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What is an Accelerated Reader (AR) Program?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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An accelerated reading (AR) program is a program initially developed at the University of Wisconsin, and now marketed by Renaissance Software®. The AR program is designed to encourage young children to read more frequently and to establish lifelong patterns of daily reading. About half the school districts in the US now employ AR programs as part of their elementary school education in reading.

The basic design of AR is fairly simple. Students take a preliminary 10-20 minute quiz, which tests their reading comprehension. They are then scored in what is called a zone of proximal development, which determines what books they should read. For each zone, there are numerous book choices.

In the next step of AR, the child chooses a book in his or her zone and reads it. The child then takes a quiz and either passes or fails it. Each book is not only rated for zone, but also for points, which are assigned to the reader for passing a quiz. Some teachers may require children in an AR program to achieve a certain amount of points during a year. Others simply ask that children take a certain number of quizzes each year.

AR has been linked to higher scoring on standardized tests, and many people support the program. However, claims that AR will establish lifelong reading habits are not proven. Some studies have shown that reading after AR programs have ended, usually by 7th grade, declines. These studies do not necessarily account for other factors that might decrease reading time, like greater homework load, or the hormonal changes that assail young teens.

Some concerns about AR programs have arisen when teachers make rewards based on points. Some children may not choose some of the classic books for kids because they do not have enough “points.” When children choose books on point value only, it rather robs one of the joys of reading. Children who struggle with reading may find themselves frustrated if they cannot pass quizzes within their zone.

Additionally, though schools get a certain number of quizzes when they purchase an AR program, they don’t get all quizzes for all books. Thus students may have reading choice affected by what quizzes are available. Some schools ask parents to donate to the AR program by purchasing quizzes, which are usually about three US dollars (USD) each.

While reading for content is stressed in AR programs, reader for critical analysis is not. Children in later grades, who are good readers, may not be sufficiently challenged by AR questions. Further, some children may interpret content differently and may flunk quizzes by overthinking questions.

AR programs certainly do raise reading comprehension levels on standardized tests, while the programs are in effect. Not all claims about AR tests can, as yet, be verified. Teachers are likely to either support or be opposed to the AR program. Some teachers are happy to see children become more successful readers, but others feel that reading skills cannot be verified only by comprehension. Lifelong reading habits may not be encouraged, according to some teachers, by reducing reading to a system of points and rote learning.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon937224 — On Mar 04, 2014

When my second grade son took an AR test and failed it, the teacher gave him 'a second chance', and had him immediately read and test on another book, within minutes of taking the first quiz, on which he got a zero for the first time ever! This completely bombed his average so bad. This happened two weeks in a row (the second week it was like 20 percent).

I was furious and asked if the teacher could remove the zero, and she of course, said she didn't have the power to do so. Now we have to bring up his average almost 15 percent in less than four days. This will mean he has to read at a minimum 12 books in four days and get 100 percent on each. I don't even know if it's possible. He really only needs to test on three more books, just to make his point goal, so they can't say he didn't make it. Who cares anymore about the average comp percentage at this time ?

Poor buddy. He has pulled many books off the shelf, and I've had to tell him no, because it's above his level. He hates to read, and with this low score because he is now also omitted from an AR Party (because he will not meet his 85 percent comprehension average for this nine week grading period.)

This makes it tough. He is learning to read better, but this AR crap just squishes any desire to read out of him. I have to have my own motivation system at home. For us, because of so much homework, we have to be choosy and make sure we choose the right AR books for his AR goals. We don't have extra time to really read the books that he has shown interest in. This summer will be better: no homework demands, and really reading what he wants to help him become a more fluent reader.

By anon308200 — On Dec 10, 2012

I am an advanced reader, only 13 years of age. My library teacher lets me choose any book whatsoever and read it. She lets me judge the book for myself. And if schools are trying to keep your kids away from higher grade books, complain.

By anon302967 — On Nov 12, 2012

The AR program is terrible. Because of her high reading level, my sixth grade daughter was required to earn more AR points than her classmates. However, none of the books she wants to read -- mostly on science-related topics -- have AR quizzes.

