February 5, 2010

Accelerated Evil

Last week I summarized a much more complete post by Mark Pennington which more completely summarized some of the main criticisms of the Accelerated Reading program used in many schools.

Today, thanks to a fellow list-maker who took the time to compile a list which exemplifies the problem with number four on the list (explained here by Mr. Pennington):

4. Using AR tends to encourage some students to read books that most teachers and parents would consider inappropriate for certain age levels. Although Renaissance Learning is careful to throw the burden of book approval onto the shoulders of teachers and parents, students get more points for reading and passing quizzes on higher reading levels and longer books. Although an interest level is provided as is a brief synopsis/cautionary warning on the AR site, students often simply select books by the title, cover, availability, or point value. Thus, a fourth grader might wind up “reading” Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (4.7 ATOS readability level) and a sixth grader might plow through Camus’ The Stranger (6.2 ATOS readability level). Hardly appropriate reading material for these grade levels! Content is not considered in the AR point system and students are, of course, reading for those points.

The list-maker, I must confess, also came up with the witty title of this blog post and emailed the whole thing to me because it was felt mine was a grubbier venue for this tawdry exercise. No, that wasn't it. Wait. Oh, never mind.

Now not everything in these books, oh say like human sexuality, is actually evil. And while I hardly think school and by extension the library should be a reality-free zone and that everyone should be able to read pretty much whatever they want to, I think you'll agree that many people would question the validity of recommending this list of books to 11-13 year olds. I like many of the books on the list and there may indeed be readers of those ages perfectly suited to reading some of them. Hell, I read Forever in middle school and didn't need AR points for motivation!

The argument may be made that Renaissance Learning, Inc. (the producers of AR) are not necessarily recommending these titles for middle schoolers. Bah! Read again what Mr. Pennington points out above. They induce children to read for points, not content. If a kid that's an avid AR point scrounger comes across a book "on their level" with a nice point spread, they'll read it. If it has sex, drugs, and rock and roll in it? All the better! Look at this list and Mr. Pennigton's point is made clear. (All information is from renlearn.com):

All the Way Behrens, Andy Level 4.3 Points 7

Hoping to have sex for the first time with a girl he has met on the Internet, seventeen-year-old Ian drives with his two best friends from Illinois to South Carolina.

Anatomy of a Boyfriend Snadowsky, Daria Level 5.0 Points 9

Text contains sexual situations throughout.

Boy Toy Lyga, Barry Level 4.5 Points 15

The plot contains profanity and graphic sexual references.

Claiming Georgia Tate Amateau, Gigi EN 5.0 UG 6

Twelve-year-old Georgia Tate feels loved and safe living with Nana and Granddaddy, until her sexually abusive father tries to win custody of her. This plot contains sexual situations.

Crank Hopkins, Ellen Level 4.3 Points 5

Visiting her absentee father, Kristina's life turns upside-down when he introduces her to the dark world of crank, or crystal meth. The story, told in jagged free verse, contains profanity, explicit sexual situations and blatant descriptions of drug use.

The Da Vinci Code Brown, Dan Level 6.4 Points 23

Doing It Burgess, Melvin Level 4.4 Points 12

Three teenage friends, Dino, Jonathon, and Ben, confront the confusions, fears, and joys of adolescent male sexuality.

Forever Blume, Judy Level 4.1 Points 5

A graphic novel of a teenage senior-year love affair based primarily on sexual attraction.

Gluttony Wasserman, Robin Level 5.2 Points 9

The plot contains adult language and sexual activity. Book #6 (Oddly, the book Lust doesn’t have an AR test, but others in the series do.)

The Lovely Bones Sebold, Alice Level 6.0 Points 16

Nineteen Minutes Picoult, Jodi Level6.0 Points 29

Residents of Sterling, NH, are affected after a shooting at the high school leaves ten people dead and the judge presiding over the trial tries to remain unbiased, even though her daughter is a witness. The plot contains sexual references and violence

Nothing Can Keep Us Together: A Gossip Girl Novel von Ziegesar, Cecily Level 6.8 Points 10

The plot contains profanity, sexual situations, alcohol and drug use.

Punkzilla Rapp, Adam Level 6.2 Points 9

A runaway teenager, having overcome an addiction to meth, travels across the country to reconnect with his dying brother and meets a colorful cast of characters along the way. The plot contains sexual situations and profanity.

Push Sapphire Level 4.0 Points 5

The plot contains adult themes including graphic sexual situations and violence. The movie Precious is based off this.

Smack Burgess, Melvin Level 4.6 Points 13

Two English teenagers share their stories of being runaways and becoming heroin addicts.

Weetzie Bat Block, Francesca Lia Level 5.0 Points 2

This story follows the wild adventures of Weetzie Bat and her Los Angeles friends, Dirk, Duck, and My-Secret-Agent-Lover-Man. The plot contains profanity and sexual situations.


C.B. James said...

Anyone who can make it all the way through Weetzie Bat deserves at least six points. ;=)

I've never used AR. I been able to resist because I teach the gifted classes at my school so I can say reading from such a limited list hinders them. Next year I'll have my first non-gifted class in many years. I'll be using your list in my fight against AR.

Jim said...


I actually enjoyed the first Weetzie Bat book, but didn't read any of the others. I'm guessing it got all soap-opra-y?

Keep fighting the good fight!


Peaceful Reader said...

Why are some of those titles even given AR points?? Lovely bones and the Dan Brown one-are they seriously in a middle school library to be read?? If students area reading at that hight of level who would be worrying about how many pts. they are "achieveing?" I liked Weetzie Bat as well. Odd as it was it seemed like it could have been a John Hughes movie at some point.

Jim said...

Peaceful Reader,

I doubt most of those books are even in a middle school, but the point is some kids can look up what different book/point levels are and get them at the public library. I saw a 5th grader once carrying around Gone With the Wind. I don't care if it's on your reading level, you're not going to get much out of it. A magazine on modern art might be on my reading level, but it would be a waste of my time to try to read it for points (which is the only reason I can see why I'd be reading it).


Victoria said...

I suppose I can be thankful for noncompetitive kids in the A.R. arena. I have been a bit too pushy with Noah to take the A.R.quizzes once he has finished a book. I figure he read it, so he might as well take the test. I think I need to go back to the point that I'm happy that he is reading and enjoying it. Thanks for the reality check.
Some of the books on the list are way above the controversy of my school days with Deenie by Judy Blume. I read The Lovely Bones a couple of years ago, but definitely wouldn't want my 6th grader to read it yet. I read Gone with The Wind in 6th grade and it made me think more about the way Southerners treated slaves and issues of control between men and women, so I guess we really need to pay attention to our kids and know what they can handle. I really like reading the books with them, or right before they do when possible.

Jim said...


To be fair, Annette would probably agree with you and have him take the test if it's available and he's already read the book. No reason not to, really. I just hate seeing it become the only reason for reading.