One of my favorite things about reading is the freedom of it all, especially now that I'm part of a classroom environment that encourages students to read each and every book that they find interesting, no matter how short or long it is or how obscure of a topic it addresses. We're free to pick a book off the shelf, read the description, check the number of pages, and then decide for ourselves whether it's something we can or cannot handle. We can read what we want, when we want to, as long as we have something interesting to say about it when the time comes to write a blog post.

Sadly, not everyone is given this choice. I have a sister in 5th grade who is a great example of a child who constantly feels restricted by the limited reading options that she has. Her school uses the Accelerated Reading Program. It is a computer-based program that assigns specific "levels" to books based on length and difficulty. The level of the book also determines the number of points awarded to the test taker if he/she answers enough questions correctly. Each child is also given a range of levels from which to choose books. This range is assigned depending the reader's previously recorded level of skill. The program is based off the idea that, if a child is given a certain difficulty range from which to choose books for reading, then his/her speed and comprehension will gradually improve when that range slowly increases as more books are read and goals are reached.

In theory, this system has almost no cons. Children learn to slowly build up their reading ability, they are able to pick books within their limits more easily, and teachers can monitor and keep track of the entire process. Even I, despite strongly opposing the AR Program, can see how it challenges unmotivated kids to improve and continue improving in exchange for rewards (prizes, ribbons, and sometimes just the satisfaction of reaching your goal on time). The problem arises, in my eyes, when the program begins to largely dominate the classroom reading curriculum. As more stress is put on students to read books in order to reach their point goals, less time is spent on putting emphasis on reading for fun and for learning!

Here is the website that allows you to find books and see their levels. My biggest peeve with the system is the fact that very many books are not part of the AR system, so by using it, a child's options are limited. Many kids choose to only read books that get them points and don't pay attention to the ones that are not yet part of the system.

 

I can't speak for the experiences of anyone else, but as someone who went through two years of AR in elementary school, I can honestly say that the program was the single biggest reason for my apathetic outlook toward reading throughout Junior High. I only started taking AR tests in 5th and 6th grade, when I moved to a new location and started going to a new school. I had always been an avid reader and have had good literary comprehension all my life, but something about the AR system made me never want to pick up a book again. I'm a naturally slow reader, I always have been, but that has absolutely nothing to do with how good I am at it. I simply enjoy taking my time. Sadly, the AR system puts stress on the reader to always reach his/her monthly goal, always get 100% on each test, and always strive to read as fast as the rest of the class. I constantly compared myself to my classmates and thought less of myself because of how slow I read. I had a low AR level for my grade, meaning that I was only allowed to read books of specific difficulty. There were very few books within my level that appealed to me. I couldn't go higher or lower without teacher approval. I almost never reached my point goals, even when I tried my hardest. My grades suffered because of this and made me feel inferior to my classmates. It felt like a competition. It was me against the kids who could speed through a book and still ace the test afterward. This experience with the AR system left me with conflicted feelings about books and language arts in general, all the way up to high school. Last year, luckily, I was brought back to my senses by a great teacher and an amazing learning environment, but I still have a very hard time seeing books as fun. Ihave to push myself to read, because I only view it as work that will be followed up by a test or an essay.

And now, I see my sister beginning to go through the same experience. She is a slow reader, has a low reading level, and she doesn't like most of the books within that level. She truly wishes to read books and to learn about and understand them, and when I ask her what exactly is holding her back from enjoying reading, she tells me that it is solely the AR Program that is keeping her from achieving her personal goals, rather than those of the classroom or the school. She doesn't want to have to worry about her reading speed, or her topics of interest, or the expectations of teachers, and she shouldn't need to!

Reading is meant to be fun. It is meant to teach people more about themselves and their surroundings, and limiting children to only books that are available as tests on a computer program is not the correct way to enhance their skills and broaden their views of the world around them. I do believe that some limitation on books can be good when it comes to mature or touchy subjects, but even then, if a child feels ready to take on a challenging read, then why not? Why is preventing a child from exploring his/her options and finding a topic that he/she finds interesting ever the right thing to do? I think that the AR Program can be beneficial to students who are unwilling to read otherwise, as long as it is not the only thing that determines their grades, but if a child is willing to read and is excited about learning, then isn't he/she already meeting all of the standards of what a "good" reader should be? Forcing these enthusiastic readers to only read in order to reach their point goals is, if anything, making them want to read less and less.

