A day in the school library

As part of a Stanford alumni day of service, I spent Saturday at an elementary school library helping to mark books with the Accelerated Reader grade level, quiz number and points awarded for doing well on the quiz. The school has quite a few books, most of which have an associated quiz in the AR computer. Kids enjoy earning points so much they sometimes choose high-point books they’re not all that interested in, the librarian told us.

My partner and I coded lots of sports books, lots of Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl and some Artemis Fowl. Sometimes the reading level or the points seemed odd:  Barbara Cohen’s Passover story, Carp in the Bathtub, was only one point, while similar books were three or four points. (Thirteen was the highest we handled in the C and D authors.)

Both of us questioned whether Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, which includes a sexual assault on a young girl, belongs in an elementary library. (AR marks it as upper-grade reading with a surprisingly low reading level.) The librarian said she’d take a closer look at the book, which had been donated.

It was fun. I love children’s books.

About Joanne


  1. I have mixed feelings about A.R.

    The students are limited to the books for which there are tests.

    It’s a way of tracking how much a student reads, but does it improve reading?

    Some teachers swear by it. Others hate it.

    I tend to be against it because of the unreliability of my district’s PC based computer system and the fact that it’s easy for students to cheat on the tests.

    But I haven’t made up my mind and I’d like to hear what others think about it.

  2. I abhor A.R. My 5th grade daughter, who easily reads at a high school level, was told by a teacher to put away the collection of poetry by Emily Dickinson and read an A.R. book because she hasn’t earned enough points. The teacher was well aware that my daughter read voraciously and fluently, but her reading ability wasn’t the concern, the points were. So my daughter put away Emily Dickinson (poetry doesn’t garner points) and instead read Captain Underpants.

  3. John Drake says:

    I think that’s because Sandra Cisneros has a surprisingly low intelligence level.

  4. Whatever happened to teachers making up reading comprehension quizzes for books/poetry that they are reading in class?

  5. AR is great in the hands of a good teacher (it’s encouraged my son to try books he might not otherwise have tried); in the hands of a “teacher” such as molly’s daughter had it’s a disaster. Throwing things out because bad teachers screw them up is stupid; so is mandating things because good teachers use them.

  6. Molly, I hear stories like that.

    My son had AR which made him read a lot more than he would have otherwise, but the end result has been he doesn’t like reading.

  7. tim-10-ber says:

    AR for a grade really hurt my son’s interest in reading. In third grade they would have contest and earn points for reading. My son loved competing and really enjoyed reading. In 4th grade they made the AR requirement part of their grade — x points = x grade. That really turned my son off to reading…reading for fun and demonstrating comprehension should be the goal regardless of what AP tests are available. Thank goodness AP was NOT stressed for my older son — he loves to read and rarely found anything of interest in his government middle school’s woefully understocked library…

    interesting side note — our district is experimenting with tying several high school libraries with the public library. eventually this will be open to all schools and the school librarian will become a clerk…this will be great as all books in the library system will be available to all kids!!!

  8. A nearby town has their branch of the regional library attached to the MS-HS. During the school day, the larger computer area is reserved for students, but it is available to the whole community at other times and the rest of the resources are available to both students and others at all times, and the facility has much longer hours than a school-only library would have. I like their idea, since it really maximizes access to resources, without any duplication.

  9. Huh? Aren’t the books in the library system already all available to all kids?

    AR uses the lexile score index I think to determine its points system. Of Mice and Men also has a low lexile score — but is obviously mature reading. I love books like this for my remedial high schoolers.

  10. While I’m glad to hear that this A.R. approach works for some students, I would suspect that on balance, it does more harm than good. Isn’t it fairly well established that tying a desired behavior to a relatively trivial and illogical reward will not make that behavior “stick”? In other words, extrinsic motivation does not generate intrinsic motivation. By illogical, I mean that the reward has little to do with the act; the points are not real and not tied in any way to the contents of the reading. The reward for reading, if it must be something other than the act itself, should at least be related to the reading. For example, after you read about the subject, you’ll be ready for the field trip. After you read about pet care, then we’ll consider getting a pet. Slightly better, make reading the reward.

  11. Lightly Seasoned: My experience has been that school libraries are used very little, since none my kids attended have been open more than a few minutes before/after school and most kids did not have time during school to use the library more than a few minutes. That means that the library resources are used on a very limited basis. The town-school library I mentioned avoids this problem, due to its longer hours, which include both evenings and weekends.

  12. I think that AR teaches children to focus on the superficial. A 4th or 5th grade child who is reading on grade level should be learning to read for deeper meaning. The AR quizzes, with their multiple choice questions, can’t begin to assess that. The questions assess whether or not children can remember specific details, but not whether they understood the theme of what they were reading. While those sorts of questions may be appropriate for early or struggling readers, I think they do more harm than good for children who read well.

  13. When my daughter attended school (we now homeschool), I worked in the school library. At that time, the school was just beginning to install and use the AR system, so only a certain number of books was required for each grade at first. Nothing too rigorous.

    Anyway, I suggested to my 3rd grader that she read “The Secret Garden.” I had loved that book as child, and thought she would too. We read parts of it together, and some of it she read herself. When she took the AR test for it, she didn’t do that well, but she had loved the book. That was much more important to me. Not to her teacher. She got mad at my daughter and told her to stick to her reading level only. My daughter was very upset, and yes I let the teacher have it. After that, my daughter hated, simply hated the AR program. Thankfully she still loves reading though and does well on comprehension tests now when she has to take them, like for the ITBS.

  14. Cardinal Fang says:

    “she had loved the book. That was much more important to me. Not to her teacher. She got mad at my daughter and told her to stick to her reading level only.”

    And this, my friends, is where homeschoolers come from.

    I never understood the Pizza-for-Reading challenges that used to be around when my son was younger. (Maybe they still are.) They made no sense to me. Just as well, I thought, offer books for students who eat pizza, as pizza for students who read books. In our homeschooling house, reading is its own reward.


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