Young Adult Lit/Crit

April 1, 2008

Accelerated Reader is Decelerating Readers

Filed under: Adolescent Readers/Reading — allison @ 7:20 am

Hi everyone,

The article on Accelerated Reader (AR) that Professor Stearns posted below shows what many other studies are finding: this program does not work. The topic is of particular interest to me, because for AED 663, the research methods class, I am currently working on a synthesis of related studies. My topic is the role of choice and independent reading programs on adolescent literacy motivation. Some of the studies I have read discuss AR.

The first issue I would like to bring up is intrinsic motivation, which not a type of motivation that is built by this program. In the article, the authors write “Although the creators of AR claim that the
program will “get students excited about books” (Renaissance Learning, 2005), both Persinger (2001) and Brisco (2003) questioned whether AR creates lifelong lovers of reading or students who are merely addicted to earning points and prizes.” Rewards are a form of extrinsic motivation, which has been shown to be less successful in motivating students. I would like to share an excerpt from my 663 article that I think will help everyone understand what causes motivation.

Maslow’s hierarchy has led to more theories of motivation, including a theory by Leonard, Beauvais, and Scholl (1995), who examine motivational sources. They present five sources: 1) Instrumental (offer of a reward or punishment), 2) Intrinsic Process Motivation (enjoyment), 3) Goal Internalization (personal goals or ideals), 4) External self concept- based (ideal self is determined from expectations of others, 5) Internal self concept- based (ideal self determined by conception of ideal self) (Scholl 2002). Again, we will see the relevance of these sources for motivation in research studies of motivation to read. Internal sources of motivation (2, 3, 5) were shown to be the most effective in motivating students in the studies by Battraw (2002), Ivey & Broaddus (2000), Kasten & Wilfong (2005, 2007), Strommen & Mates (2004), and Worthy et al (1998). The external influences (1, 4), particularly a system of rewards and punishments were shown to be ineffective in the studies by Battraw (2002), Ivey & Broaddus (2001), Kasten & Wilfong (2005), Warrican (2006), and Worthy et al. (1998).

In the studies that I have read, students are motivated when they are allowed to choose from a wide variety of materials. The article Prof. Stearns shared with us points out that the AR program does not always suggest approptiate books, and the schools are not equipped with diverse selections.

This program also takes away the social aspect of reading and learning, which is another important factor in motivation. Students should feel that reading will make them part of a larger group of readers. The best way to effectively do that is by sustaining conversations about reading with their peers.

In order to be motivated, students also need to feel like they can be successful in their endeavors. I have read studies that report students crying with frusteration after reading a book and being unable to answer AR’s tricky questions. The same problem was reported in this article. Students should be given choices of creative and authentic ways of responding to texts. They need to feel like there is a larger purpose for discussing the book, like a book review/recommendation/advertisement. Nancie Atwell suggests book letters. All of these ideas are better than the tests. It might mean more work for the teacher to grade these assessments, but I think the extra work is worth it for the student’s sake.



  1. Allison, you raise many good issues here about AR. I’m glad the discussion proved relevant to your 663. On its face the AR program has never made much sense to me.

    It’s a “testing” program–so right away I’m not on board. The point researchers make here about the significance of internal “sources of motivation” is critical to our work together in YA Lit where the focus is developing opportunities for students to find, name, nurture, work those internal sources of motivation with support from peers and interested adult models/readers.

    Do any of you know AR programs? What has been your experience? KES

    Comment by sunyprof — April 1, 2008 @ 8:46 am

  2. No, I’ve never seen this being used in a school. All I know is what I have read, and everything I have read has been negative. I wonder, has anyone else seen this in a school? Is this a popular program in CNY?

    Also, Prof. Stearns, remind me to tell you a funny story from my observation on Thursday. I want to tell you in person. You’re not going to believe this one.


    Comment by allison — April 1, 2008 @ 10:21 am

  3. After reading the article one particular point made by the authors caught my attention. The idea that “requiring a certain number of books to be read during a specified period of time could unintentionally limit the intrinsic value of reading”(551). I think what is essentially happening is that these kids are reading enough to pass the test, but unable to really concentrate on reading a book because of the time requirements. How frustrated do I get when I have to start a book and put it back on the shelf because I don’t have enough time to finish it? It rarely happens for me, but I can only imagine the pressure these students are facing in order to “get through” their required number of books! This seems to be defeating the purpose of creating readers to begin with, if they are not even allowed to enjoy the books! I feel thankful that growing up, we only had PARP and our only consequence for not finishing a certain number of books was not getting that free personal pan pizza with the cool back to the future sunglasses… and that was enough of a threat to motivate me! 🙂 Allison, thanks for sharing your research from your other course!

    Comment by kariredmond — April 1, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  4. From my own experience, giving students a wide degree of flexibility in both reading material and time to complete reading assignments has proved to be very effecitve at motivating them to read. If our goal is to instill a love of reading in our students, basically the act of reading for pleasure, then we need to model what we ourselves, life long book lovers, do when we read for pleasure. No one tells us that we have to read a certain book by a certain date. If we get into a book, then we’ll finish it rather quickly. If we don’t like it, we’ll put it down. If it’s difficult, we might read it in spurts. But the sure fire way to kill a love of reading is to constrain the process.


    Comment by scrollman — April 2, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

  5. AR has been popular in CNY schools, yes. I think its popularity may be on the wane. But I’d like to know of districts that are still using the program. It turns reading into an “exercise” rather than the transformative experience we all want it to be for ourselves and for our students. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — April 2, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

  6. During my junior and senior years of HS the AR program was new to my school. AR tests were part of your grade, and your STAR test at the beginning of the year determined how many points you were required to earn. Students at my school quickly found ways to beat the system; yours truly even jumped on board when someone discovered that you could read Anna Karenina and pass the test and earn all your points for the year. Needless to say it did away with pleasure reading.
    As a student it didn’t make sense to me to tell kids which books they can and can’t read (No, that’s not in your tier) or to pressure kids into reading hurridly so as to get their points in by semesters’ end; as a future teacher it doesn’t make sense for the lack of choice, the grade based on a multiple choice test, and the fact that students not in the AR program improve as much as those who are are allowed to read for pleasure. If there are other, more enjoyable ways to encourage (not force) students to read more and improve their reading abilities, it only makes sense to use them.
    I did not know schools still used this and other similar programs; my school dropped it shortly after I graduated in 2000.


    Comment by ebrazee — April 2, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  7. Sounds about right, finding ways to cheat the system. And im sure the kids never felt bad about cheating on the computer. It’s not like you are disappointing your teacher or lying directly. Somehow the computer system must make the assignments feel unimportant, and perhaps the students felt marginalized- like their reading and their opinions did not matter. I bet the students in the Reeves reading this week would not care for this system, especially Duke.


    Comment by allison — April 3, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  8. Hi,

    I teach 7th grade in a public school in the Atlanta metro area. Before I got them in August, most of my students did not read for pleasure (aside from email/myspace/text messages/song lyrics). Our AR system came online in December, and instead of tying scores to a grade, I simply post results of each student who has scored points. This has extrinsically motivated kids to read outside of school. I figure at least it’s something.


    Comment by Michael — April 8, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: