Due to a oddly configured “readability” formula, the popular Accelerated Reader program gives more points to a student for reading a Nancy Drew mystery than reading Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” If kids really want enough points to earn a pizza party, they’ll read a long, point-rich Tom Clancy novel.
Accelerated Reader provides software that quizzes students on their comprehension of books they’ve chosen for themselves from the school library, explains the Washington Post. There are quizzes for 100,000 books. Students get points based on the difficulty of the book. But the “readability” formula produces odd results, partly because length is equated with difficulty.
Under the formula, the complicated and violent “Macbeth” earns a reader four points, and the Nancy Drew mystery “The Picture of Guilt” is worth five points. Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” is worth 20 points; Tom Clancy’s voluminous “Executive Orders,” 78 points.
I’ve heard very good things from teachers about Accelerated Reader, though it doesn’t work if the school doesn’t supply enough books for students to choose from.
But to (Brad) German and other parents, the levels and points give kids a disincentive to read the classics. He said he is stumped by why the highest-scoring Shakespeare play, “Hamlet,” is given half the value of the lowest-scoring Tom Clancy novel.
That seems like a fixable problem. Give fewer points for length and more for complex language.
The Post includes an odd paragraph.
There have been several studies of Accelerated Reader by independent researchers over the years, with mixed results. Some studies show organized reading programs have positive effects on reading scores. But some researchers say the testing and rewards associated with Accelerated Reader help perpetuate the “high stakes” testing atmosphere fueling education today.
This seems to say that AR helps students read better. That’s good. The “mixed” result is that it encourages them to value doing well on tests. That doesn’t seem so bad to me. I also question whether earning enough points to get a class pizza party is “high stakes,” even to a kid.
Many schools now make time for a daily period for students to read independently. Or to stare blankly at a page. Accelerated Reader gives them an incentive to read and checks their comprehension. Not many students are choosing “Macbeth” over Nancy Drew — nor would they with more points for Shakespeare — but they’re reading.
InstaMom’s BooksforKids recommends books that children will enjoy reading.