Occasionally, we have found a book that she would be interested in, only to find that it was misclassified (e.g., "I Am the Cheese" is listed as a fifth grade book, worth only seven points). A slow-read, dense book like "The Code Book" is worth only 13 points, whereas an age-inappropriate, dimestore "philosophy" book by Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead) is worth 53 points! My daughter, who used to do nothing but read for pleasure, and who is now extremely stressed out by this program, noticed it in her struggle to earn points, that "Atlas Shrugged" is worth 102 points! I am livid, actually.

By anon301200 — On Nov 02, 2012

The AR program seems horrible. Not much information is given back to the parents regarding the AR scores and why a student scored in the way they did. My son is often reading books at a higher AR level then what he has tested at and is told to put those books back when selecting them from the library.

When I discuss the books that are above his current level, he is absorbing and comprehending the material just fine. This AR program should be trashed and should not be allowed in schools without parental feedback.

By anon254847 — On Mar 14, 2012

AR stinks. Thanks to AR, I'm going to be failing English class. My goal is 60 points! 60 points in nine weeks! You know, I used to like reading. AR ruined it for me.

Flashback: It was the last quarter of fourth grade. I needed twenty four more points to pass my goal, and I only had two more weeks in the quarter. so I said to myself, "Hmm, I need a twenty four point book." And then, I found it: "The Yearling," and it was in my reading level range! I knew I was going to pass English class!

But shortly after starting the book, I realized how big a mistake I made. It was the most boring book ever. It was just a big pile of word soup. I couldn't focus! I was trying so hard to focus, I was crying. My mom told me to put the book down and never try reading it again if it was causing me that much stress. So I did, and I failed English class. So that is why I forever hate AR and anything that has to do with it!

By anon199934 — On Jul 25, 2011

I'm a junior in high school. and AR has really robbed me of my love for reading. I used to read all the time in fourth and fifth grades. My teachers used to joke that I never slept, ate or played games, that I just read. But the AR system forced me to read books I didn't care about. When I'm not interested in a book, I zone out when I'm reading it, and can't focus on it, so I don't do well on a test. It ruins reading for me, so i stopped taking tests. I would read the book, and turn it in. Is it so wrong to enjoy reading?

By ShondaBrisco — On Apr 07, 2011

AR or RC can begin at any time. It is purchased as a reading tool by the school district and both of these programs can be used at the K-12 grade levels. However, materials, as well as reading levels, may be limited at both the higher and lower levels of the programs.

School districts that mandate the use of the AR program by teachers and students are essentially “killing” the excitement and desire for reading by children, especially when the program runs throughout the K-6 grade levels. Initially the program draws excitement and interest as students earn points, prizes, and accolades for passing reading tests. However, as the program continues, many students grow tired of the process. Students who are “required” to read a number of books or have a certain number of points for a class grade are more likely to resent the program -- and eventually reading for enjoyment. Guidelines shared by the Renaissance Learning company state that grades should not be tied to the program, but many school districts do this as an excuse. Teachers say that they cannot read ‘every book’ that students read and cannot determine if a student has shown competency in reading without a test and a grade. This is essentially a naive approach to the instruction of reading.

To learn more about what you, as a parent or teacher, might be able to do about this problem of AR / RC destroying a child’s enjoyment of reading, I suggest that you read: “Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about it” by Kelly Gallagher and “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes” by Alfie Kohn. Both of these authors have websites to review additional content and to learn ways to help schools move beyond this insanity.

On the bright side: with budget cuts being made, the cost of maintaining the Renaissance Learning (AR program) is staggering. By eliminating this unnecessary program from the school’s budget and returning to traditional reading, discussion, and creative thinking skills applied to the evaluation of a book, perhaps our children will once again learn the happiness of reading for enjoyment.

By anon165369 — On Apr 04, 2011

I would like to know at what grade level do most schools begin AR or RC. I would think that K-1 is too low to begin. That is the time that one would read aloud daily, read different genres, and just get kids excited about reading. I would just like to know what you all think.

