Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SOLSC #4 - False Sense of Security

for encouraging me to write everyday!

Last week I had an interesting conversation with my students.  The topic was AR.  (For those of you unfamiliar with Accelerated Reading, it is a computerized testing program for independent reading.)

During the conversation, I said these words which I fear will come back to haunt me someday...

"I do not care about AR."  

There were many gasps followed by complete silence.

Because we are an AR school corporation, (and because I don't want to lose my job!) I feel like I have to support it in some way.  Here is my "spin" on it.

I explained to them (again!) that the one thing I like about AR is the goal setting, because that is a life skill.  Throughout our lives, we set goals and create a plan to reach them.  They not only need to learn to make a plan, but also to learn how to change the plan when they are not successful. Although we set other reading goals during the year, I feel this is the one way I can support AR.

Then the conversation moved to why I don't like AR.  I wanted to think carefully before I answered.  I could have chosen any of these:

  • extrinsic rewards don't work
  • book choices are limited
  • competition is created among students
  • students can be turned off to independent reading
But the real reason is that it gives them a false sense of security.

Most of these students have been "programmed" to be AR robots since first grade and in some cases by the end of kindergarten.  They have become products of robot reading:  read a book - take a test - repeat until you no longer enjoy reading.

They know they need to correctly answer 85% of the questions on the test.  When they score 85%, they "think" they have comprehended the book.  Here lies that false sense of security.  They have no realization or understanding of the deeper meanings that are hidden in the books they are reading independently.  

Our current read-aloud is One For The Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt.  Many of them will probably get most of the AR questions correct, but did they really comprehend it?  
Did they understand the significance of the sign, "Be Someone's Hero?"  Could they explain how Carley changed from the beginning of the story to the end?  Can they state if they agree or disagree with the ending?  Did they understand the way the author used flashback to tell about Carley's abuse?  Did they infer the message the author wanted to leave with us?

Books deserve reflection and discussion, not low level test questions.

After our AR awards for the second grading period, my principal asked me what we could do to motivate our kids for AR?  He knows how I feel about this, so I looked at him and said, "You are asking the wrong person."

I have been working on an answer for him, but that is another post!


  1. Amen sister! You are so right in your thinking. I shudder when I walk into schools and they proudly tell me they use AR. Stand up for real reading!

  2. Preach it! I abhor AR. Luckily, we are no longer an AR school. We used to be, though, and I told anyone who would listen how much I loathed it.

  3. See, you are not alone in your dislike of AR. I once had kids tell me they didn't even have to read the whole book to pass the tests. They just read sections throughout the book. That really defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

  4. I only know about it through my grandson's experiences. He is a good student who has learned well how to navigate this system. He rarely tells me about good books, only about his scores. I want to cry! Good for you, Leigh Anne!

  5. Yes, yes, and yes! I am so glad our middle school where I teach does not use AR, but I see the damage it inflicts on the elementary students (whose schools do use it). Like Deb, I asked my students how many had taken and passed AR tests without reading the books, and 90% admitted to it, including my own daughter, who fortunately is an avid reader despite AR. That may have to do with the way I encouraged her to read what she wanted and get the tests out of the way. I have no regrets other than not pitching a fit over the way AR was used.

  6. Hate AR - so I'm with you on this, Leigh Anne.

  7. I am so with you. Books are for enjoyment, information, inspiration. I know it is important to check understanding of a book, but just being able to answer questions on what you read to me isn't really reading.

  8. Whoa -- back to back posts about hot topics. I love it! Thanks for speaking out and letting your voice be heard. I'm so glad you have shared this conversation that you had with your students. I have had many of the same conversations too. My fingers are crossed that AR will be long gone next school year. Then we can just read to read! :)

  9. Amen, sister! I will never forget the day my son became "eligible" to read AR books. He got in the car in tears saying, "Now I can't read whatever I want!" I slayed that dragon. He reads around and in spite of the AR program at his school. I've never thought of it in terms of the false sense of security though. Good thinking that I will take into future conversations.

  10. Amen Leigh Anne! I HATE AR! We are an AR school! For my high school students it is part of their English grade!!!! Because I have to be part of it, I try to have as much book choices as possible for my students in my classroom library.Still, it is REALLY hard to find AR books for my ELLs. I live with the hope that one day (hopefully really soon) someone with power will put a stop to AR. Maybe they could take a lesson from you post! Well done sister!

  11. Totally with you. I worked at an AR school a few years ago. The kids first question whenever I shared a great book, often a new book, was, "Does it have a quiz?" ICK, ICK, ICK!

  12. I love this post - when teachers can stick up for good instruction and be honest about bad programs, it's so powerful.