Sunday, November 8, 2009

What (Some) Kids Are Reading

About a week ago I read somewhere about What Kids are Reading, a study out from Renaissance Learning (apologies for not remembering where). Renaissance Learning is the company that administers the ever-controversial Accelerated Reader program.

For those not familiar with AR, it's a software program that tracks student reading comprehension progress through online quizzes. There's nothing wrong with quizzing students on what they've read to check for comprehension, of course. The problem is that because of how the program works, all books are categorized according to reading level, without regard for interest level or age appropriateness. That, and, you have to buy the quizzes and not all books are part of the program.

"Why's that so bad?," you ask? Well...

1. I've heard many complaints about how the program is implemented in schools. Particularly, that students are only allowed to read books at or slightly above their reading level. So, if they outgrow the comprehension level of their favorite author or series, the teacher/parent does not allow them to read those books anymore. This is done in an effort to encourage them to grow, but stopping a child from reading things they enjoy? That doesn't sound right. Plus, it skews the answer to the question "What are kids reading?" if they're only allowed to read certain books in the first place.

2. In order for a book to "count," the student must take the test. Not every book published has an AR test. Even if the test exists, the school must purchase tests for titles individually. With new books being published all the time, this can get expensive. If a student reads a book and their school doesn't own the test, that reading isn't captured in the study results.

3. Not all schools use AR, so the only schools included in the study are those that have enough money to purchase and sustain AR.

But I digress!

The actual results of the study seem to be fairly in tune with my observations of student reading at my own middle school. The top twenty titles for grades 6-8 (page 24 of study) include mostly series titles like those from Twilight, Eragon, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and for the 6th graders, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Those are all very popular with my students. But so are Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars and Oppel's Airman. I was surprised to see the Nonfiction list (page 34) include titles as gritty as Pelzer's A Child Called It (#1) - especially when contrasted against Grogan's Marley: A Dog Like No Other (#2), a made-for-young-readers version of his heartwarming tale of canine hilarity.

I don't feel like the study shed any amazing light on anything. With all the talk I've heard from librarians about the popularity of Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why I was surprised not to see it appear on any lists, but nothing else really stood out to me.


  1. Our school district uses Scholastic's Reading Counts - similar and just as irritating. I do make a list of lexile levels and points for new books coming in, b/c parents (and kids) constantly ask for them. But it's crazy. "Sugar Creek Gang" has a higher reading level than "Lord of the Rings". Basically no graphic novels are listed, hardly any nonfiction, and the nonfiction that is listed has such a high reading level that kids are scared off before they even look at it. It's just so...wrong.

  2. You have a number of good points, but any teacher can add any book to AR as a "teacher-made test" and the formula is fairly simple. Of course, someone has to read the book to come up with multiple choice questions, but it's free. Before Getorix was an official AR book, I made up a test (with the help of a couple of school media specialists) and I still have the test for anyone who requests it. I imagine other authors would do that as well, if asked.
    Judith Geary

  3. I agree with all your points about AR. I started my job as a school librarian without any real opinion one way or the other and have grown to loathe the program. I could go on and on about why I don't like AR....reasons the same as yours and a few others. Ultimately, it is not helping anyone become a life-long reader which is just sad.