By anon135014 — On Dec 16, 2010

So I met with my oldest daughter's teacher about the AR issue we are having. AR in the school is 50 percent of their reading grade! I asked today if she was certified to teach the AR program, she said they don't need to be. OK, what to do now?

By anon127295 — On Nov 15, 2010

I am a third grade teacher and I love AR. I don't use it for a grade or require my students to get a certain number of points either. We begin with their ZPD and students choose books from this range. If they complete this, we keep adding levels as long as they are passing test and feel comfortable moving on.

I have had many students improve their reading levels two grade levels by doing this. I also reward my students for each book they pass, not based on percentages. They love it.

By ShondaBrisco — On Nov 04, 2010

The AR program is not designed as a "testing program" but rather as a reading motivation program. Renaissance Learning (the parent company) advises all librarians and teachers to use the program as a motivational tool, not as a testing tool for grades, rewards, or prizes (which is a big change from the earlier program in the late 1980's early 1990's).

I have done research on the program and have used it (unfortunately) with some students. However, even with learning to ride a bicycle, one day the training wheels have to come off! The AR program is basically a system by which a classroom teacher won't have to read a ton of books in order to determine if the student has read the book.

Lower-level, reading comprehension multiple choice questions are presented and there is no evidence that the student truly understands what has been read--or if they simply have learned to take a multiple choice test. Some children have read books, taken tests, and then later re-read a book and when they find out that they've already taken the test, they have told me, "I don't remember reading the book or taking the test before now." If a child / student truly understands the book and if the student has developed a love of reading and the literature that has been read, they usually remember the book.

I would certainly ask the teacher to share with me the results of their workshop experience through Renaissance Learning and where they attended their training sessions. If they do not understand what you're talking about or cannot show you that they have been trained in the use of the program, I would certainly ask the school board to investigate the obvious "waste of school funding" for a program that is not research-based and is not being implemented correctly to encourage the development for a life-time love of reading.

As a parent, you have the right to ask for alternatives to the AR program, and if a teacher is "too busy" to read and discuss the book with the class, then perhaps we are trying to stuff too much nonsense into the curriculum in order to "teach to the test" at the end of the year.

By anon124154 — On Nov 04, 2010

AR is very frustrating. My second grader can read on a sixth grade level. The school requires he reads book in a certain level. He is still a 7 year old in the second grade and is very much interested in reading books that appeal to him! I am so afraid AR is going to ruin his love for reading. Help! What do I do?

By anon122885 — On Oct 30, 2010

I don't understand why my child's teacher is restricting what books my child can get from the library. My child is in third grade and reads at a sixth grade or higher level. My child has followed all her teacher's guidelines, and after she meets and exceeds the goals set out before her, she

tries to get higher level books. The teacher then tells her to put it back, that her points are high enough.

I'm confused and my daughter is frustrated! It's as though they don't want my child to get "too far ahead of her class." She is in an advanced class, always gets highest honors and is in both gifted and talented programs (regular and art). They are now breaking up the advanced classes and mixing fast and slow learners together because teachers were complaining that it wasn't fair that the advanced teachers had it too easy. I guess they are hoping for a midas touch but it doesn't seem fair that the fast learners have to slow down. I am considering homeschooling for this and many other reasons.

By jen12113 — On Sep 16, 2010

I have two children in school, ages 12 and eight. The year before last, my now 12 year old started the AR program at her school. I was all for it. I thought it was a great program. I mean she was reading already and requested books for birthdays and Christmas. It was great until AR happened.

She spent days reading a book, and it was a level up from what she was supposed to read. I didn't stop her, because she was reading!

She took the test, and did O.K. but was not given the credit because it was out of her level! She has taken tests where she scored low. This school only allows one attempt. Now my youngest is in third grade and her teacher said that they are doing AR. I was mad.

I want to know where I can take a test. I have read the books my oldest has read, and I want to get tested. Where can I do this? The school is not helping. They said look online. I have spent the last two hours searching and can find nothing. This AR is 50 percent of my oldest daughter's grade in her reading class.

