Positives and Negatives of the Accelerated Reading Program


I am not a reading expert but recently I wrote that my younger kids each learned to read at a much earlier age than my oldest did. I opined that it likely was because the little kids had older siblings as role models and ‘reading buddies’.

I placed that conversation on Facebook and the response I got was unexpected at best. Several friends jumped in and agreed; their younger kids were better readers.

And then someone threw out a point that  resonated with the other moms.

Her kids all loved to read when they were at home before they entered to school. But after Kindergarten and even First Grade they were not reading on grade level any longer, in fact they didn’t like to read at all.


It turns out that many moms agreed the Accelerated Reading Program was the Evil Villain in the reading equation. (This was not a scientific study, just a Facebook anecdote.) Wow, I had to agree, my kids hate AR and the ‘points’ system and taking tests, too. My 4th grader is a very advanced reader and she is basically not allowed to read what she wants. There are only a small set of books available with tests (the school cannot afford more tests as they are VERY expensive).

Studies about implementing AR seem very positive. Take for example the following synopsis:

“Ross, Nunnery, and Goldfeder (2004) studied 1,665 students and 76 teachers (grades K-6) from 11 schools in Memphis, Tennessee. Many of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Teachers were randomly assigned to use Accelerated Reader or to continue regular curriculum without the software. Students in classrooms with Accelerated Reader demonstrated gains. Additionally, many of the teachers responded positively to the software and highly supported the software. Many also indicated that they would continue to use the software.

In another study, Nunnery, Ross, and McDonald (2006)[7] used hierarchical linear modeling to assess the reading achievement of students in grades 3-6. This model incorporated the effects of individual, classroom, and school variables that impact reading achievement. Regardless, those in Accelerated Reader classrooms still outperformed students in control classrooms. Furthermore, students with learning disabilities in high implementation classrooms did not suffer from their disabilities as much as similar students in low or no implementation classrooms.” –Wikipedia

So why do so many moms disagree with this data? I have a theory. I wonder if children with adequate parental support (and siblings too) simply do not need the AR ‘incentive’. In the studies mentioned above, most of the children are targeted as ‘at risk’. I’m not trying to stir the pot and I believe all children absolutely should get as much reading help as possible.


If a child shows proficient reading skills and a love of reading, why can’t they opt out of the AR testing scheme? Especially when it causes a detrimental reading issue with them?

What are your thoughts about AR, or any other ‘testing’ type of learning program where the emphasis is on points and technology instead of one on one teaching?

In a former life, Carissa Rogers was a molecular biologist. In her current life, she is the chief researcher of bloggy karma, parenting dos (and some don’ts), new recipes, and for spice she pretends to be a photographer. She started blogging in February of 2008 and publishes her good & crazy thoughts on GoodNCrazy.com. Also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Bio: In a former life, Carissa Rogers was a molecular biologist. In her current life, she is the chief researcher of bloggy karma, parenting dos (and some don’ts), new recipes, and for spice she pretends to be a photographer. She started blogging in February of 2008 and publishes her good & crazy thoughts on GoodNCrazy.com. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.


6 responses to “Positives and Negatives of the Accelerated Reading Program”

  1. Sky says:

    Having worked in a school and library that was very structured with AR, and I struggled with it because I would never tell a child that he/she couldn’t read a particular book because it wasn’t in their level.

    In most cases, the kids wanted to read the non-fiction books and there isn’t a whole lot in the lower reading levels.

    Another issue I had is that I feel like it bribes kids to read. That said, it wasn’t until 3rd grade that my son truly enjoyed reading and the AR program motivated him. As he read, he’d advance to those higher levels and it worked for him.

  2. My school uses AR and the kids love it. They are always begging to take tests. I personally don’t like the comprehension questions. Some of them are very random and seem like they don’t really explore the why about the text. Just a little background, my students are all English Language Learners. I only have 3 native English speakers in my classroom.

    A colleague from California stated that her son loved AR. He was reading on a 12th grade level when he was in 4th grade.

    I think a lot of times it has something to do with the implementation of the program. How does the school incorporate AR into the academic learning. Is it a punishment? When I was in elementary school we had pizza contests, hamburger coupons, and other giveaways to encourage reading, but they didn’t really work.

