The use of accelerated reader with emergent readers.
Article Type:
Statistical Data Included
Reading comprehension (Evaluation)
Cuddeback, Meghan J.
Ceprano, Maria A.
Pub Date:
Name: Reading Improvement Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2002 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0034-0510
Date: Summer, 2002 Source Volume: 39 Source Issue: 2
Name: Accelerated Reader (Educational/training software)

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Accelerated Reader (AR) is a computer based reading and management program that is designed for students in grades K-12. AR is developed and distributed by Advantage Learning Systems, a Wisconsin based company. The goal of AR is to provide measurable reading practice time for each student participant. It purports to supplement any class-based reading curriculum by providing the teacher and each student in the class immediate feedback on how well reading material has been comprehended.

AR data measures three aspects of student's reading practice: quantity, quality and challenge. Quantity is defined as the number of books read and the number of points earned. Quality is indicated by how well the students score on AR tests. Level of challenge refers to the relationship between the difficulty of books read and the student's tested reading ability ("Idaho Statewide Implementation", 1999).

Description and Rationale for AR

According to AR providers (Advantage Learning Systems, Inc. 1999) teachers in non-AR classrooms are often unable to measure comprehension of material students read independently without carrying on a one on one discussion with the student or evaluating journal entries or worksheets pertaining to books completed by the reader. The AR computer system provides more than 27,000 different books, both fiction and nonfiction at different reading levels or zones. Students having access to the system first choose a book in their reading zone and read the story. After reading the story at least once the students take a computerized multiple choice test which usually contains 5, 10, or 20 questions. The test measures the student's knowledge and comprehension of the story. After the student completes the test, they are given immediate feedback regarding their score and questions that were answered incorrectly. The students then earn a number of points based on difficulty level and how many questions were answered correctly. The points accumulate to make the students eligible for a number of prizes (Carter, 1996). AR's management system allows teachers to create reports to track student's progress, number of books read, number of questions answered correctly, and number of points earned (Briggs & Clark, 1997). According to AR providers, teachers can be fairly sure that students have read and basically comprehended the story with AR test products. AR provides continuous assessment and accountability for literature based reading (Paul, Vanderzee, Rue, and Swanson, 1996).


One of the occasional criticisms directed at the AR system including its related assessments has been that use of it fosters "lower level" comprehension of what is read. Lower level comprehension sometimes referred to as "literal comprehension" is generally accepted as referring to the understanding information explicitly stated in the text. As opposed to lower level comprehension, higher level comprehension requires understanding as well as a use of background knowledge to make critical judgments about the text (Leu & Kinzer, 1995). Both lower and higher level comprehension are subsumed under a general definition of comprehension-the awareness of that which is being read and the ability to initiate strategies that help when something is not being understood (Bossert & Schwantes, 1995-1996).

Another criticism directed at the AR system centers over its use of an extrinsic reward system to encourage wide reading. While it is agreed that AR helps schools earn higher standardized test scores; some literacy specialists are concerned that these higher scores may come at a great price. Briggs and Clark (1997) maintains that AR devalues reading by rewarding students with extrinsic motivators such as points and prizes for their reading. Supported by a fair amount of research arising from behavioral conditioning ideology, Briggs and Clark holds that a tangible reward system inhibits the students' development of an intrinsic appreciation and/or love of reading. Students, particularly those who would be struggling readers, are apt to be conditioned to read only when they can garner extrinsic rewards.

As pertains to the above noted criticisms, providers of the AR system maintain that they are unjustified. AR developers hold that literal comprehension is important. When educators promote higher level over lower level comprehension, students begin to see lower level thinking as unimportant. Higher order skills often reflect student's backgrounds rather than their achievement so that comprehension gleaned from text is biased for experience. AR tests are less subject to bias and therefore, all students who read the book and understand it at a basic level receive the same score (Institute for Academic Excellence, April 1999).

Disputing claims on the inadvisability of providing extrinsic rewards the Institute (November, 1997) points to an experimental study completed in 1994 by Cameron and Pierce indicating that extrinsic motivators, when properly administered, actually enhance intrinsic motivation by positively affecting attitude, behavior and interest.

