are often allowed to work on their Neos.
Is the A.R. program appropriate for a kindergartener? The child must be able to read a bit in order to take the quizzes. And if she does poorly on a quiz and wants to take it again, she can’t. She must move on to another book. But if your child can read, it’s a way to encourage more reading and to prove to you and her that she is understanding what she reads.
Accelerated Reader was a popular program in the school where I taught. There were competitions each month and each quarter to see who had earned the most points. A school winner was announced at the Honors Assembly. High scores were posted, and occasional ice cream parties recognized achievement.
Many teachers and parents liked the program because it got children reading. A child who detested “reading for fun” would read an A.R. book. The competitive nature of the program encouraged some kids to read more and more. Teachers required a certain number of A.R. points to be earned as homework. Because the A.R. books were good, teachers and students assumed the child was reading quality books. I noticed kids talking about books and recommending books to each other. They remembered the name of the author and then read his entire collection.
One criticism of the program is that the test questions are based on the ability to remember trite facts, not to comprehend the information. For example a typical question might be “What was the name of Tom’s cat?” A student who did not have the skill to remember details would do poorly, even though he may have truly understood the symbolism and irony of the story. Another criticism is that a student could choose easy books, not challenging books. Fifth graders were reading “picture books” to earn 2 points, rather than chapter books worth 12 points.
Even so, I think A.R. is a good program. My children did not read for pleasure. I forced them to read 30 minutes a day. Had there been an Accelerated Reader program in their school, I know they would have been motivated to earn points. Reading a picture book is better than reading no book. Reading twenty picture books and earning perfect scores on the tests might encourage students to try reading something a bit more challenging.
Accelerated Reader is not a free program. Each test must be purchased by the school district. It requires a lot of work to set up, but once it is implemented, it is great. More books/tests can be added every year.
If your child does not have A.R. in his school, talk to the media specialist or the principal.