By anon103269 — On Aug 11, 2010

I am so glad I'm not alone. Thought I was the only one who felt AR test are not the only way to test a child's knowledge of a book. My child reads a book and knows what it's about and then takes the test and misses a passing grade by a point or two.

Also, the stress that is involved to try to get the points required. Some of these kids only have to read one or two books with high points to reach the required limit and others have to read many books to get to the same level and do not always pass,so it's a waste of time and leads to poor self confidence for my child.

By anon77595 — On Apr 14, 2010

My son had AR testing last year in 1st grade at public school. My son took nearly 400 AR tests. He checked out over 200 AR books from the school library and even got an award for it. The rest were books that we had that happened to be AR books.

He was reading up to four AR books a night and taking four tests a day. By the end of the year I said AR had killed my love of reading!

This year he is in a private Catholic school. They have been doing a program called Reading Counts. They read a book in class and are required to do one test a week. That's been better for him.

However, just today his teacher told me they were starting to implement the AR system! Ugh! I'm so upset I could scream!

By anon67617 — On Feb 25, 2010

I am a 2nd grade teacher and use AR in my classroom. However, I do not use it as a percentage of my students' grade. I use the average of their AR test from the quarter as one grade that is weighted equally with all other Reading grades.

My daughter was a Reader until she was in 6th grade and had a teacher who not only made her stick to her level, which I do agree with, but also had to aprove the book. This was a disaster because there were no more than ten to fifteen books in the library that were in her level, I checked. It made her love for reading disappear.

Your school library must be well stocked with books from every level so that children can find something they enjoy in their level. Two to three books a night and 6 to 8 points a week is crazy. I assure you that teacher has not been trained to use AR correctly.

Schools want to put these great Reading programs in our school, but don't want to fork over the money for training and forget to train the new teachers that come in after the initial year of introduction. It is sad for our children.

By anon64024 — On Feb 04, 2010

I agree with all of your posts. We recently moved to a new state and my daughter was entering the public school system in 5th grade from a private Catholic school. She loved reading and would usually read a chapter book every week to two weeks.

Now I never see her with a book and she is trying to find a way to meet the stupid point requirements that her teacher is expecting. In searching for this way she is going to be forced to select books based on their point values instead of on her own personal interest. She could even take an AR test on the Twilight movie even though she did not actually read the book to obtain a total of 28 points? How is this possible?

I understand that the program is supposed to be used to increase reading skills, frequency and comprehension, however, I agree with an earlier post. How are you supposed to learn comprehension when it is an incentive to move on to another book if you do not pass the quiz on the one you read?

You would think that the educators would want the children to return to the book that they vested time in reading and re-read for greater comprehension. This is the basis of learning and studying once they move on to greater education. My personal feeling is that the educators are concerned more with passing standardized tests to get their funding instead of actually educating our children. This is a travesty considering that we are the "slowest" nation when it comes to education.

I have been doing some research online and the first thing that this program explains as a benefit is "increased scores on standardized testing".

I am so frustrated because I feel somewhat powerless to change anything. If I teach her to subvert the system or just do what is required, I am, in effect, teaching her not to think and just do. This I have real problem with.

By anon62352 — On Jan 26, 2010

I am so glad I am not the only parent who is concerned with the AR program. I think our schools are too quick to tote political lines and be with the "in" crowd that they don't really think about how it will affect the kids.

My 10 year old has been an excellent reader since Kindergarten but since the push of the AR program, she is to the point where now she doesn't like reading.

What's worse is that our school has a district wide reading contest with the AR program. Our four elementary schools as a whole and each grade all compete to see who gets the most points in during a four-week contest. It's meant to promote the fun of reading but there's so much pressure on the teachers and students to perform that it's driving everyone in the wrong direction.

From talking to the teachers in my daughters school, I find teachers are just as frustrated with the AR program and often are pressured just as much as you feel your children are.

If you really want to address the problems you are having, talk to your kid's teachers and principals and bring it up at the next board meeting. Our superintendent is the guilty party in our case. He is all about the points system and seemingly does not care that he's driving a generation of kids to hate reading.

