Friday, April 8, 2016

Why We Are Moving on from AR

This post was written with Brandon Blom (@brandonkblom, you can check out his blog here). Brandon and I are both elementary school principals in the Roseville City School District.  Before being principals, Brandon was a middle school math teacher, and I was an elementary school teacher and then a middle school ELA/History teacher. Both of us are passionate and avid readers.

What has Accelerated Reader (AR) been used for in the past at our schools?
AR has been used as an accountability system to set point goals for kids to achieve by taking quizzes that only include multiple choice questions to check for basic understanding. The points and quizzes are used to monitor if students are reading.

For one year, AR would cost Stoneridge, a school of 550 kids, $4,085.  For Sargeant, 450 kids, the cost would be $3,515.

What do we want for our students?
As principals and parents we want our children to develop and continue a love of reading.  We want them to enjoy reading.  We want students to engage in conversation about books and topics they’ve read.  We want students to be excited about what they’re reading and choose to read; not feel they have to read.

The Stoneridge Staff all dressed up for Storybook Character Dress Up Day.

What do some students and some teachers like about AR? AND What can we do instead?

What do some students and teacher like about AR?

Earning points creates competition      →                 

Taking quizzes holds kids accountable → for reading and makes it easy to know if they are reading
What can we do instead?

Book Challenge  

Book Conferences with the Teacher
Padlet (See example below)
Google Forms (See example below)
Book Reviews and Commercials

Example of 3rd Grade Google Form
3rd Grade Padlet Wall

What do others say about AR?
There are many resources and articles linked below, but we also wanted to pull out a few excerpts from authors, teachers, and principals around the country.  

In The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, she states, “Programs like Accelerated Reader or Scholastic Reading performance counts, in which books are assigned a point value and students must complete a multiple-choice test after reading them, are the worst distortion of reading I can think of….Furthermore, shifting the purpose for reading a book toward the memorization of plot details and away from an overall appreciation for the books changes how students read.”  

In a recent blog post, teacher and author Pernille Ripp stated, “We must be reading to read.  Not for rewards, not for points, not for accomplishment charts, or even to move through levels.  We must read to become better human beings.  We must read so that we can shape the world around us.”

Jennifer LaGarde, Lead School Library Media Coordinator said: I don't know about you, but... I did not become a reader because someone held me accountable for reading. I did not become a reader because someone offered me "points" or other incentives for the quantity of books or pages I read. I did not become a reader because someone limited my reading selections to only to those titles on a certain reading level or within a specific lexile band. And I did not become a reader because someone forced me to complete reading logs, write book reports or create (and then reuse) the occasional diorama.

Stephen Krashen, educational researcher, stated,  “Despite the popularity of AR, we must conclude that there is no real evidence supporting it, no real evidence that the additional tests and rewards add anything to the power of simply supplying access to high quality and interesting reading material and providing time for children to read them.”

Brandon reading to 1st grade students
As a school, what are you doing to develop the love of reading in both students and staff?
BB: Posters around school for teachers to write “What I am Currently Reading”
Free Book for every student
Storybook Character Dress Up Day
Principal Reads to Every Class at least 4 times a year
Reading Book Whisperer -  entire staff
Collective Commitments Around Reading

RP: Staff Displays their “Hot Read”  - book they’re currently reading or a favorite
Principal Reads to Every Class at least 4 times a year
Monthly Book Cart at Recess - students give a book/take a book
Surprise Guest Readers
Door Decorating with Favorite Dr. Seuss Book

Rachael reading One to 3rd grade students 
What are your personal experiences with AR?
RP:  I’ll admit, as a teacher I used AR in my classroom.  I tweaked it to make it work for me, but there were some things that I liked. Over the past two years I’ve been reading about reading. I’ve taken the time to ask myself what I truly want for not only my own two children but all of the students at our school. I want them to enjoy reading and develop a passion for reading that stays with them throughout their life. This leads me to the question, does AR support that desire?

