|The Effects of the Accelerated Reading Program
By Janel Simonsen
The Research Questions
Does a student’s participation in the Accelerated Reading Program enhance their reading fluency, comprehension, and attitudes towards reading? Does it help to create life-long readers? If so, how should a school effectively incorporate it into the regular classroom?
What is Accelerated Reader?
To understand the effects of the Accelerated Reader (AR) program, one must first know what it entails. Educators need to know what it is, how it works, and what the financial responsibilities are.
First, a definition of the Accelerated Reader program is needed. Accelerated Reader is a reading program offered through Renaissance Learning. It “…categorize[s] books by reading levels and provide[s] computer software allowing teachers or librarians to keep detailed records of what books students read and whether they pass a computer-scored quiz about the book.” (Chenoweth, 2001). Putnam (2005) defines it as “…a computerized information system that provides students and teachers with immediate diagnostic feedback on student reading practice through short quizzes. AR facilitates guided reading practice by using feedback from AR quizzes to help students and teachers select books at the appropriate level, monitor comprehension of books read, and guide further reading practice.” Nunnery, Ross, and McDonald (2006) report that according to the National Clearinghouse on Comprehensive School Reform (NCCSR) in 2004, more than 65,000 US schools had implemented Accelerated Reader. “Accelerated Reader’s philosophy is that by using the system, students are motivated to read more and better books. Consequently, because reading is a foundational skill, other academic domains improve in conjunction with reading skills.” (Pavonetti et al, 2002).
Secondly, educators and researchers must understand how AR is to be implemented in to the classroom or school. According to Krashen (2002), children are allowed adequate access to books, read books of their own choosing, and earn points by taking quizzes. “The points are intended to convey how successfully the student understood the book which was read and provide quantitative feedback to the teacher and student. Teachers and students use this information to make informed decisions regarding future reading practice.” (Putnam, 2005). “The idea is for the students to know what reading level they are on and then choose a book that matches that level. After reading the book, the child takes a quiz to see if he or she understood it.” (Chenoweth, 2001).
Finally, one must realize that Accelerated Reader involves a significant financial cost. Pavonetti, Brimmer, & Cipielewski (2002) suggest an investment on three fronts which are “…hardware, software, and books”, while Chenoweth (2001) suggests a more costly scenario. She says that the cost is difficult to determine because the starter packet begins at a few hundred dollars with extra costs added on to add quizzes and train teachers. According to the NCCSR, the implementation costs ranged from $30,000 to $75,000 per school per year. (Putnam, 2005).
What do Educators/Librarians Think?
Educators and librarians are the people who actually implement the Accelerated Reader program in the classroom or library. They have different views on the effectiveness of the Accelerated Reader program and their experiences with it. Many believe that it works, and others do not.
Many educators and librarians support the use of Accelerated Reader. According to Chenoweth (2001), Tonya Bennett, a school librarian, stated that it helped increase the circulation of books. Bennett also said, “The teachers really love it. They’re seeing real results. I am literally running out of books.” Http://www.renlearn.com posts testimonials from educators who use Accelerated Reader. The following are two relevant quotes from teachers. “We love Accelerated Reader! Our students had a ball with Accelerated Reader. Our library has never been busier. We even achieved Master School!” (Abbott). “We have used Accelerated Reader for several years and are quite pleased with the results that the program has helped us achieve on our state testing. Our students K–12 participate, and we have total school involvement.” (Lissman). How comfortable a teacher is using the program may make a difference in how effective it is in the classroom. According to a study conducted by Topping and Sanders (2000), teachers trained in AR by Renaissance Learning were “significantly more effective” than those who were not trained.
Others negate the benefits of AR. “Sharon Coatly, a librarian at Oak Hills Elementary School in Kansas…argues that that points, rewards, and competitions work only for as long as they are in place, rather than developing a real love of reading.” (Chenoweth, 2001). Pavonetti, Brimmer, and Cipielewski (2002) report some areas of concern. They offer the following concerns for consideration: students not being allowed to discuss the books they read, parents and students selecting and reading only books on the AR list, students sharing the answers to AR quizzes, and many types of books not being available on the AR list. Many critics feel that it may reduce a student’s intrinsic motivation and limit their choice of reading material (Nunnery et al, 2006). Chenoweth (2001) reports that Joan Kaywell, professor of English education at the University of South Florida, felt that it could discourage children from reading as well as mislead them. Kaywell also states, “It’s a tool…And it works for some kids and not others.”
