January 21, 2010

Accelerated Reading?

On my state's school librarian listserv, someone was asking about how different people arrange their AR books in their libraries. (AR is, of course, one of those book-testing-for-points-and silly-things program many schools are married to).

I have heard, but thankfully not seen, that there are school librarians who either put all the AR books in their own section or--even worse--toss Dewey and arrange the entire library by AR levels.

Some of the answers to this were great.

One said, "It is not best practice to arrange books, elementary or otherwise, by program level."

But my favorite was this one:

"This is an easy decision to make. You simply ask yourself, 'Am I running an AR program or a school library media program?'"

Oh, yeah!

There's just not even enough good evidence that AR works well enough to go re-arranging the entire program around it--not to mention that it's expensive. If I end up working in a school that has AR, I'll do my job of course, but AR will serve the students--not vice-versa.


Kathy Martin said...

We do have AR in our K-5 building for grades 3-5. I am not opposed to AR. I like that it helps kids find books to read that are at a reading level they can comprehend. I see too many younger students choose books that are way too difficult for their reading ability simply because the book has a nice cover. I label the books that are AR with a generic label so that students can pick them out. I also pull books from the Everybody section to make mini-collections by Book Level. These are temporary collections to make it easier for younger students to find books of the correct level for them. I would say that 90+% of the books I add to the collection have AR tests with them. I don't choose a book for our media center because it is AR unless I'm looking to add books of a certain level where I feel I don't have enough to meet student demand. We subscribe to AR Enterprise and already have access to every test so I don't have that added cost. (Just the monster bill for AR that comes once a year and does not come out of my budget.)

jimmythegeek said...

AR is a good idea for the younger kids. Teach them to read, and then teach them how to find books that they CAN read. After about the fourth grade, the kids need to be allowed to choose for themselves, not forced to read for points. Eventually most kids end up not wanting to read because they HAVE to. They should want to read because they LOVE to read!

Kathy said...

I do not like AR for MANY reasons, the main one being, there really is no evidence that it helps kids or raises their test scores (which, in our county is the #1 thing). The good news is, I am at a school that does not have it and it looks like in our county that more and more schools are dropping it or in the case of a new school, just not starting the program at all.

Jim said...

Kathy Martin,

I'm not opposed to AR f it's used right, but it almost never is and even when it is it's money that could be spent on more books. Have you read Jim Trelease on the subject? He used to take a more balanced view, but the abuses of AR have tipped him: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_ar.html.

Jim said...


I admit it can be an incentive for some reluctant readers, but at what price? Buy and read more interesting books for reluctant readers and you'll get the same effect.

I agree that forcing kids to read can turn them off, but I think you can assign some and give some free choice (if you have plenty of interesting books!) and you will grow readers.


Maybe that;s the sliver lining to this economic downturn I've been looking for!

Thanks all, for the thoughtful comments.

Terry Doherty said...

I am not looking forward to AR. It is pushed VERY heavily at my daughter's school, but she won't get into the thick of it until next year (3d grade). I envision this struggle to keep her selecting books because something interests her - like a book on sharks because she saw a Jaws movie poster - not because of its point value.

And we wonder why kids are always asking for prizes and what they can "get" if they do something. Geez!

Michael Taylor said...

Just my two cents as a library user and not as librarian:

Maybe I'm just too much of a pattern seeking animal. I get a little irritated when libraries start messing with Dewey. Our county library started splitting out the fiction by different categories; classics, suspense, science fiction, etc. Well if I want to find a book that fits more than one of those categories I have to try to guess how the powers that be decided to label it. Is 1984 under classic of science fiction? You can just imagine how frustrated I get in a book store. Anyway, If I get this frustrated I can only imagine how difficult it would be for some elementary school kids to find a book. Keep the AR books in with the rest.

shannon said...

This is my first year as a school librarian. When I came in, there was a special section for AR books. It was one of the first things I changed. I've heard of, but never seen, libraries that are completely organized by level. Ugh...

shannon said...

I should have read all the comments before I responded. I'd like to respond to Michael's comment.

I used to be just like you - a big fan of the dewey decimal system. In grad school, I was a member of the Dewey DeciPals. It didn't take long for me to change my opinion.

You mentioned fiction books being separated into different genres. I can see the benefits of that, but I can also see the benefits of having all fiction books organized by author.

What I have a problem with is non-fiction books being organized by DDS.

This year I started seeing some articles about libraries that were abandoning DDS. I can see how it's convenient for those who grew up with it and are comfortable with the system, but it seems outdated and cumbersome to me. If we were to come up with a system now, would it look like DDS?

I work in a primary school and I can tell you that trying to teach DDS to young children is a nightmare. The categories are confusing. Want a book about race cars? Well, it COULD be in 629 OR it might be in 796. It depends on whether or not it's considered a book about the car or the sport. That's just one example.

When it comes to non-fiction books, I think the book store system is a much more efficient way of organizing books.

Jim said...


My thoughts exactly.


I hear you. Either do it or don't, but make it clear.


Hey, man! Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well in your media center. Thanks for the great job putting books back where they belong. I'm a bit iffy on Dewey as well, but I'm not sure there's a viable alternative. I'll keep looking for it, though!

Thanks for commenting.

Ms. Yingling said...

Argh! We use AR sparingly, so it's not too bad. After all, a lot of what we teach students seems to be how to take tests. Huge sigh. I put yellow dots on the spine to indicate AR, but interfile them. Am breaking down and buying a few new tests. Grudgingly.

Jim said...

Ms. Yingling,

So sorry to hear about that. I like it less and less the more I see it.

Mark Pennington said...

Thank you for spreading the news and including my http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/ on your blog. Nice, concise librarian summary, by the way. We ELA/reading folk should not be as verbose as we are.

Lost in any long list is the heart of the matter. For me, the AR issue boils down to "testing," not "teaching." As much as I believe in independent reading, we teachers get paid to teach, not to test or enforce contrived accountability systems, e.g. AR, that supplant that primary responsibility.

Jim said...

Thanks, Mark!