I think AR can appear to create a desire to read, but it's really just a desire to earn the points and reach the goal. What if the points are gone? Will the child still want to read? What happens if there is something they want to read without points?

On a personal note, my oldest son is an avid reader and has been since 2nd grade. He loves competition so he loves earning his points to prove that he can meet his goal. At the same time, this year I saw him abandon books that he wanted to read for two reasons: there was no AR quiz and books he received as a present (that he really wanted!) were only worth one point and he didn't want to waste his time. It was a sad moment for me when I saw that because of the guidelines around AR, he was giving up on books he really wanted to read.

Enjoying reading with a friend 

BB: I love competition.  It is part of the reason I love sports.  But if we are creating competition where students are losing when it comes to reading, it is wrong.  Have we had students miss their AR goal and feel like a total failure?  Yes we have.  And any system where students feel like they are not a reader because they missed a goal is wrong, especially when they might have read plenty.

My daughter loved reading The One and Only Ivan.  She had to tell me all about it everyday until she was finished.  She told me it was her favorite book she had ever read.  When she went to school to take the AR test she scored a 60%, she didn’t pass yet I know she could tell you everything about that book.  A little while later she was talking to a friend at our house about books they liked.  I didn’t hear her recommend The One and Only Ivan.  I asked her why and her response was that it was just ok.  I know she felt that way because she didn’t pass the AR test.

We had an author come and visit our school.  His book was mainly for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.  The author did a great job talking about the writing process and then went into his newest book.  Students were so excited about the book because of the way he described it.  After he was done giving his presentation, he asked if there were any questions.  The very first question that came up, “How many AR points is your book worth”.  Depending on what answer he gave students would either still want to read it or for some the book wouldn’t be worth enough points and therefore not worth reading.  

Wrapping it All Up
We know we stated it earlier but our main goal is for our students to love to read.  We want students that are lifelong readers and you don’t do that by worrying about how many points a book is worth or having to answer low level multiple choice questions.  Students become lifelong readers when they have choice in what they get to read, when they have adults that model a love of reading, when they get to have authentic conversations about the books they read and when they read to read and not because of rewards.  When we look at cost, rewards, limiting book selection, having students take tests that no adult would ever do after they read a book, AR doesn’t make sense to us.  And for all those reasons, that is why we are moving on from AR.

Articles or resources to share:


  1. Ya'll crushed it, nailed it, rocked it and ripped it!

  2. Agreed. Love the teachers that are celebrating reading at their sites!

  3. So taking a short quiz is bad, but dressing up like a story book character or decorating a door is a better alternative? I think it's all about how you present it and what you emphasize. I have had many students who started out reading for points and discovered a love for reading. AR is not meant to be the core reading program. By the way, at my school 60 is considered passing on AR tests.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read the post. The dressing up and door decorating are one thing our schools do to create excitement about books for children, they are not meant as alternatives to AR. We do know that some kids like the competition with points and reaching a goal however we feel that the same thing can be done without AR. Thank you for your feedback.

  4. I agree that it isn't meant to be the core reading program. I do all of the other things mentioned above with the books my students are reading to enhance their reading, and I meet with my students about their books! I think there are great things with both! Last year we had no AR program and I know for a fact that at least 1/3 of our kids simply wrote book titles down and faked their way through discussions, reports etc. AR is that safety net that shows me that they are accountable in more ways than one! What is so wrong with reaching a goal? They have to answer multiple choice questions on the texts that they read for a reading test and for the state tests too! It's all in how the teachers approach reading with their students. Reading aloud to students is extremely important also. Discussions using thin and thick questions is a must!

    1. Thank you Susan for taking the time to read and respond. We definitely agree that AR should not be a core reading program and it sounds like your classroom is full of ways to connect with students about what they are reading. We wanted to share alternatives to AR as well as how we are promoting the love of reading at our school sites. It is just our opinion that we can spend the money better elsewhere at our sites. We don’t think there is anything wrong with reaching a goal, but we don’t think it should be centered around books being worth points and student showing their knowledge around a basic multiple choice quiz.

