AR Reading Levels

The other day I did a post on the OG Approach and I thought that talking about AR Reading Levels would be a good complement to that. Because, in my experience, AR is great and useful tool. However, much like Orton Gillingham, it is misunderstood and misused. I think Accelerated Reader is a fantastic idea, just not so great for IEPs.

AR Levels are sometimes being used to monitor a child’s IEP progress. While I don’t disagree with a learning disabled child using AR, it is not special education and it should never be used (in my opinion) to monitor a child’s progression in reading skills. Here’s why.

a child reading a book in his Accelerated Reader reading level

I want to stress that I’m not bagging on AR. I love AR and what it does, for the right child. And, by all means, if your struggling reader likes AR and it is motivating them to read more, go for it.

I’ve just seen it misused and abused and used to gaslight parents into thinking that they dyslexic child is making progress.

What is AR?

AR stands for Accelerated Reader. Despite the name, it is not only for readers who are above grade level or accelerated. The name (I assume) is more of a goal, not their ideal customer, if that makes sense. AR is nothing more than software or a computer program that tracks what kids read, and is designed to encourage kids to enjoy reading and read more.

Students, teachers, reading specialists and librarians can work together to access the program. You can use the AR search tool without a code, but you’ll need a code from your child’s teacher if you wish to track their reading.

The concept is relatively simple. Your child sets up an account on the AR website. You can even create a “bookbag” of titles, kind of like a wish list for future reading.

Students can use their search bar to search for topics they enjoy such as “skateboarding” or by author, title or series. The search results will bring you a list of books to choose from, and each book is assigned an AR Level. You can click the button below to check it out.

What are AR Levels?

Each book in the Accelerated Reader database is assigned a level. For example, 7.2. That would mean that a student who is in the second month of 7th grade would be able to read this book. It is an appropriate book for that reading ability. However if your child is in 7th grade and they have been assigned an AR level of 4.3, they are several years behind their age-peers.

I point this out, because I have seen kids who are several years behind their age peers, but have never been referred for IEP evaluations. Or, have spent 3 years in RTI, and are still 3 years behind. While an AR level by itself is not cause for an IEP, it should be a red flag.

This level part of the program is what I really like. Because no one except the teacher and the student has to know the child’s reading level. Students can discreetly browse through titles that are at their reading level.

And, it’s less likely that they will choose a book based on the cover, only to get frustrated because they are unable to read it. AR helps a child choose books that they will successfully read, which can do a lot for confidence.

How Do I know My Child’s AR Level?

Student independent reading levels can be measured using the AR online adaptive test. Adaptive test means the test adjusts as your student responds to each question. If they answer a question correctly, the next question will be more advanced. If they answer a question incorrectly, the question that follows will be easier.

Or your teacher can use another method (standardized test, usually) to determine and assign your child’s level.

Once your child gets their AR level, they can choose books at that level that are of interest to them. The books assigned to them should be challenging, but not to the point of frustration.

Accelerated Reader Points

In addition to a reading level, each book is assigned a certain number of points based on number of words and difficulty level. I like this idea because the thought of ‘having to read 5 books’ might be overwhelming to some kids.

A student can earn partial points even if they do not do well on the post reading quiz. I like that it gives a child some measure of success.

Keeping Track of AR Books

Once a child completes a book, there is an online quiz to determine comprehension. I like this idea as well, for several reasons.

One, is that it can help with accountability and summer reading. If a school assigns 3 books, a teacher can tell if the child actually read them. This can help in a variety of ways, not just accountability for students.

If a large segment of a school is not completing their summer reading, I would think that a school should take notice and do more outreach. Why aren’t they reading? Do these kids have access to books? And if not, how can the school help with that?

The other is that over the years, I have just had so many clients who could decode but could not comprehend. If a child is successfully completing the AR books, but repeatedly cannot correctly answer the questions, I personally see that as a huge red flag for reading comprehension issues. Get that kid evaluated!

Progress Monitoring with AR

Ok, so here’s the thing. AR does monitor a child’s reading progress, in the loosest sense of the words. The problem lies in that when you say ‘progress monitoring’ to an IEP parent, those words mean different things.

Children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities need direct, specific, explicit instruction designed for students with their exact reading deficit. AR does not provide that.

AR merely tracks volume and a minimal amount of reading comprehension.

Pros of AR Reader Cons of AR Reader (for IEP Students)
Encourages independent reading Is not a Special Education program–does not teach reading
Large database to choose from Depending on setup, may not be a secure system. I have had siblings complete the quizzes for siblings.
Discreet, students don’t know each other’s AR levels Child may need more motivation.
Books can be purchased, loaned from library, many options. It is not objective data that should be used to determine reading ability.

Progress Monitoring with AR

AR does not provide objective data about your child’s reading. It only tracks books they have read (or claim to) and their ability to complete a comprehension quiz at the end.

It is designed to encourage kids to choose books that are increasingly difficult as they move through the levels.

And I’m going to say this loud for the people in the back:

Accelerated Reader does not teach a child how to read. Nor will it teach a struggling reader how to read if their skill deficits have not been adequately identified and addressed.

Me.

Now, read that again.

So, if you are parenting a dyslexic child, or think you might be, you need to dig deeper. And we have just the posts for that.

Remember, your child’s IEP won’t get fixed in one day. This takes time, you have to really investigate what your child needs, what to ask for, and create your paper trail if you haven’t already.

These should help.

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