A fair amount of research provides insights on how AR affects children in selected age groups. A five-year longitudinal study by Peak and DeWalt (1993) concluded that AR students scored higher on reading measures and had better reading attitudes than their non-AR peers. Briggs and Clark (1997) showed that AR students reported reading more hours per week and checking out more library books per grading period than the non-AR students; and Vollands, Topping, and Evans (1996) showed that sixth graders who used AR and Reading Renaissance (techniques on how to use AR) acquired higher scores in reading comprehension and showed greater improvements in reading attitudes. A doctoral thesis by McKnight (1992) revealed that AR effectively motivates students and helps them acquire better reading habits (cited in Advantage Learning Systems, Inc. 1999) while a study reported by Briggs and Clark (1997) concluded that the more students use AR effectively, the better chance they will have of passing the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). Finally, a study by Topping and Paul (1999) showed that the more a student practices reading, the better they become. Topping and Paul concurred that the easier reading becomes for students the greater chance they will have of spending more time reading. As students increase their reading time, they may then obtain a love for reading. A review of the literature investigating the effects of AR on emergent readers yielded little if any insights about its effectiveness.


The purpose of this study was to determine if AR is beneficial to the reading development of young emergent reader's comprehension. More specifically, will AR improve young struggling readers comprehension skills and attitudes to improve so that they can more easily become true independent readers?


Subjects who received AR treatment were 12 of 36 students from a rural high-need school who, after completing first grade, did not meet the district DRP benchmark (a score of at least 12) for promotion. The students receiving AR had been randomly assigned to one of three different summer school classrooms. Their instructor is the first author of this article.

Summer school encompassing the AR program ran over a four week period. The children attended school 4 days per week for 4 hours a day. The 12 children examined for effects received AR treatment for periods of approximately 30 to 40 minutes a day every day with the exception of the last day of each week when they were expected to write about their favorite AR book using a story grammar guide provided by the teacher. Specifically, the guide asked students to write about or dictate for the teacher or aide (Crawley & Merritt, 2000) the following elements pertaining to the AR book that was their favorite of the week (Title, Characters, Problem, Solution).

During the first two weeks of AR time, the children were required to read books within their reading zone (for this study these were levels 1.0-1.9) and take at least one AR test every day. During the second two weeks the level of books provided were increased with students having a choice of books that ranged up through 2.9. A motivational bulletin board located in the classroom encourage students to read and accumulate points. Prizes were awarded to students each week based on the number of points they had accumulated. When the students were not working with AR, they received direct instruction in phonics, sight words, use of context clues (mini-book making) and math.

Whether engaged in AR testing or writing, students were allowed access to the books with which they were working so that they could locate the responses to questions presented. For some students, scaffolding was provided to helps them with vocabulary difficulties they encountered while reading a particular book or taking a test.

Finally, to help determine the specific benefits of AR on attitudes, children were administered a short survey at the end of their four week program. In a series of three multiple choice items, the survey asked: What did you like best?, ... second best, and ... least about learning how to read this summer: ... taking AR test?, ... playing vowel games?, ... making mini-books? .... or writing?

The answers were then tabulated for the final results.

Report of Findings: Literal Comprehension

Displayed below is a chart of the 12 students' AR comprehension scores (% received out of 100%) for each of the four weeks. The middle and end columns provide a comparison between achievements for the first two weeks when book levels available were levels 1.0-1.9 and weeks 3 and 4 when choice was provided from books ranging in levels 1.0-2.9.

Using a 5 point gain or loss from week 1 to week 2, it can be noted that all but two children maintained or improved their literal understandings of stories read with only one of the children performing below the 70% level of performance often used to determine adequate silent reading performance on many publicized informal reading inventories (IRIs) (i.e. Ekwall/Schanker Reading Inventory, 1993).

When students were given choice of materials with the option of choosing books that might well be above their reading zones, five students showed a decrease in their literal comprehension performances, though 3 of these students performed at adequate levels of silent reading comprehension performance according to publicized IRIs.

Overall, the class mean increased from a 81 to 83.9% from week 1 to week 2 and from 74.2-76.4 from week 3 and 4. While the conclusions drawn from this facet of the study are limited due to the time over which children's comprehension at different levels were evaluated, most student seem to benefit from their experiences with AR.

With regard to influence of extrinsic motivators utilized in conjunction with this aspect of the study, the instructor felt that they were not harmful. When AR was not in use, they appeared to have just as much enthusiasm as they did when AR is in use. AR was seen as giving some students a "jump start" into reading books for the first time.

Report of Findings: Higher Level Comprehension

To determine if AR affected higher level comprehension, students answered four questions pertaining to story grammar elements of their favorite book each week. They were given 45 minutes to answer these questions on paper. The following chart shows how many students correctly answered each of the four aspects of story grammar week by week.

In order to receive a correct answer, the student must have correctly identified the particular aspect of story grammar. A correct answer is as follows:

1) title- the correct title must be written,

2) characters- the main characters must be written, 3) problem- at least one problem must be identified from the story, and 4) solution- the correct solution to the problem stated must be expressed.

As the chart shows, identification of title and characters (literal comprehension) of the stories they had read posed no difficulty for most of the children. With regard to identifying the problem and solution within each story (higher level comprehension), this skill being relatively weak in comparison to identifying title and character during the initial week of the study was improved for several of the children by the final week of the study.