  5. In an ideal world all children would read books for love... sadly with the allure of technology and the lack of "quality time" at home where parents/carers have enough space to "read to or with their children" - something has to be an initiator of children picking up a book.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. We all know that students all have different “quality time” at home and that is why we are doing everything we can at school to promote the love of reading. Technology can definitely be alluring for students and so far we have found that students would much rather add a book to their Padlet wall than just take a basic multiple choice test.

  6. It's about time! This all goes back to TRUSTING TEACHERS to know what their students need. Not every district, school, classroom, or individual student is going to be motivated in the same way. Teachers know best what works for their students. There are so many ways to motivate readers in a more authentic way than "points and prizes." The money saved by schools can be better spent on more books and programs such as visiting authors. Hopefully, this will motivate others to move on from AR.

    1. Thank you Professor Storytime for taking the time to read and respond. We agree that the money is better spent elsewhere.

  7. As a 5th grade teacher, I love AR! In class, I celebrate reading with my students, and have a vast library to help students find books that will help them become better readers. They inspire each other to read similar books, and conduct book talks with popular series books: Warriors, Gregor the Overlander, Rick Riordan, and Series of Unfortunate Events. AR helps set reasonable goals for students, and develop stronger independent reading skills.

    If students are reading just for the points, then it seems to me that the teacher is not doing his or her job in helping promote a love of reading, and/or helping students find level appropriate books that they find interesting and inspiring.

  8. I think we should keep AR testing. I volunteer with 2nd graders AR testing and at this age it appears to me, most kids, if not all, are not at all paying attention to the points.  Maybe as they get older this might be important but not in 2nd grade.  The good thing about the AR tests is it makes the kids read and then tests them on it.  If they did not do well on the test and they really knew the book well, maybe they misread the test question. Reading a test question correctly is an important skill and I know some of those AR test questions are tricky.  Having someone read to them is not necessarily going to stimulate them into picking up a book to read on their own. 
    If you want your child to play piano do you bring them to a concert 4 times a year or do you make them sit down and actually practice everyday?  I myself force my 7 year old son to read.  Sometimes it is a fight to get started, but a lot of times it is hard to get the book out of his hands when it's time for bed.

  9. Early in the post it's mentioned AR enables for easy assessment. This made me think about the flow of reading. Reading takes time. It's odd, methinks, how reading slows time down for me while I'm doing it yet around me time goes by quickly. I mean if I'm reading something I want to read, I'm engaged and deeply involved in the experience of sharing story with its author. At the same time, externally speaking, a lot of time goes by. My "blink of an eye" is someone else's "slow lane". I'm not a teacher so I don't know the ins and outs of tools and techniques. I wonder if part of the answer for finding effective strategies to teach reading requires a deeper understanding of what it's like for kids?

    One of my favorite reads growing up was Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I have deep feelings towards its theme today, 50 years later. I enlisted in the Navy, in part, because I wanted to know the sea and faraway lands. How might we assess that sort of engagement in a reader?

    As I meet with and talk with teachers I'm frequently amazed at how technical the conversations are. I guess it's not that much different for my instructional design peers and I. I know that my practice changed once I started getting professional development with teachers through EdCamp and CUE experiences. It was a shift-of-the-mind for me. I wonder if it would help teachers to take a step back or away from teaching in evaluating stuff like reading?

    Anyway.. two cents.

  10. I appreciate and agree with your comments. There are many different aspects to reading, therefore many different assessments. AR only assess the literal. That' is why it shouldn't be the core reading program. In my opinion it does assess whether the child actually read and understood the book. I would live to have meaningful deep conversations with each student on each book they read but with 20 plus students and expectations of all the other subjects I teach that is impossible. So for me AR is a helpful tool.

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  12. I love this! So many great ideas on this blog post. On your Google Form, the question that says, "This book is a..." what are the choices in the drop down menu? Thanks!