Dear Schools, Please STOP with the AR Tests and Reading Logs
It’s not helping my kids read. It’s not helping my kids learn to love reading. In fact, it is stifling my kids.
I am not a trained teacher. I am a mom.
I am not an expert in literacy.
I don’t have a degree in teaching or early education but do you know what I do have? Twenty-one years of on-the-job-training with over 15 of those being a homeschool mom. I’ve taught ten kids to read. I’ve cultivated a house full of avid readers. In fact, as I type these words, seven-year-old Apollo is tucked in next to me engrossed in a book.
My kids read for information, sure, but I would argue that reading for pleasure is essential for growing well-rounded kids who become well-rounded adults.
Reading Logs Don’t Help Kid Learn to Love Reading
When we made the difficult choice to stick our younger children in school in 2012 I noticed something almost immediately, my kids stopped reading for fun*. Now, part of it was simply that they had less time to read because they were in school all day, but that wasn’t the main reason they stopped. They stopped because they didn’t want to be bothered to fill out reading logs.
Hezekiah, who was reading within a month of his fourth birthday and was reading chapter books before he was 4 1/2, suddenly didn’t want to read at home. As a third grader, he was required to fill out a reading log that included name of book, name of author, pages read, and time spent reading. Now, he could, of course, have read at home and not recorded it in his reading log, but his teacher said they “needed to record their reading” and Hezekiah is Type A. So he dutifully recorded his reading. And because it was an unpleasant (and certainly unnecessary task) he chose to read less.
Reading used to be fun. Something my kids did in their leisure, on car rides, on long, lazy days. Now suddenly, it was a chore. A box to be checked.
AR Tests Don’t Help Kids Learn to Love Reading
What is the one thing worse (in my opinion) than reading logs? Accelerated Reader Tests. In their own words, “The Accelerated Reader program is a computerized program that tests reading comprehension”.
In elementary school, my kids have been required to set Accelerated Reader (AR) goals and take AR tests. This consists of reading a book and then finding the corresponding AR test on the computer program at school. The tests consist of comprehension questions to make sure the child understood what they read.
In addition, the kids set AR goals for themselves and track them throughout the year. The kids are acutely aware of how many AR points any given book is worth. This is not what I want my kids basing their book selection on.
Sorry Kids, Those New Books Don’t Count; There Are No AR Tests Yet
I can think of several, actually, but one main problem has been this has limited the books my children choose to read. You see, they have to set their AR goal and read enough books (and take enough tests) to reach that goal. As a blogger, I get sent dozens of books every year to review, many of these are not even available for purchase yet.
If you look closely at the book in Tucker’s hand, you can see it says Advance Uncorrected Galleys. Tucker read this book. Tucker enjoyed this book. But guess what? It won’t count toward his AR goal because they don’t have an AR test written on it yet. I have seen my kids pass over brand new (unreleased!) books in our house in favor of one on the AR list.
There is No Solid Evidence that AR Tests and Programs Improve Reading
You don’t have to look far to find opponents of the AR program. Pennington Publisher has an article listing 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader. Reason number one is limited book selection.
Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh makes a great case against AR in her article Why I Believe AR is Bad for LIteracy and Bad for Students.
This excerpt from the Read-Aloud Handbook expresses the author’s negative feelings about the program…even as he admits he has been a speaker at AR conferences.
What Should We Do Instead of AR Tests and Reading Logs?
So what’s the answer? Kids learn to love reading by getting excited about the stories within the books. Yes, I know not all kids are raised in homes full of books or with parents able to read to them every night. But does anyone actually believe AR tests are going to help those kids?
Teachers need to work to instill a love of reading in our kids. This means reading out loud to them. Showing kids the wonder and mystery in books. Letting kids pick out their own books even if they aren’t at their “reading level” (believe me, my kids could share stories of not being able to pick books out of the school library because they were the “wrong” level). Encouraging kids to read for fun, not to get a certain number of points.
Let’s bring back the love of reading.
A couple of notes:
1. I am not blaming teachers, they work under their own set of rules and guidelines.
2. I am not talking about never assigning a book for kids to read. I am saying let’s find ways to encourage a love of reading for the sake of reading, aside from any books that might be assigned for classwork.
3. Thankfully, over time, my kids are back to reading for pleasure, but still often base their choices on AR points.
4. If you have a child who struggles with reading, check out my review of Reading Buddy. You can improve your child’s reading by 50% in just three months.