Accelerated Reader Frustrations

The middle school in my district uses Accelerated Reader.  Students are leveled and each level is responsible for attaining a specific number of points each marking period.  For example, Level A students might be responsible for 50 points, Level B for 35 points, and Level C for 15 points.  The district seems to own a select number of tests (and I’m sure it’s a large amount…..it’s just not every single test available ) and the students must choose their books based on the tests which are available, in order to receive the points they need.  Every so often I get an email from a former student asking for book recommendations, but each one ends with the same plea- “It has to be an AR book!”

This past week, I received one of these emails from a student.  At the beginning of last year, she was one of my most reluctant readers.  By the end of the school year, she was one of my most enthusiastic readers.  She loves Laurie Halse Anderson, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Melissa Morgan.  She left school with big reading plans for summer vacation and I couldn’t have been prouder.  Last week she sent me an email asking for some recommendations.  I immediately recommended Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass, and Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass.  I was thrilled when she emailed me back this weekend…..until I read the email.

the first book [Wintergirls] sounds ammmazing..there’s just one problem! it’s soo new its not an AR book and i only have 5 points and need 30! right now im reading daniels story..and i wanna read a child called it but, its not an ar book.

ARG!  I don’t even know how to respond to her!  She would LOVE Wintergirls. I know she would.  But it’s not an “AR book”.  So instead of reading the books she wants to read and is dying to read, she is forced to choose books off of a preconstructed list.  I am frustrated beyond belief.  How is this helping our kids become readers?  It only makes reading more of a “school mandated” activity that reaches into their independent reading.  My former student told me she doesn’t think she will be able to read any of the books I recommended until the summer, because she has to read her AR books.  And she has only enjoyed one book from the AR list this year.  It’s the most frustrating thing this Language Arts teacher has heard in a long time.

I am sure AR works great for some kids.  And I’m sure it gets some kids who never, ever read to pick up a book- because they are forced to.  But it is not creating readers.  And in some cases, it’s destroying the readers that I worked so hard to create.  With the money that is spent on programs like AR, the US could be funding classroom libraries for teachers, filled with new books and classics alike.  We could train teachers in reading workshop.  We could help create a generation of readers!  And the fact that we are losing this opportunity is heartbreaking.

Right now, I am reading an ARC of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (review coming soon)  If we could give every Reading, English, and Language Arts teacher a copy of her book, we could do more for our kids than any canned program ever will.  When will our Department of Education realize this?!

*Follow-up post found here.

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