Accelerated Reader (AR) is a popular reading program used in public and private schools. But even if you’ve already heard of this online program or your child is currently using it, you may have questions about what it is or how it works. Here’s what you need to know about Accelerated Reader and how it might impact your child at school.
What Accelerated Reader Is—and Isn’t
AR helps teachers track students’ independent practice and progress with reading. It’s not specifically designed for kids with learning and thinking differences. 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 grade 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.
Your child’s teacher can work with the school district’s reading specialist or curriculum to track progress and set goals in the AR program.
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:
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. So a fourth-grader with that reading level is two years behind her peers in terms of her skills.
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). In AR, it’s used to guide book selection.
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.
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.
Students usually stay at the same ZPD and reading level for a set time. That’s usually a 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 ZPD for the next time period.
How Accelerated Reader Monitors Progress
In addition to quizzes, AR also uses a “point goals” system. Every book on the BookFinder list has a point value. Teachers set specific goals for each student. They include goals for reading comprehension, difficulty of material and a target number of points. 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.
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.
Students can also earn points when they take the quiz for each book. Passing a quiz requires a score of at least 80. However, if they score higher than 60 percent on the quiz, they receive 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. A teacher can change the books a child may select at any step in the process.
Parents can also check their child’s progress on AR’s online parent portal. They can see what she’s reading and how she’s doing on quizzes.
You can preview a
few sample quizzes on the Accelerated Reader website. Otherwise, quizzes are usually only available to teachers and school districts using the program. If you want to know more about what’s on AR tests or how they’re used to map your child’s progress, consider setting up a
parent-teacher conference to get more information.
AR and Kids With Learning and Thinking Differences
For some kids who struggle with reading, the personalized approach of AR might be a benefit. They’re given their own realistic goals to achieve. They can also enjoy choosing and reading books that match their interests and abilities.
Some educators do have reservations, however. Here are concerns that parents of kids with learning and thinking differences may want to know about.
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 difficult for some kids with attention issues and
working memory issues. Kids with these issues may understand the larger message of a story. But they may not recall a character’s name or the color of her dog. Then students lose points or may not pass a quiz. Some teachers let students skim a book to find quiz answers. But that can still be very hard for some kids with certain learning and thinking differences.
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 can become acutely aware of what “level” they’re reading at compared with others. A school may color-code books by level. Or organize them by level in certain areas of the library. Struggling readers may be embarrassed by the books they’re reading.
AR recommends that teachers not use reading prizes. But some teachers still do. They might publicly give out prizes to individual kids who reach their point goals. Or they may offer something like a pizza party if everyone in the class earns a certain number of points. That can encourage 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.
If Your Child Struggles With Accelerated Reader
If your child is having trouble with quizzes or the books in her zone, here are some ways you can help.
Ask the teacher about alternative assessments. AR offers another type of quiz that checks for comprehension, and maybe your child could take that instead. Or perhaps she could take the quiz orally instead of online. Another option might be writing or recording a summary of a book’s key events.
Talk with your child about the books she reads at school. Ask her to tell you about a book’s characters, plot and main message. It may help her think through the book.
Share your own books and stories together at home. With younger kids, you might read a book together, then talk about the characters and events. With older kids, you might suggest online stories for your child to read. Chat about them and help her pick out important details.