There’s not a lot I hate. I hate racism and sexism. I hate abuse of power. And with a red hot passion, I hate the Accelerated Reader (by Renaissance Learning) when it’s being used incorrectly. I hate when its use in schools (Conroe ISD, I’m looking at you) is MANDATORY and a student’s grade is tied to their participation in the Accelerated Reader (A/R) Program. And I will continue to hate it until it’s a voluntary program that doesn’t carry unreasonable, exclusionary incentives. I’ll definitely continue to hate it unless and until it generates within my children a sincere and lifelong desire to read good books. And I can assure you that I’ll hate it whether my kids do well or poorly on A/R “quizzes.”
I believe it should be used as an assessment tool only, and/or an optional and fun tool for kids to gauge their comprehension of their favorite books — books they would have been reading anyway regardless of how many “points” were associated with it.
Here’s a succinct quote from the website for The Read-Aloud Handbook (my all-time favorite book about reading and choosing quality books for your family — and incidentally, the book I used as a guide when purchasing at school book fairs)
As I see it, the real problem arrived when districts bought the programs with the idea they would absolutely lift reading scores. “Listen,” declares the school board member, “if we’re spending $50 grand on this program that’s supposed to raise scores, then how can we allow it to be optional? You know the kids who’ll never opt for it—the ones with the low scores, who drag everyone else’s scores down. No—it’s gotta be mandatory participation.” And to cement it into place, the district makes the point system 25 percent of the child’s grade for a marking period. Oooops! They just took the “carrot” off the stick, leaving just the stick—a new grading weapon. . . .
I just spent my entire morning going through our books to identify whether we own books in my child’s “reading level” (determined by testing that takes several weeks of a teacher’s instruction time). And we do own many — I just had to identify the number of points each one carried. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of books purchase through school book fairs (you know — the ones that benefit the school library and increase their collection of good books?) and I’m not surprised that I already own several that fall in to his range. The frustrating thing is that I was told that my son couldn’t take an A/R quiz unless he had checked out in the school’s library. Nevermind that we already own the book or could purchase a book. Whatever — it doesn’t matter now because I’ve already made the decision that it’s the one rule I’ll not comply with — I’ve spent many hundreds of dollars over the years accumulating books that I’ve moved across a few states over the last decade. If there’s an A/R quiz for a book we own and he’s reading it (and enjoying it), then he should be allowed to take a quiz on it.
Before taking a quiz, he has to fill out a graphic organizer along with the “in-class log” — two barriers to quiz-taking that I’m still not comfortable with. He has a designated day every week on which he is “guaranteed” an audience with his teacher to go over his progress and his goals and then to take a quiz (or quizzes) on the computer, and is supposedly allowed to take one any time and any day he is ready (as long as he’s completed an activity sheet/graphic organizer and also filled out the log).
So my challenge is working within this system (while following the “rules” and encouraging my children to do the same) and engaging my kids with good books to read while at the same time confining them to a reading level that might or might not contain books in which they have an interest. Luckily, I’ve found some excellent books on the Kindle. The issue hasn’t been about the lack of good books — it’s the lack of district support for reading those books (“Oh, I’m sorry, that’s above his reading level. He can’t take a quiz on that one”). And now I’m anticipating some resistance to the idea of allowing my boys to read “A/R” books that I purchase for the Kindle when there’s no physical book to take to school with them. But if the book has a quiz available and it’s in their reading level, and they’ve followed nearly all the rules, then I think they should absolutely be allowed to take the quiz. Did I mention I hate this?
Edited to add: Read #7 from this page on the Conroe ISD site. What a blatant contradiction of their mandatory A/R program (and it also contains a grammatical error)
I fully support the concept of promoting Sustained Silent Reading (“SSR”) in schools and at home and would love to see the A/R program used as the foundation to support SSR.