    As I stated, I don’t care for the program myself, but I do like the fact that the kids want to read and take the tests. I have a few students whose parents read the scores on a daily basis. They feel that they can monitor their child’s learning a lot better that way.

  3. Carissa says:

    I’m glad to hear there are happy results with the AR program, and I don’t doubt many kids need it and progress well within it.

    Were either of you able to choose a handful of kids who didn’t have to ‘do’ the program. Like Sky says my kid is so limited on what she can ‘read’ due to enough tests.. it’s so frustrating!

    My youngest is all about non-fiction..I cringe to think what that will be like for him in about a year!

  4. Paula says:

    I know I’m getting in on this conversation late, but I just happened upon this post and wanted to comment.

    My dd is in second grade. She was reading before Kindergarten. Her K teacher pushed AR and my dd was ready. She earned 200 AR points that year! Most of the books were .5 points, so that means she read or was read to over 400 books and took over 400 tests!

    Last year she earned 100 points.

    This year, she has already earned 200 points.

    All of this to say, I expect her to get good grades, to try her best. She will be in gifted and talented next year (our district doesn’t offer it until 3rd grade) and she loves to read. I also expect her to earn at least 100 AR points a year. That’s my requirement, not the school’s. And while reading those books to earn her 200 AR points, she’s probably also read 20-30 other books this year.

    And no, she’s not a geek. She loves to watch tv and play with her DSi, to play outside with her friends, to take swim team and dance lessons, and to participate in choir. She’s an active, well-rounded kid that likes to read. Devours books like candy!

    That being said, I personally made a contribution to my dd’s school library to purchase AR tests. They are NOT that expensive! They are $3 each. When you think of the children that will benefit from that test that you are spending a one-time fee on, it gets cheaper and cheaper! I’d highly encourage all of the parents who complain that their kids don’t have AR tests to take because the books don’t have tests, to actually get involved and see what tests can be purchased, not just what that one school library already owns.

    Additionally, one of the major reasons I want my child to earn 100 points is that I strongly believe that computerized testing is the wave of the future. Already the standardized grade-level testing is all on the computer. Why not give my child the edge in computer test taking skills by having her practice on a regular basis… without all the pressure that comes from the standardized testing??? It just makes sense to equip her with what she needs!

  5. Kelli says:

    I for one totally agree with the frustration of a child wanting to read non fiction books. My son is told all the time he can not reqd a book. There are words out of every book that children can read. Being told you can not do something does not help the child want to read. I hate AR and know many parents who are totally over it. However at my school when you get to 3rd grade it counts part of their grade. Which is totally unfair. I know many kids who have been through this program and hate to read because of it. I agree it is EVIL!

  6. Rachel Ray says:

    Mom rant:
    Myles is a reader. Yes, he is also a gamer, but the kid ALWAYS has a book in hand and he reads for at least an hour every day.
    Myles school has this program called “AR” that is used to encourage kids to read. You read books on “your level” then take a test and eventually earn these little dog tags that go on a chain they give you then you move to the next level. Myles couldn’t care less about the AR program and he doesn’t need this incentive to encourage him to read. So Myles doesn’t have many tags on his chain and he doesn’t care, nor do i, because the kid reads ALL THE TIME. He was tested and he’s reading at a 6th grade level. I also read to him most nights and we read very complicated books at night.
    At the school library the kids are only allowed to check out books on “their level”. I don’t know what Myles’ “level” is at school, as far as checking out books but he usually checks out science books of some sort.
    Well, when he went to check out a book yesterday the teacher informed him that since he hadn’t taken enough AR tests she moved his level down and he couldn’t check out the book he wanted. Instead he had to settle for Captain Underpants.
    AR is not a required thing. It’s optional and doesn’t affect his grades (which are all A’s).
    WHY?! Why would anyone hinder his reading by making him check out books that he’s advanced beyond? Just because he doesn’t care about the stupid AR program and the peer pressure that the teachers AND students put on it does not mean that he should not be able to pick out any book he chooses at the school library. The AR chain is some silly status symbol and the herd mentality almost ostracizes my kid for not participating in their silly program. I’m all on board with the positive reinforcement (dog tags added to the chain for accomplishments in the AR program) but don’t hinder my child by punishing him for not participating in it if it’s an optional campaign.
    Guess I’m sending an email today.

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