An accelerated reading (AR) program is a program initially developed at the University of Wisconsin, and now marketed by Renaissance Software®. The AR program is designed to encourage young children to read more frequently and to establish lifelong patterns of daily reading. About half the school districts in the US now employ AR programs as part of their elementary school education in reading.
The basic design of AR is fairly simple. Students take a preliminary 10-20 minute quiz, which tests their reading comprehension. They are then scored in what is called a zone of proximal development, which determines what books they should read. For each zone, there are numerous book choices.
In the next step of AR, the child chooses a book in his or her zone and reads it. The child then takes a quiz and either passes or fails it. Each book is not only rated for zone, but also for points, which are assigned to the reader for passing a quiz. Some teachers may require children in an AR program to achieve a certain amount of points during a year. Others simply ask that children take a certain number of quizzes each year.
AR has been linked to higher scoring on standardized tests, and many people support the program. However, claims that AR will establish lifelong reading habits are not proven. Some studies have shown that reading after AR programs have ended, usually by 7th grade, declines. These studies do not necessarily account for other factors that might decrease reading time, like greater homework load, or the hormonal changes that assail young teens.
Some concerns about AR programs have arisen when teachers make rewards based on points. Some children may not choose some of the classic books for kids because they do not have enough “points.” When children choose books on point value only, it rather robs one of the joys of reading. Children who struggle with reading may find themselves frustrated if they cannot pass quizzes within their zone.
Additionally, though schools get a certain number of quizzes when they purchase an AR program, they don’t get all quizzes for all books. Thus students may have reading choice affected by what quizzes are available. Some schools ask parents to donate to the AR program by purchasing quizzes, which are usually about three US dollars (USD) each.
While reading for content is stressed in AR programs, reader for critical analysis is not. Children in later grades, who are good readers, may not be sufficiently challenged by AR questions. Further, some children may interpret content differently and may flunk quizzes by overthinking questions.
AR programs certainly do raise reading comprehension levels on standardized tests, while the programs are in effect. Not all claims about AR tests can, as yet, be verified. Teachers are likely to either support or be opposed to the AR program. Some teachers are happy to see children become more successful readers, but others feel that reading skills cannot be verified only by comprehension. Lifelong reading habits may not be encouraged, according to some teachers, by reducing reading to a system of points and rote learning.