What Is The Accelerated Reader?

The Accelerated Reader, or AR (Advantage Learning Systems, 1993), is a learning information system that enables freestanding computer-assisted assessment of student comprehension of “real” books. It facilitates

The Accelerated Reader is a curriculum-based assessment tool that provides a summary and analysis of results to enable teachers to monitor both the quantity and quality of reading practice engaged in by their students. Students administer comprehension tests voluntarily themselves, and the system is intended specifically to have strong formative effects on subsequent learning.

A student who uses the program selects a book from the more than 25,000 titles on the AR list. Each book is assigned a point value based on the number of words it contains and its reading difficulty, as derived from a formula based on the well-known Flesch-Kincaid readability index (Chall & Dale, 1995; Flesch, 1968, 1974) that considers the number of syllables in words and sentence complexity. Point values are calculated thus:

AR points = (10 + reading level) x (words in book ÷ 100,000)

After reading, the student goes to the computer and takes a multiple-choice comprehension test on the book's content. Tests may have 5, 10, or 20 items, depending on the length and difficulty of the book. The computer scores the test, awards the student points based on the results, and keeps a complete record. For a book valued at 10 AR points, such as Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, a student would receive 10 points for a score of 100 percent, 9 points for 90 percent, and so on. However, the student must score at least 60 percent on the test to earn any points at all. Further, the software designers recommend that teachers target 85 percent as being optimal for students.

photo of a small girl, sitting at a computer in what appears to be a classroom, with a man beside her, together looking at and discussing something that appears on the monitorStudents select their own books and read at their own pace. In addition, teachers may choose to allow students to take tests on books that are read to and with them. This is a popular choice with new or delayed readers and in classrooms where the program is used with classwide, selective or elective peer tutoring. In this case, both assisting and assisted participants in reading activities may subsequently self-assess their comprehension of the book on the AR system, with 85 percent correct responses remaining the optimal target. However, in most classrooms, the majority of AR points will be earned through independent reading.

The software has a default setting that allows students to test on a book only once, although this can be changed by the teacher in extenuating circumstances (if, for example, the teacher learns that a student was unwell during a test). If a student does not pass a test, it is probably because she has not read the book or the book was too difficult in the first place. In neither case does it make sense for the student to retake the test, since doing so can lead to a better score attained simply as a result of feedback from the first test. Further, the regular retaking of tests may lead to cheating or promote guessing (conscious or otherwise).

An exception are the “Literacy Skills” tests included as an extension to version 5.0 of the software. These tests, available for the most popular titles in the database, assess and report on 24 generic higher order literacy skills, including inferential reasoning, main idea, cause and effect, characterization, and recognizing plot. Questions are randomly generated from a 36- to 60-item bank, and tests may be retaken or used for pre- and post-testing, though they do not claim the reliability and validity of the reading practice tests.

As students test on more books, the AR system enables close monitoring of general levels of reading performance. The software provides the teacher with an automatically updated analysis of scores for individuals or whole classes; details include average percentage of correctly answered questions, difficulty of books read, points earned, and other diagnostic information. Computer-generated “at-risk reports” enable the teacher to guide each student's reading practice for maximum effectiveness.

The program was developed in the United States and its use is supported there by extensive in-service training opportunities; in addition, the software publisher maintains a user listserv where teachers and other staff at AR-owning schools can exchange information and post queries. It is a component in the wider school-development program known as “Reading Renaissance.” The program is currently in use in more than 45,000 U.S. schools (more than 1 in 3) and it is spreading to other countries. The associated “Model Classroom Program” identifies and celebrates classrooms in which good practice in implementing Reading Renaissance has been evidenced.

Despite the availability of staff-development training, AR is used rather differently in different schools, and opinions about it are often formed on the basis of its implementation and use (or misuse) in one particular context. Those without broad knowledge of the program also tend to confuse it with other, sometimes significantly different, software.

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Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted November 1999
© 1999-2000 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232