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When Accelerated Reader slams on the brakes

Submitted by on Friday, 10 February 2012 2 Comments

It’s a good thing Accelerated Reader wasn’t around when I was in third grade. I doubt there would have been AR tests for the Perry Mason novels I loved.

For unindoctrinated uninitiated, Accelerated Reader bills itself as “the world’s most widely used reading software.” Kids choose books based on their reading levels, which are calculated with a test. They then take quizzes of 10 to 20 questions. I suppose that ensures that you caught the major points, but if you miss one question you’ve just spent a lot of time reading to earn a the equivalent of a B in our school district.

All right, so those are the rules. We didn’t make them but we have to play by them, I tell Big Guy. That’s not even my biggest knock against Accelerated Reader.

Late last month, Big Guy finished reading “Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever.” Did I say reading? It was more like obsessing over. He’d read for 50 minutes at a time, and there aren’t many books that captivate him that much. He went to school the day after he finished it, fired up to take the AR quiz.

The computer wouldn’t let him. It turned out that the book was .2 higher than the top of his “allowed” reading range. There is no way I could have known that when I preordered the book, and there was no way I would have stopped Big Guy from reading it if I’d looked up its AR level before he started.

He was dismayed that he couldn’t take the test. “At least you read a good book that you liked,” I consoled him.

“But it was a big waste of time,” Big Guy said, hurtling a dagger through my reading-loving heart.

His teacher relented the next day and overrode the computer, though she told him she wouldn’t do it again.

That means no AR credit for the Harry Potter books he and I read every night – we’re currently on “Order of the Phoenix,” which is .9 above the top of his reading range. The only Potter book he’d be allowed to test on is “Sorcerer’s Stone,” which is .8 below his top level.

I had Big Guy take a sample quiz on “Order of the Phoenix,” and he kicked it in the butt even though we have six chapters left in the book. That’s how fascinated he is by this stuff the computer says he can’t comprehend. He missed only two of the 25 questions. One was on a minor point we’d read but he’d forgotten. The other was from a passage we hadn’t gotten to yet.

Last year, the AR problem was different. His school only went up to second grade, which meant the AR software didn’t go much farther than that. By February, three or four kids in his second-grade class had plowed through virtually everything the school had a test for. One of his classmates had probably maxed out by September. He was reading Harry Potter at the end of first grade, before there was a computer telling him he couldn’t.

I’ll take Accelerated Reader’s word for it that the program works wonderfully for a lot of children.

In our house, though, where there lives a child who chafes at being told he can’t pick books he loves, reading has become more about the frustration of finding something that works within the system than about love of literature.

It breaks my heart.

Copyright 2012 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Brenda said:

    I agree with you about the Accelerated Reading program. It is very restrictive for great readers and children who read a lot. My son went through the same strictures you and yours have faced. He is in third grade now and his teacher overrides the level because my son is in the Battle of the Books program and in the AIG program. He is 365 percent over his AR goal. That is just ridiculous.
    I believe it can be wonderful to establish regular reading practice for children but is not beneficial for ones who read out of love and excel at it naturally.

  • Debra said:

    I really hate the numbers game. He can’t just pick out a book. He has to check the AR level, and THEN check the AR points, because there’s a party every quarter for kids who achieve their points goals with an 85 percent average on the test. But wait! There’s more! This quarter, his average was standing at 84.something at the beginning of this week because he’d bombed a test back in December. He’d already made his points goal, but had to figure out something he could read and test on in a matter of days that would bring up his average. Oh, and in calculating the average, all test scores are weighted equally, which is why bombing a three-point AR test was dragging down his average even though he later rocked a 12-point test.

    See? This is just too much math to take into account for “pleasure” reading.