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What is Accelerated Reader?

By Peg Rosen

At a Glance

  • Accelerated Reader is a computer-based program that schools may use to monitor reading practice and progress.

  • It helps teachers guide kids to books that are at kids’ individual reading levels.

  • Kids take short quizzes after reading a book to check if they’ve understood it.

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a popular reading program used in schools. AR helps teachers track students’ independent practice and progress with reading. It’s not specifically designed for kids who learn and think differently. But teachers can use it to help guide struggling readers to books they can read successfully. 

The program doesn’t teach reading skills and strategies. It’s intended to encourage kids to read independently, at their own level and pace. While the program covers K–12, it’s mainly used in elementary schools and, to some extent, in middle schools.

The idea behind AR is that kids enjoy reading more when they can select their own books. (The program has more than 150,000 titles to choose from on its Bookfinder list.) 

Each book has online “reading practice” quizzes, which you may hear referred to as “AR tests.” Teachers use these quizzes to track each student’s progress and set appropriate goals for each.

A classroom teacher can work with the school district’s reading specialist or curriculum coordinator to track progress and set goals in the AR program.

Dive deeper

How Accelerated Reader is used

There’s a process behind how each child uses the program in school. Here are the five steps typically involved:

  1. Teachers determine each student’s reading level. The program provides a multiple-choice assessment that takes kids about 15 minutes on a computer. Teachers can also use results from other assessments or their own judgment. Reading level is based on typical grade-level skills. A score of 2.5 means the student’s skills are typical for a child in the fifth month of second grade. 

  2. Each student is assigned to a specific range of books on the program’s Bookfinder list. Books in that range will be challenging for the student but not too hard to read. This concept is called a zone of proximal development (ZPD).

  3. Students choose a book that’s in their ZPD. A teacher or librarian may help with selecting books. AR recommends that kids spend about 30 minutes in school each day reading their books independently.

  4. After finishing a book, the student takes a short, multiple-choice online quiz. (These quizzes may be available in Spanish or read-aloud versions.) It checks if the student has read the book and understands it. Kids usually take their quizzes in the classroom or library during the designated reading time.

  5. Students usually stay in a ZPD range for a set time, like one marking period. At the end of that time, students take a 20-minute reading assessment. It’s used to adjust the books that each student can select. A teacher may raise or lower a child’s range for the next time period.

Learn about other ways to help kids find books to read independently .

How Accelerated Reader monitors progress

In addition to quizzes, AR uses a “point goals” system. Kids earn points for every book they read. The number of points is based on a book’s length and difficulty. For example, a 3-point book may be a short, somewhat easier choice. A 10-point book would be longer and more challenging.

Teachers set specific goals for each student. They include a target number of points, goals for reading comprehension, and difficulty of material. The goals are based on the child’s ZPD and reading level.

Kids are expected to reach their individual goals within the marking period or other set time. When teachers adjust a child’s ZPD, they create a new set of goals. These are used to motivate students during the next time period.

Students can also earn points when they take the quiz for each book. They have to get a score of at least 80 to pass. But if they score higher than 60 percent, they get a fraction of the total points they could earn from it.

If a student doesn’t pass several quizzes, the teacher may adjust goals or explore why the student is having trouble. The teacher can change the books a child may select at any step in the process.

Parents can also check progress on AR’s online parent portal. They can see what their child is reading and how they’re doing on quizzes. The quizzes, though, are usually only available to teachers and school districts using the program. 

Families: Ask about what’s on AR tests and how they’re used to map your child’s progress at your next parent-teacher conference .

Pros and cons for kids who learn and think differently

The personalized approach of AR might benefit some kids who struggle with reading. They’re given their own realistic goals to achieve. They may also like choosing and reading books that match their interests and abilities.

Some educators have reservations, though. Here are concerns about the program and kids who learn and think differently.

  • AR quizzes might not suit all abilities. They generally ask kids to recall rote or basic details about what they read. This can be very hard for some kids who struggle with focus and working memory. 

  • Quizzes don’t tell teachers much about why a student may be struggling. They don’t generally reveal a child’s critical and big-picture thinking.

  • The AR system may affect some students’ self-esteem. Kids may be highly aware of what “level” they’re reading at compared with others. Struggling readers may be embarrassed by the books they’re reading.

  • Some teachers give out reading prizes even though AR recommends not to. They might give out prizes to students who reach their point goals in front of other kids. This can lead to unfair competition among students. And it can make struggling readers feel even more pressure to fill their quota.

  • Frequent quizzing can cause test anxiety. That may make it even more difficult for struggling readers to find pleasure in reading.

Read about how to give praise that builds kids’ self-esteem .

If kids struggle with Accelerated Reader

When kids are having trouble with quizzes or the books in their zone, there are ways to help.

Educators: Consider alternative assessments. AR offers another type of quiz that checks for comprehension. Kids might also take the quiz orally instead of online. Another option might be writing or recording a summary of a book’s key events.

More broadly, you can also read about structured literacy , a research-based approach to teaching reading. 

Families: At home, talk with kids about the books they’re reading. Who are the characters? What’s the plot and main message? This can help kids think through the book.

Learn more about helping your child with reading at home . If you’re concerned about your child’s struggles, find out what might make a child eligible for special instruction in reading .

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom