So What?

…While Amazon.com and other online booksellers boast lists of best sellers and a local librarian can advise on which books are in frequent circulation,
neither can tell you if any of these books were ever opened, much less
if they were read cover to cover. Renaissance Learning has unique
insight into the books kids are reading, and we are pleased to share this
information with you for the first time….

The above is from Renaissance Learning’s self-proclaimed “Groundbreaking Report” [sic]: What Books Are Students Reading in Grades 1–12?

Please. All this reports tells us is what books kids are reading for their school’s Accelerated Reader program. Cover to cover? Well, some kids may really be losing themselves in the books, but I suspect (based on my own years as a teacher and earlier ones as a kid doing SRA which was also quiz-based) that they are far more concerned with collecting book credits than in properly reading them. To my mind this report has way less crede than the above disparaged stats from booksellers and librarians. For those unfamiliar with AR, this is how it works (according to their own website):

It’s as Easy as 1-2-3

  1. Student Reads a Book. Students choose books at their appropriate reading levels and read them at their own pace. Visit AR BookFinder to search for available titles.
  2. Student Takes a Quiz. Accelerated Reader Enterprise offers more than 120,000 quizzes to help you motivate and monitor students’ reading and vocabulary growth.
  3. You Get Information. You get immediate feedback on the reading and vocabulary progress of each student.

Seems benign, right? Well, not exactly. Well, hold on. See that “Visit AR BookFinder to search for available titles.”? Means, just that — not all books are part of this program. Besides, since when did a simplistic “quiz” indicated that a kid really read a book thoroughly? Hate to tell you, guys. It doesn’t.

About as groundbreaking as …. I don’t know…sliced bread?

9 Comments

Filed under Reading

9 responses to “So What?

  1. Monica, I was skeptical when I read about this report, too.

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  2. Amanda

    I so agree with you, Monica (and I remember doing SRA as a kid too).

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  3. thereadingzone

    The worst part is that the quizzes consist of inane details that students rarely remember.

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  4. Karen

    Monica, You’re absolutely right that taking a test is no indicator of kids reading a book. A few years back, one of our classes was caught ‘cheating’ with AR. Seems the teacher had required the kids read an AR book once a month. The kids, being overloaded with homework, sports, etc. decided that they would pool their book knowledge and take tests for each other on books they had read (i.e. I’ll take a ‘Hatchet’ test for you if you take a ‘Holes’ test for me). The kids were caught and reprimanded but I’m not sure the teachers realized that they had fostered the situation by requiring an AR book and only an AR book. SInce then, some of the teachers have backed off using AR exclusively but still require it occasionally. I understand that AR is one measure of making sure kids have read a book but there are so many other creative ways that it seems we shortchange our kids by relegating them to a computerized test.

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  5. A literacy professor of mine at the University of Utah told an excellent, unforgettable story to drive home the biggest weakness (in her opinion) of AR.

    A guy is annoyed with a bunch of kids outside his house who are banging pots and pans. So he goes out and says, “I’ll pay you a quarter if you bang pots and pans here, outside my house, for ten minutes.” He pays them. They bang. He pays them again. They bang some more. He goes on paying them every day for a few weeks. Then one day, he stops paying them. And he immediately gets his peace and quiet, cuz the kids won’t bang for free anymore.

    The point being: reward kids with quizzes and prizes and AR points and you might get some short term results, but long-term??? Yikes. You’re squelching the intrinsic rewards and there’s a fair chance they won’t know how to read for pleasure or curiosity.

    I’ve really loved using the model Nancie Atwell outlines in her book that came out last summer called The Reading Zone. It’s targeted at middle-school aged kids, but lots of useful ideas for middle grades, too.

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  6. Pingback: are YA reading levels really that flat? « fomagrams

  7. For those interested in the whole issue of intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards, I recommend Alfie Kohn. (http://www.alfiekohn.org/index.html) One of his many books is titled, PUNISHED BY REWARDS:The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.

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  8. Absolutely on all points. The only really interesting thing about it is seeing which books children tend toward that _are_ on the AR lists.

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  9. lindsay

    AGREED! The title of the report title is misleading and false!

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