By anon47509 — On Oct 05, 2009

I have three children in elementary school. They all have to take AR tests, three books a month, three tests a month. My two oldest are doing fine with it but my second grader is having a difficult time. I go over each book with her numerous times. I let her read the book by herself twice and then sit down with her and read it with her. I then quiz her on what she has read and she does great. Unfortunately, she gets to school and takes the exam for the book and keeps getting a 50 percent. I'm so frustrated! I don't understand how she is failing these tests. I have a conference with her teacher this week so we'll see what she says. I have to say I was also disappointed to find out that the tests could not be retaken. Vanessa

By anon30058 — On Apr 13, 2009

Interesting comments. Not convinced either that AR is the best way to instill a love of reading either. Teachers (and parents) are missing "teaching moments" when kids are flying through books just to get the credits. It has become apparent to me that at my sons school kids are just learning how to speed read! How on earth can a student be expected to fully appreciate a book by answering 10 questions?!

In my family we combat the pressure of the AR reading load by always having an AR book on cd/tape that I loan from the library in the car. My son and I can listen together, and talk about the vocab, plot, historical interest, or whatever catches our attention. I try to ring the changes by choosing a diversity of titles. We enjoy (and I might say my 'done with AR teenage son does too) doing AR this way and though it doesn't replace reading independently, it helps to crack through the required points *and* learn something new from each book along the way!

By WGwriter — On Nov 21, 2008


I've think you've got an excellent point to raise with the school board or school administration, or at the next PTA meeting. If children are reading independently, are they really, at the age of 10 or so, expected to fully understand how to comprehend material? A lot of schools use this program to augment but not for grading. Though obviously schools can choose their curriculum as long as it meets the state's standards.

Does your school have multiple classes, where this isn't part of grading criteria? Maybe a switch to a different teacher would be appropriate. Or perhaps you can talk to the teacher about finding other ways to assess comprehension or grade you son, particularly if he's having difficulty in this area.

I'd start with the teacher and move up as needed if you can't get what you need for your child. Since this work is primarily independent work, it seems like your son isn't getting the support he needs, and that is not teaching, that's simply grading. If this is a true requirement of the school, you ought to be able to ask how they are teaching your son the skills he needs to pass these tests, and if they don't have an answer, it may be time to request a different grading method. Letting him fail repeated quizzes isn't increasing his skill set, so that's really not a viable method of educating, and that is the school's responsibility.

I wish you luck with this, and this is just my two cents as a fellow mom. Keep us posted if you talk to the school.


Tricia EC

By anon21659 — On Nov 19, 2008

I am a concerned parent who's child is in fifth grade and barely passing reading because of AR points! The teacher wants the student to read 2-3 AR books a night and test to obtain 6-8 points a week. That is a lot of reading for a child who brings home at least an hour of homework a night. The teachers at this school are using AR scores as 50% of his grade it counts as a test grade. If the students are busy reading AR and worried about points they are not enjoying reading like they should be, and what are the teachers teaching if it is all about AR and the AR test scores. Reading used to be fun for my 10 year old, now it is just work. Can someone please give me some advice! I thought AR was supposed to be an incentive and encourage the love of reading. My son is now getting books based on point value, not because he is interested in reading. Is the school right for letting the teachers use this as a major portion of the students grade?

By WGwriter — On Oct 01, 2008


I think you're right on on your comment. I found AR frustrating because kids couldn't retake quizzes. They ought to be able to because children ought to learn how to comprehend material, before moving onto the next thing. I'm not sure what's being taught if they abandon the book they didn't comprehend, to start another one?

Thanks for your comment,

Tricia EC

By anon18811 — On Sep 29, 2008

I am finding AR extremely frustrating, both for my daughter and for me as a parent. AR is 30% of her grade. If she does not pass a test, she gets no points toward her goal, but the test percentage is counted and pulls her grade down. So not only is she not rewarded for reading the book, she is actually punished for it. There are no follow-up quizzes, retakes, etc. Teachers should, at a minimum, allow the child to write a book report to recover the damage to their grade. This program is NOT motivating my daughter to read, but is actually robbing her of self-confidence in her reading abilities.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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