To the kids that enjoy reading and like to go above and beyond when choosing a book, the AR Program is something that must be suffered through in order to get to a high enough level where harder books are even an option. And for the kids that like reading but also take their time, the program gives a sense of urgency to reading, and a sense of competition, which is not at all what reading is about. It is about getting lost in a book and not wanting to find your way out. The Accelerated Reading Program may help someone become a "better" reader, but it doesn't help him/her become a more passionate one.

In my opinion, the Accelerated Reading Program should be removed from schools, or only used for those students who need an extra push to get them started in the world of books. This opinion is based strictly off my own experiences with the program, but I know that many others feel the same way. I can't stand the thought of ever putting a limit on how much knowledge is accessible to an individual, and the way I see it, overuse of AR does exactly that.

If you're familiar with the AR Program, tell me what your thoughts on it are! What are some of your positive/negative critiques of the system? How do you think it could be changed and improved in order to suit the needs of readers better? Why do you think it works for some people and not for others? If you really love the system, tell me why!

Views: 2417

Tags: AR Program, Accelerated Reading Program

Comment by Carly Roberts on January 1, 2013 at 8:01pm

I remember when I had to follow this system and I didn't like it at all. I would always be stressed about reaching my monthly goal so I would just pick the shortest books I could find and force myself to finish them whether I liked the story or not. Also, I think the test that sets the initial 'level' each child is at isn't always right. Mine was set way too high for me so a lot of the books in my level I didn't really understand yet.

Comment by Brinda Dollu on January 1, 2013 at 9:10pm

In elementary school, we had to read and pass three books in one level before moving on to the next level for AR reading. I hated this because I couldn't read the books I wanted to because it wasn't in the level I had to read. I agree with you that AR program should be removed. Great blog Enia1

Comment by Sresht Iyer on January 1, 2013 at 9:50pm

I think AR reading was meant to encourage reading but instead made kids obsessed with points instead of content. I remember  always looking for a really large book so that I could get a lot of points. I also saw that i couldn't read the books that i wanted to because they were either above or below my level. Great blog!

Comment by Rebecca Beale on January 2, 2013 at 1:15pm

Wow! I thankfully never had to suffer through the AR system because I went to a private school, but it seems horrible! I completely agree with you how the system is great for unmotivated kids, but absolutely not for those who could potentially enjoy reading.  This year I have discovered my love for reading all over again because of those wonderful 10 minutes in the beginning of class everyday dedicated to reading anything I want. It’s horrendous how schools are making reading a chore. Reading is meant to be enjoyable! Excellent blog post!

Comment by Paraskevas Christodoulopoulos on January 2, 2013 at 7:16pm

Another problem with the AR system is that it sometimes misjudges book quality. I  saw books like Animal Farm and Ten Little Indians  receive a rating of 4th grade, while books like Lord of the Rings  received a college rating. Thankfully Hunting Ridge did not enforce its policy as strictly, but I do think that people should let their capabilities be free.

Comment by Michael Zelenka on January 3, 2013 at 5:06pm

I hated the program from first grade through third grade because we were forced to stick to the range we were given and had to set a constantly improving monthly goal. When I got to fourth grade, my teacher didn’t care what I read as long as I enjoyed it. While we still had to make goals, we could set them to whatever we wanted. All I did was set goals that were easy to meet so I could read the books without pressure. At the end of each year, I had the same amount of points as most of my class.

Comment by Rucha Patel on January 4, 2013 at 6:30pm

I remember when we did this in elementary school. I always thought it was like a competition between all the students in that grade level to have the highest AR level. It honestly stressed me out and it didn't let me have the freedom of choosing my own independent reading book. I really liked this blog post. Great Job!

Comment by Sophia Peng on January 5, 2013 at 3:42pm

I remember always hating the AR program. To me, reading books is about the experience that they grant you rather than their educational merit. And while it is important to keep in mind that we go to school to learn and we learn through reading, having to stick to the AR program and the limited number of books in the program it was really difficult for someone who read a lot of obscure book to get all the credits required. Thankfully only one of my teachers ever really acknowledged the AR system.

Comment by Aaron Petykowski on January 7, 2013 at 2:06am

To start off, I thought this was an amazing blog post, Enia. Anyways, I always liked AR until I began to have too few books to read. It was annoying because I enjoyed reading a lot, but I felt as though I was being punished for reading books years before others did. All in all I feel like that was a mixed bag program. Teachers should have just required students to read, and they could have achieved the same results.

Comment by Amulia Nambiar on January 7, 2013 at 8:04pm

Phenomenal blog post Enia! I agree with you in so many different ways! 

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