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…’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.


22 Responses

  1. Yup, I see many frustrated kids and parents in my library who are struggling to find AR books. I totally sympathize!!

  2. First of all, the AR post made me so sad. A few years ago, our English department got a memo with the “good news” that the district was going to purchase AR for us as part of a grant we’d received. We did some research, and it didn’t take us long to respond with a sound “no thank you.” Instead, we requested that the AR money be used for literature circles sets (4-5 copies of high interest books) and a series of author visits, and that’s what we got instead.

    You are going to love THE BOOK WHISPERER. I agree with you – it should be required reading for teachers and — I’ll go a step further — the administrators who decide on reading programs for schools.

  3. I use AR in my classroom but it’s only part of the reading program. Our library lets kids choose 2 books from the library each week. I ask that one of them be an AR book and the other can be whatever they want. I think there are some GREAT things about AR but it’s not perfect, for sure. No system is the end-all, be-all but as PART of a reading program, I think it has a place.

  4. We finally got away from this by purchasing a system called AR online. It is from the Renaissance company, but it is online. We have access to every test ever made and any that are made in the future. My students are now able to take a test on virtually any book they pick up. Even new books after a reasonable amount of time.
    Although I am still against most things AR, I like this system SO MUCH BETTER. Cost is an issue, but our PTO paid for it.

  5. That sounds incredibly frustrating!

    Maybe we should just start a fundraising drive to buy copies of the Book Whisperer for all of those people. I agree with you (and I’m only a little way into the book myself so far) that this could make a tangible difference!

  6. I’m a 5th grade reading/language arts teacher. I have to use AR too and feel the same frustrations. I have challenged my students to reach their 100% goal but am allowing them to make AR quizzes or I make the quizzes after reading a book. This is taking loads of my time, but I do NOT want a child turning down a book because it is not AR. (Think Red Kayak and Tangerine!!) I hate that I have to “push” it but I am trying to make the best of it. I am very interested about the on-line option because that would save me a bunch of time.

  7. Oops! I forgot to say I ordered the Book Whisperer book this weekend and I’m so glad I did! Amazon says it will be here Wednesday!! 🙂

  8. As a teacher of Language Arts, I work very closely with the Literacy teacher on my team. In September we agreed that we both wanted our students to read several books each marking period. We set up our classroom libraries according to genre, level, and also tagged all AR books. We require the students to read a certain number of books each marking period and take an AR quiz, when available. However, we also provide them an alternative assessment worksheet. There are several different forms that we use including one, which requires the kids to make up their own test. Our system is not perfect, but it does encourage students to read what they enjoy and not be forced to read only AR books.

  9. […] (Follow-up to AR Frustrations) Posted on March 17, 2009 by thereadingzone Well, after venting about AR, I downloaded the list of AR tests our middle school owns.  I then went through the entire list, […]

  10. Last I knew (I retired 2 years ago) you could still put in your own tests. If a kid wanted to read a book for which we didn’t yet own the test. The kid would write the questions (often the teacher had read the book) and I would edit the questions and then we would do a readability and the kid would be the first to take the test after we put it in (which takes 15 minutes or less…that way you can put local interest books in AR.

  11. […] again, Sarah shows us that there is always a way to make lemonade out of administrative lemons. In this post (15 March 2009), she shares her frustration of a once-reluctant-now-voracious reader who wants help […]

  12. I have similar frustrations with AR. We don’t have such a strict mandate on how many AR points they accumulate. I allow students to write written reports on non-AR books for credit. I do not like the leveling system that AR has. It makes no sense. How can The Lightning Thief and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs both be the same level?

  13. Our school uses the web based AR tests. This has provided ove 100,000 different tests. I have been much less frustrated with AR now. We found the cost per student was well worth it. I noticed a previous post mentioned “Red Kayak” and “Tangerine” . Those are both on our list. I think the web based system is a better alternative than buying single tests.

  14. As a 10th grade student I must say AR is the worst thing Ever! I like too read but there no good/popular AR books. and the ones that are good are always checked out of the library. – My point is I dont think AR is designed well for older kids EX: High school kids.

    The point system is wacked up! You may get 20 points for a big book that was easy to read , but only 2 for a really hard short book .
    EX: Harry Potter(14 pts.) vs. William Shakespere books (1pt.)

  15. I am hoping someone can help me with this- Frustration is not what we are feeling about AR. In our school Ar is now part of my child’s reading GRADE. She is a very poor reader and we have talked to the teacher about it. The teacher joked it off. Now its the end of the six weeks, my daughter did not get her points and she had some books she did not pass. So therefore as of Tomorrow she is failing reading and falls under the no pass no play rule, she has now been taken out of sports. She passed reading itself the teacher told us, but when they averaged in her AR tests and her points along with it, she failed. Can they do this? How and where can i find information on this? Please someone help me. Other towns in Texas do not even do AR anymore, is this a town by town choice, since others do not participate?

  16. is this program for the school ditrict or the schools what if you have a child struggling in her reading school book let alone some ar mess i think this program is just to make the schools look good so they can get money from the government! i hate ar reader

  17. […] Accelerated Reader frustrations Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed Just Add Water Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories: articles, librarian, rants, teacher Tags: ch-ch-ch-changes, teaching, why? Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

  18. […] though, they moved on to the local middle school, which utilized AR, and their growth stopped.  I documented a specific example back in 2009.  I know every school is different and that my experience does not […]

  19. […] similar programs) many times in the past.  Student after student would come back to me and say they were only allowed to read AR books.  We need to stop […]

  20. […] (and similar programs) many times in the past. Student after student would come back to me and say they were only allowed to read AR books. We need to stop […]

  21. […] wrote about this last year.  And I’ve written about my problems with AR […]

  22. […] 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 st…  […]

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