A quick Google search on Accelerated Reader (AR) will lead to all sorts of varied opinions. The most vociferous I find are the haters, very vitriolic in their critiques of the program. What is sorely lacking from many of these strong opinions is a sense of perspective and balance. Accelerated Reader is a program – a tool – designed for a specific purpose and is not intended to be a replacement for the teacher. Like all tools it is only as effective as the person utilizing it. If you need an analogy I am sure we all know of a few fishermen sporting the latest kit only to be skunked week in and week out. Or how about all the weekend warriors sporting the latest tennis racket with no noticeable improvement in their game?
Merits or demerits of the program aside, what AR does give you is data, lots of it. What I find the most useful is the average student ATOS book level. Along with all the other end of the year assessments, I now have multiple data points between AR, MAP Reading Survey results, and DRA2 assessments to start making some connections. After crunching the numbers these are my findings based on my Grade 2 class sample size of 19 students:
There is no evidence of a correlation between AR levels and DRA2 levels. This isn’t surprising as the DRA2 has an oral fluency component that is lacking in both the AR and the MAP, not to mention the written component in levels 28 and above.
There is evidence of a correlation between average AR levels (ATOS Book Level) and the MAP test RIT score reading level. By way of example, the mean Spring 2016 RIT score for my class is 201 (which equates to roughly a few months into grade 4) and the average AR book level based on the report generated from the same day as the Reading MAP test is 4.3 (4th grade third month).
So what? Does it even matter? I would argue yes because understanding there is a link allows us to trust the AR reports to give us a bird’s eye view of the class. It doesn’t mean that we should do away with DRA2 assessments, running records, etc. – these are not mutually exclusive conversations – however, it is an opportunity to take advantage of tech to help teachers to work smarter instead of simply harder. Time is something we teachers will never have enough of, but we can use average student AR levels to check-in on how our students our doing, to monitor their progress, and to hold each other accountable for working towards our common reading goals. At the end of the day it is all about using the right tool for the job, and AR is one tool that I can use to help me help my students to become better readers.