Case Studies

The written drafts comparing each of two children's understandings of story grammar components for the first week as compared to the final week are displayed below so that qualitative improvements in performance might be observed. Both samples reflect great strides in ability to express understandings. It should be noted here that improvements shown below reflect efforts of the instructor to promote children's story grammar understanding as well as written/oral expression apart from the directives and materials provided by AR.


First Week:

All Tutus should be pink. (Title) Emily and little g (Characters)

Final Week:

More Spaghetti I Say. (Title) Freddy and Minnis (Characters)

Minnis wont play with Freddy because she is eating spaghetti. (Problems)

She got sick. From eating spaghetti.

Now freddy is going to play(?) with spaghetti too. (Solution)

Madison began the program by being able to write only the title and half the characters. As can be seen by the above example, after four weeks she improved tremendously, and wrote to all four aspects of the story quite well though details could have been more clear with regard to the solution.


First Week:

Note: Calvin simply copied the model provided by the teacher in a demonstration lesson. When asked to write his own answers to the questions, Calvin merely copied the last sentence in the book. Final Week

The title is up up and away (Title)

The characters is a boy and girl (Characters)

They get in a rocket

They get in the car

They go back home

As can be noted, Calvin went from copying and not showing any comprehension at all to writing the correct title, characters and sequence of events (with some exclusions). The book he wrote about is a simple book which has no apparent problem and solution, yet his sequencing and organization of the story was accurate.

Children's Perceptions of

Instructional Materials

The survey that was administered to the children during the final week of the program provides some merit for the activities. When students were asked what part of summer school helped them most to become better readers, the majority of students chose AR. Interestingly enough, the vowel games, although played widely and enjoyed by the students, received only one vote. Most of the student's indicated that AR gave them more practice reading and therefore made them better readers. Furthermore, 100% of the students put AR as one of their top two choices when asked to indicate their favorite summer school activity.


The findings lead the authors to conclude that AR did contribute to children's reading comprehension improvement when utilized in conjunction with other materials and teaching procedures. AR by itself is very motivating and as with many programs, can be made even more effective when coupled with instructional directives that promote comprehension improvement--both literal- and higher level. AR does accomplish its goal of giving students more reading practice time and also goes beyond the goal by increasing comprehension knowledge.

It is our feeling that AR can be beneficial if teachers are trained on how to use the program correctly and also how to supplement the program to increase higher level thinking skills.

Limitations and Recommendations

One limitation of this study was the shortness of its duration. Only four weeks of data was collected. A longer period of observation may have revealed results that would be considered more reliable

A second limitation of this study arises from the fact that it was conducted with at-risk readers. Thus, the benefits of AR cannot be generalized to a normal population.

It is recommended that consideration be given to completing the study with a heterogeneous group of first graders approximately halfway through the regular school year. It is also recommended that the element of choice of books from a wider range of reading levels be studied with more careful attention to experimental controls.


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MEGHAN J. CUDDEBACK Albion Central School District Albion, NY 14411

MARIA A. CEPRANO Buffalo State College Buffalo, NY 14222
Comprehension Scores

Students    Week 1   Week   Weeks 1&2

Madison     70       86.7   Increase +16.7
Cody        86.7     88.6   Increase +2.6
Jacob       88       100    Increase +12.0
Calvin      66.7     76     Increase +9.3

Melissa     44       72     Increase +28.0
Shaquille   80       90     Increase +10
Dillan G.   86.7     86.7   Same
Dillan S    100      100    Same

Caitlyn     83.3     80     Decrease -3.3
Ryan        85.7     62.9   Decrease -22.8

Richard     86       80     Decrease -6.0
Samantha    85       84     Decrease -1.0

Students    Week 3   Week 4   Weeks 3&4

Madison     60       86.7     Increase +20.7
Cody        68       83.3     Increase +15.3
Jacob       80       90       Increase +10.0
Calvin      46.7     66.7     Increase +20.0

Melissa     80       60       Decrease -20.0
Shaquille   80       64       Decrease -16.0
Dillan G.   93.3     90       Decrease -3.3
Dillan S    93.3     68       Decrease -25.3

Caitlyn     73.3     84       Increase +10.7
Ryan        47.5     68       Increase +20.5

Richard     75       70       Decrease -5.0
Samantha    93.3     86.7     Decrease -6.6

* Names of subjects have been changed for confidentiality purposes.
             Week 1   Week 2   Week 3   Week 4

Title        12       12       11       11
Characters   11       12       11       11
Problem      7        9        10       10
Solution     2        4        8        7

n            12       12       11       11

n = number of students
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