Friday, December 18, 2009

Does accelerated reader work?

Dr. Krashen's commentaries on Accelerated Reader are well taken. There is indeed research that suggests strongly the limits of extrinsic motivation (i.e., rewards), as opposed to intrinsic motivation for reading or other academic tasks. Check out this same argument in this chapter of a recently published book by Bob Sullo titled "Motivated Student."


Does accelerated reader work?
Sent to the Washington Post, Dec 17.

Accelerated Reader (AR) may be "the most influential reading program
in the country" ("If you're shopping, find the books that work for
kids," December 17) but there is no clear evidence that it works. It
fact, it might be harmful.

AR has four components: It makes sure children have access to books,
provides time to read, quizzes children on what they read with a focus
on details, and awards prizes for performance on the quizzes.

It is well-established that providing books and time to read are
effective, but AR research does not show that the quizzes and prizes
are helpful. Studies claiming AR is effective compare AR to doing
nothing; gains were probably due to the reading, not the tests and

AR encourages an unnatural form of reading, reading focusing on often
irrelevant details in order to pass tests.

AR rewards children for doing something that is already pleasant:
self-selected reading. Substantial research shows that rewarding an
intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is
not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. AR might be
convincing children that reading is not pleasant. No studies have been
done to see if this is true.

Stephen Krashen


Krashen, S. 2003. The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the
use of accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature 29 (2):
9, 16-30. (Available at

Krashen, S. 2004. A comment on Accelerated Reader: The pot calls the
kettle black. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47(6): 444-445.

Krashen, S. 2005. Accelerated reader: Evidence still lacking.
Knowledge Quest 33(3): 48-49.

If you're shopping, find the books that work for kids

Washington Post

By Jay Mathews

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I share this secret only with recluses like myself who lack the
imagination to conceive of any gift better than a book. If you are
buying for a child -- particularly if you are in a last-minute
Christmas shopping panic -- go to
and scan the list compiled by a company called Renaissance Learning.

It is an amazing document. Parents who keep track of what their
children are doing in school, particularly in this area, might be
vaguely aware of Renaissance Learning and its famous product,
Accelerated Reader, the most influential reading program in the
country. It was started 23 years ago by Judi Paul and her husband,
Terry, after she invented on her kitchen table a quizzing system to
motivate their children to read.

Students read books, some assigned but many chosen on their own, and
then take computer quizzes, either online or with Accelerated Reader
software, to see whether they understood what they read. Students
compile points based in part on the difficulty of each book and
sometimes earn prizes from their schools.

It has become a national institution, in use at more than 61,000
schools. But it wasn't until recently that the Pauls decided to reveal
what their computers were telling them about young Americans' reading
habits. They put out their first list of the top 20 books at various
grade levels in 2008. After years of depending on bestseller lists,
book reviewers, teachers and friends to figure out what they might
like to read, children learned for the first time what kids their age
were actually reading, as opposed to what adults assigned, borrowed or
bought for them.

That first list revealed that despite the mega-success of the Harry
Potter books, they had not dislodged longtime favorites such as Harper
Lee, Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton as most-read. A
new list, based on what 4.6 million students read in the 2008-09
school year, tells a different story. Dr. Seuss still rules grades 1
and 2, but the other favorite authors have ceded their No. 1 spots to
two writers who five years ago were virtually unknown.

At the top of grades 3 through 6 is Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy
Kid." I had never heard of Kinney, 38, an online game designer and
failed comic strip artist who thought his first bestseller -- now part
of a popular series -- was going to be for adult readers. In a short
piece attached to the list, he recalls his surprise at the thousands
of messages he received thanking him for writing a book that charmed
"reluctant readers." "In fact," Kinney says, "the phrase could be
shortened to just one word: 'boys.' "

The most-read author for grades 7 to 12 takes care of the other sex.
She is a world celebrity, familiar even to me: Stephenie Meyer, who
turns 36 next week. Her first book, "Twilight" -- which launched the
teen-vampire love craze -- leads the Accelerated Reader list, a sign
that children old enough to buy their own books often go with what
their friends are reading.

There is more. Do you know what a high/low book is? I didn't. That's
publishing industry jargon for books of high interest and low
difficulty for struggling readers. The Accelerated Reader data reveal
which books in that category are most popular. Authors new to me
emerge: Matt Doeden specializes in cars, trucks and other wheeled
vehicles for fourth- and fifth-graders. Paul Langan, author of "The
Bully" and "The Gun/Payback," and Anne Schraff, author of "Someone to
Love Me," both writing for the Bluford High series of books, top the
high/low list for sixth- through 12th-graders. Readers who scored in
the top 10 percent of an achievement test had the same strong
preferences for Kinney and Meyer as their classmates overall.

I have been complaining about high schools not requiring nonfiction
books. The list suggests that this might be the result of resistance
from their students. Nonfiction writing is my life, but most young
readers don't care. Only two nonfiction writers cracked the top 20
list for high schoolers participating in Accelerated Reader: Elie
Wiesel's story of his boyhood in the Holocaust, "Night," and Dave
Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It,' " a controversial account of his
alleged abuse as a child by his alcoholic mother.

Take a look. There is something for everybody, including -- you will
be relieved to learn -- some still high-ranking books that even people
my age read as children.

For more about schools from Jay and others, go to


  1. As a parent who only reads when I have time, I find the AR Programour school is enforcing to be a bit on the strict side. I am all for teaching our kids to read and encourage reading, but handing out corporal punishment (swats) for not getting a certain number of points each week is a bit extreme. Not to mention making the AR Program 80% of the kids final grade. There are several students who cannot read at such a fast paced level and they are only getting punished. I think there should be some limitations to the "reward" of the program. I also do not feel this was the intention of the program. My children are not thinking reading is much fun, it is more of a "If I don't get 2.5 points by Friday I am going to get swats!" thing.

  2. Following are short summaries of the most common arguments made by researchers, teachers, parents, and students as to why using AR is counterproductive. Hence, The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader.
    <a href="”>The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader</a>