January 26, 2010

Not that You Needed MORE Reasons to Avoid AR

But here are 18 Reasons Not to Use AR (via Mark Pennington at the TeacherLibrarian Ning).

Last week I posted on some questionable practices regarding the shelving of AR books in school libraries. I didn't even say that many bad things about the program itself, other than to point out some compelling evidence that it's not really effective. Even Jim Trelease, who had a relatively balanced view of the program in his Read-Aloud Handbook now sees "more negatives than positives" and collects some damning evidence as well.

I got a lot of comments for that post, so here's some more meat to chew on.

The original article by Mr. Pennington has much more description, so do check it out, bookmark it, and share it around. Some of the arguments are stronger than others, but you can see that in these economically tight times, the expense of AR is hardly justified when the benefits are questionable, so many questions remain, and solid evidence of effectiveness is lacking.

Here's the basic list:

Book Selection
1. Using AR tends to limit reading selection to it's own books.
2. Using AR tends to limit reading selection to a narrow band of readability.
3. Using AR tends to discriminate against small publishing companies and unpopular authors.
4. Using AR tends to encourage some students to read books that most teachers and parents would consider inappropriate for certain age levels.

Reader Response
5. Using AR tends to induce a student mindset that "reading is a chore," and "a job that has to be done."
6. Using AR tends to replace the intrinsic rewards of reading with extrinsic rewards.
7. Using AR tends to foster student and/or teacher competitiveness, which can push students to read books at their frustration reading level or create problems among students.
8. Using AR tends to turn off some students to independent reading.
9. Using AR tends to turn some students into cheaters.

AR is Reductive
10. Using AR tends to supplant portions of established reading programs.
11. AR tends to train students to accumulate facts and trivia as they read in order to answer the multiple choice recall questions.
12. Using AR tends to take up significant instructional time.
13. Using AR tends to reduce the amount of time that teacher spend doing read-alouds and teaching class novels.
14. Using AR tend to make reading into an isolated academic task.
15. Using AR tends to drain resources that could certainly be used for other educational priorities.
16. Using AR tends to minimize the teaching and instructional practice in diagnostically-based reading strategies.
17. Using AR tends to limit differentiated instruction.

Research Base
18. Although a plethora of research studies involving AR are cited on the Renaissance Learning website, the research base is questionable at best.

Thanks, Mr. Pennington, for more ammo!


Michael Taylor said...

In our home we've noticed an issue with #5. Noah was finally reading and doing very well after struggling for a few years. We were pushing him to take the test on AR books that he had already read yet he had no desire. He enjoyed the reading for its own sake and pushing him to take a test on it was becoming counter-productive. Now we are just proud that he continues to enjoy reading, for its own sake.

klonghall said...

I know our school is forming a group of parents & teachers to revisit how we use AR and the pros & cons. I hope I can be part of that group. Thanks for posting these links. That's how I see my role as a parent at our school. I happen to have a passion for helping children to become lifelong readers, so I volunteer for any chance I get to contribute to the conversation.

Jim said...


I don't know for a fact, but assume that's how I would have been. I liked to read what I liked to read. I may have taken tests as a bonus but once you hook them on the right reading, the incentives become pointless.


Good for you! I concede that some kids are indeed motivated, at least at first, by incentives. But AR doesn't have to be that program. The school librarian at a middle school in our district created her own much cheaper and exciting incentive program for much less money. If AR is used right, it becomes an add-on for these kids but I hardly ever see it used right and the expense (when we could simply be buying more interesting books!) is making me like it less and less.


Beth said...

I was the kind of kid who liked taking extra tests, so I would have loved AR, although it wouldn't have changed my reading habits at all (compulsive is a good description). But I hate to see it as part of a curriculum, and the cost is really high.

http://bookadventure.com/ has some quick tests for free that I did with my kids a few times. I think Sylvan sponsors them. We made up some incentives in the spirit of the library summer reading program, and it was OK but not a big deal. That's how I thought of AR, but the difference is the price.

Jim said...


Liked taking tests? You weirdo! Nah, just kidding. I get why teacher like these easy "do you really read it" tests, but so many use the whole program wrong. I see so many kids who aren't "allowed" to check out an AR book not on their level or any non-AR books at all! Erg.

Charlotte said...

I am so so so glad AR has no place in my kids' school.

Peaceful Reader said...

I'm so happy I was able to prove to my principal the cost of tests with no proof of better reading just wasn't worth keeping the program limping along! I hope many schools rethink their use of AR. Great blog by the way!

Jim said...


Keep 'em reading!

Peaceful Reader,

I hope so too and thanks!

klonghall said...

You know what I'd really like to see: 1) Dedicated SSR time & 2) All teachers reading aloud EVERY day. I think that would go a long way to develop better reading habits in our students. (And a heck of a lot cheaper.)

I watched my older son get so excited about books when he hit middle school, & they had SSR every single day. He finally had time to read during the school day. (He wasn't the kid in Elem. school who finished his work early & then could read.) He started reading more and more at home, too. I don't think it was a mere coincidence.

Jim said...


I agree but for most kids it's better to start off with 5 minutes of SSR, then 10, then work their way up to 20 or 30 or so. But yes,
SSR is great--especially when the teacher reads as well (like Annette).

My 3 favorite books on SSR/Reading are:
The Reading Zone by Nanci Atwell,
The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen, and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher (though it's more about older kids).

You can borrow my Atwell if you'd like...

ms-teacher said...

When my now 17 year old was an 8th grader, his English teacher counted the AR program as 40% of the overall grade. For a kid who LOVES reading things he's interested in, but hates being forced to read for a grade & test, it was like pulling teeth.

We had AR at the middle school where I taught and the thing that I found to be true year after year, those who enjoyed reading, getting good grades, and competing for points, AR was good for them. For those who struggled to read and/or grades were not a motivator, AR was almost never successful.