Renaissance Learning tries to answer the accusations that their program does not work. The program has greatly expanded the list of available quizzes, and Chenoweth (2001) reports that some people have been won over by the fact that teachers can create their own quizzes for books that do not have them available. Mike Baum, general manager, states that the “…act of reading helps motivate children to read.” He adds that the software is a tool to help teachers keep track of their students’ reading (Chenoweth, 2001). It is not meant to be used as a stand alone program. The basic reading skills must still be taught.
What Does the Research Say?
There is not much research on the effects of the Accelerated Reader program, and the findings within these studies are not consistent. It must also be considered that the results of these studies and research could be due to other external variables such as a student’s previous motivation to read and how the program is implemented in the classroom. In causal research, it must be determined whether the results are caused by the AR program itself or the fact that the students are just reading more. Some research show positive results; while other studies and reports have mixed results.
Many studies do show positive results. “McKnight (1992) and Vollands et al. (1999) found student attitudes towards reading improved with the implementation of AR.” (Putnam, 2005). Nunnery, Ross, and McDonald (2006) found that students who participated in a classroom that implemented School Renaissance including AR had higher growth rates than those in the control rooms. They found that the growth rate ranged from +0.07 to +0.34 across grade levels. Johnson and Howard (2003) conducted a quasi-experimental study to evaluate AR’s effectiveness in improving reading skills and vocabulary development. This study had two main findings. First of all, it found that “Students using Accelerated Reader made gains on [the] Gates-MacGinitie reading comprehension and vocabulary tests.” Secondly, it found that “Students who read more experienced greater test score gains.” Accelerated Reader gave William Sanders and K.J. Topping a grant to conduct a study. They “found that students in classrooms with Accelerated Reader improved their reading scores significantly on Tennessee’s standardized test…” (Chenoweth, 2001). Krashen (2002) reports that “A number of studies have attempted to determine w[h]ether those participating in AR programs show gains on standardized tests or do better than control groups experiencing traditional instruction….Most (but not all) of these studies do indeed show that children improve in reading comprehension.”
On the other hand, there are some studies that demonstrate mixed results. A study completed by Mallette et al. did not demonstrate Accelerated Reader’s ability to inspire children to read (Putnam, 2005). Putnam (2005) conducted a study to “investigate the relationship between the number of Accelerated Reader points accumulated by students and their level of self-efficacy and value of reading. He divided the students into three groups. He found that “…the group of children who accumulated the largest number of points reported increases in reading self-efficacy; while the students in the groups who accumulated fewer than 35 points showed decreases in the same field. All three groups demonstrated decreases in their mean value of reading scores.” Pavonetti, Brimmer, and Cipielewski (2002) conducted a study to investigate whether seventh graders exposed to Accelerated Reader during their elementary school years read more than those who were not previously exposed. They discovered that overall there was no significant difference between the students who had been exposed to AR and those who had not been exposed; however, the results changed when they considered each district individually. The first school district had a mixture of rural and suburban schools. It did not show a significant difference between the students. The second school district did not use AR in the middle school. It did show a significant favor for those students that did not use the program. The third and final district used AR in all their middle schools, and showed favor for those who had used the program in elementary school. This could be due to how familiar the students are with the program. Once introduced to the technology, they can use it with ease. Krashen (2002) refers to one study on the Renaissance Learning website, http://www.renlearn.com. He reports that “AR was done in two middle school classrooms for one year. One class showed gains, the other did not.”
What Conclusions Can Be Made?
The literature is too vague and inconsistent to make any definite conclusions at this point. “Accelerated Reader and Reading Counts seem to fall into the category of experimental, not proven, programs.” (Chenoweth, 2001). According to Arkebauer, MacDonald, and Palmer (2002) as well as Cuddeback and Ceprano (2002), many of the studies and reports document gains in achievement due to the use of AR; however, they lack the use of a control group with which to compare the results (Nunnery et al, 2006). More research is needed on the Accelerated Reader program.
Why Is Future Research Needed?
The use of technology has greatly increased in the 21st century, and it will continue to grow. This is why it is so important to understand why and how computer-based technology can contribute to reading achievement, motivation, self-efficacy, student interest, and the value of reading (Putnam, 2005). There are many areas that need to be researched in respect to Accelerated Reader. This is due to both the lack of research and the lack of research in specific reading skills and achievements. It is also due to the quasi-experimental design of the current research as well as the lack of the use of control groups to use in comparison.
What Should Future Research Consider?
Currently, there is no research that discusses why children read. Putnam (2005) asks the following questions: “Is it for the points (reward) or because they now know how well they are reading and value the activity?” and “…how are teachers using program like AR?”. Pavonetti, Brimmer, and Cipielewski (2002) offer the following areas for future research: motivation, reading ability, and school and home environment. Because of the lack of causal research, the effect of AR on reading fluency, comprehension, and attitudes towards reading should also be considered as future research possibilities.
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