Several months ago, I posted an impassioned blog entry about my son’s experience with the Accelerated Reader program at his school. Since then, I’ve been wrestling with “the system” and thought I would share the outcome here – because it’s one of many things lately that have made me feel anxious and helpless. I’ve been quite . . . earnest . . . in my quest for a resolution.
I’ll give you the good news first: My son still loves to read and still enjoys his books.
All of my battles are waged in the background, via phone calls and emails, and he’s not aware of them. If you’ll remember, he didn’t enjoy reading at all (dreaded it, in fact) until late last summer when he discovered books that he enjoys. So it was still quite precarious for him and I felt he could have a setback with the smallest bit of discouragement – or even subtle lack of encouragement – at school.
I was told repeatedly that he absolutely could not take an Accelerated Reader (“AR”) quiz that was outside his range. All the children are tested periodically (every nine weeks?) via the STAR Reading Assessment – and the outcome of that test determines his reading level — which, I learned, then becomes the completely inflexible range which he cannot and will not be allowed to deviate from when taking a quiz. Additionally, for his weekly reading log (for which he receives a grade), he must read 100 minutes per week, but only from books that are in his range. (For my son, that range is 3.0 to 4.5). In fact, early in the school year, I was told that for purposes of AR quizzes and the reading log minutes, that he could only read books from the school library, or as a rare exception, the classroom library. I decided that although I am usually a strict rule-follower, that I would defend to the end our right to choose books in his range from our own home, from the community library, from our local bookstore, or from books that I could purchase online. We parents are given a link to the Renaissance Learning website where we can follow our child’s progress toward his goals and also search their AR Book Finder database in order to choose books by interest level and range for which an AR quiz is offered. The school district has paid tens of thousands of dollars for Renaissance Learning materials and resources, and unless my son’s school guarantees that my child has access to every book in his range for which they offer a quiz, I am going to assume that if we own the book that’s in his range, he can certainly read it, record the minutes on his log, fill out a two-page activity sheet, fill out a form in the front of his 3-ring AR binder at school, and finally . . . take an AR quiz.
So our son, a formerly reluctant reader, received a book during his classroom’s holiday party that was a bit outside his range. He started reading the book and enjoyed it so much he wanted the other three books in the series. We got them for him during the holiday break and he proceeded to read and re-read all of them. I later looked up the books on the website and noticed they were slightly higher than his range, so I made a mental note to ask his reading teacher after the break if she could make an exception and allow him to test on the books in the series. Meanwhile, I was guiding him to other books in his range for which he could take a quiz. During an impromptu parent/teacher conference in early February, I told his reading teacher how much he enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kids series and requested that he be allowed to take another STAR Assessment in order to see if his range would be raised enough to allow him to “legally” take the AR quizzes for those books. She said she would test him. Last week, I finally called her to follow up since it had been so long. She told me that she had forgotten to test him after our conference. But . . . coincidentally, she said that all the third graders were taking the STAR Assessment the very next morning and she would inform me of the results. And this is what I got via email the next day, after his quiz:
I apologize again for forgetting to test [ . . .] after our conference. I did test
him today, however his level actually dropped. I am not going to lower it from
where it was, but he still will not be able to test on the higher level books.
I cannot test again either this quick. I’m sorry he will not be able to test
on them. I am glad though that he enjoyed reading them.
Okay. But really . . . it was not okay. I replied right away:
Thank you for your email. I would like to know if there’s any reason he cannot test on the Wimpy Kids books or the Captain Underpants books that he has read.
If this is an issue, I would like to confer with you and whoever else might need to be involved to get approval for him to take AR tests. I do not agree with discouraging him from reading good books just because they aren’t in his level. He should be able to do this for his sense of competence and confidence. . .
And then, I basically just lost it. I lost all of my desire to sit quietly with my hands folded and allow this system to prevail without expressing (on behalf of my son) how I felt about it. Maybe I over-reacted. Maybe I revealed a little hysteria when I discussed this with his principal later that day and became, essentially, that mom. While I was railing against “the system” and their policies on the phone with him, I had received this email from his teacher:
Thank you for your email. I completely respect your perspective on this
situation. However, the Accelerator Reader Guidelines are established by the
program with the best interest of the students in mind. Specifically we don’t’
want his feelings of competence and confidence to be diminished by doing poorly
on a test that is above his tested independent reading level. This level is
based on what he can accomplish independently without any assistance so he can
feel the achievement is truly his and not assisted in any way. The reason this
program has been so successful is because of these guidelines and that is why
they are school policy here at [ . . . Elementary]. I know this seems restrictive
to you, but this is why there is a wide range established so he has a variety
of books to choose from. There are so many wonderful books to choose from in
his range that he should still be able to feel successful and confident in his
Keeping all of this information in mind, he can test on the books he read last
nine weeks that are above his level if you still want him too [emphasis mine].
However, if he does do poorly that will affect his average for the 4th nine weeks and will not
be able to be removed. From here on out though, we need to work together to
make sure all of the books he reads and tests on are in his level so we do not
run into this problem in the future [emphasis mine]. I so appreciate all of your dedication
given to [his] success and the support you have given this year.
Let me stop here and take a deep breath and share how much my son has enjoyed his school this year — and how much he loves his teachers and expresses that he misses them when he’s not at school. I have also enjoyed his teachers and we’ve worked very well together on his behalf on everything else. It’s this ONE THING that we have struggled to come to terms with, but in my mind, it’s the hill I have to take for him — because it IS important. The love of reading, or at least an enjoyment of it, will affect his entire school career and ultimately, his future. I’ve been aware of the policies and the system all along and I was certainly doing my best to work within it, regardless of how I felt about it. I’ve been impressed by his teachers all year long for being responsive to our son, sensing his needs and helping him remain positive. My intention was never to campaign to go above his range, but to work with what we were given. It wasn’t an issue until he received this book by chance.
But even though I was angered by the way it was presented, by the implication that he would do poorly on the test (because, you know, those ranges are infallible), we at least had the victory that he could test on the books. He took the first one on Wednesday after he filled out the required two-page “activity sheet.” There were ten questions on the AR quiz. He missed one. He got 90%. We celebrated by going to the bookstore that night and purchasing eight more books of his choosing, in his range (except for the one I got just because he wanted it — he sat and read it cover to cover while he ate a cookie in the store’s cafe).