After being absent for a few years, USD 329 is bringing back the Accelerated Reader program for grades K-5. This program is good both for the reading incentive for younger grades and for the STAR exams that evaluate the students’ reading and math levels.
Although the program’s return won’t affect high school students, even the best readers greeted the news with a sort of PTSD.
While a potentially useful tool, the AR program can very easily deter kids from reading if applied incorrectly. I think, at the end of the day, it’s difficult to force students to read. In other words, AR should only be used as positive reinforcement.
When I went to Riley County in 3rd through 5th grade, reading for AR and taking tests was not required. Instead, students gathered points over time and had the opportunity to spend them on real things at the end of every semester. This provided a positive push towards reading for kids, and it worked pretty well. Plus, if kids didn’t like reading, they didn’t have to.
When I was in 6th through 8th grade, I had to do AR at USD 329. Every quarter we had goals we had to meet, and these goals were set based on our past reading amounts. If you met the goal, you got rewarded with a field trip. If you didn’t, you had to sit in a study hall all day.
While I prefer a system with a lack of punishment, this system was all right. At least until I took a test for a book I’d read a few years prior that was worth 65 points (which is a lot for one book). It boosted my goal to 100-150 points a quarter, which is a lot of reading. This was completely my fault, but a system that encourages students to strategically underachieve in order to make things easier definitely has some issues.
If used incorrectly, this program can very easily lead students to dislike reading. If kids are pressured into reading a certain amount of books instead of getting points, it can push kids into only wanting to read books that are much too simple for them. Also, for struggling readers, failing a test and missing out on points, even if they have done the reading, can be discouraging in an unproductive way.
If kids are pressured too much, they may associate reading with the stress put on them at school and lose whatever joy they may have had from reading. This is doubly true if not reading/getting points is met with punishment.
All in all, the Accelerated Reader is a good program, and there’s no doubt that reading is one of the most important skills for grade school students to develop. If the teachers in Alma and Maple Hill requested its return, then we trust they know what they’re doing.
I just hope that this time around, it’s utilized to its full potential.
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