A Comment I Left On the Renaissance Learning Blog, Regarding Data, Accelerated Reader, and Point Systems

Renaissance Learning, creator of Accelerated Reader, recently posted an article on their blog, titled No datum left behind: Making good use of every bit of educational data. It was written by Eric Stickney, the Director of Educational Research at Renaissance. Below is my comment, which is awaiting moderation. Where do you stand on this issue? Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this post.

As a principal, I’m interested in how specific activities can help increase student engagement, especially at the intermediate grade levels. Numbers are fine, but they don’t tell me a lot about how motivated students are with their learning. Specifically, what qualitative types of information could be measured regarding engagement? What tools could help assess student dispositions toward learning and student interactions with each other about their reading lives? Accelerated Reader has a very robust system. It could be even better if kids were allowed to interact with each other in this online space. They should be able to not only rate books, but also write reviews, recommend books to others, and share their to-read lists. Think Goodreads for kids.

I’m also troubled that Accelerated Reader still promotes a point system. How many studies need to come out before Renaissance Learning decides to scrap this external motivation tool, something that can actually decrease a student’s motivation to become a lifelong reader who doesn’t need a point system to pick up that next book?

Data is great. Quick comprehension checks can give some information about surface-level understanding. These results can aid a teacher in being more responsive in their instruction. But if student information systems only provide a number, then it fails to encourage further learning for the sake of pursuing knowledge and interests. Some things just aren’t quantifiable. This is something I am looking to investigate.

Respectfully,
Matt Renwick

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

8 thoughts on “A Comment I Left On the Renaissance Learning Blog, Regarding Data, Accelerated Reader, and Point Systems”

  1. Matt, I totally agree with everything you wrote. It’s why our school has never participated in AR because with point systems, like the Pizza Hut Bookit program, all you get is a lot of fat kids who hate to read. I also agree that it would be terrific if AR came up with a way for kids to interact and to measure engagement.

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    1. Yes, the Book It program is another tricky issue. I really like their Principals Read Challenge, but I struggle a bit with the free pizzas. Maybe Pizza Hut is not even aware of the research about external motivators and reading?

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  2. Data, data, data! I truly believe we spend way too much time crunching numbers and over analyzing them. I read with my students and have my students read to me. We respond in journals and online about the books we are reading together and individually. My diligent observation skills and note taking is worth more than any data that a program can regurgitate. Before our state testing scores arrive I can already tell you which students will not be proficient. I truly do not need a program to motivate my students or monitor their progress. I am a firm believer that the teacher is the number one influence in a student’s progress. Do I see some benefits in the Accelerated Reader program? Sure, I do, but it can never deliver the human element and expertise that I am can provide as an educated professional in my field.

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    1. Amy, it sounds like your frequent interactions with your students is making all the difference in their reading habits and dispositions. I’m glad you have found what works for you.

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  3. I don’t know of any formal quantitative tools, but it seems that reading confidence surveys could help assess student dispositions toward their reading.

    Totally agree that Accelerated Reader is a robust system-and it has become even more robust this past year with the new digital, collaborative, and discussion oriented reading features, so that kids are “able to interact with each other in this online space.” Your ideas about letting kids also rate books, write reviews, recommend books to others, and share their to-read lists are all great ideas, too!

    I have to say, though, that the concept of practice points, when the point achievement is set with individual student goals, is actual an intrinsic motivation. Indulge me this analogy: it is much like the motivation I get when I see how many calories I burn when I workout at the gym, regardless of how many calories my fellow gym goers burn or how many miles they run. I love the sense of personal accomplishment that I get when I achieve my personal goals…when I see myself getting stronger and fitter. I love reading, but I will never love to play sports or exercise. I just won’t. But, I know I need to exercise to have a healthy and happy life, and counting the miles and seeing the number of calories burned go up helps motivate me intrinsically to do it. I see my sons have the same motivation with AR…and there are no pizzas or prizes involved… Just a sense of accomplishment for achieving their own point goals and seeing their reading muscles getting stronger and stronger!

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    1. Thank you for commenting. Normally I am pretty open-minded when I respond to someone who comments on my blog, but in this case I can comfortably say that you are wrong. Before AR came around, kids were doing just fine completing books on their own. They didn’t need a system to keep them reading. Readers derive motivation from the act of reading itself, not from any reward.

      I would encourage you to delve more deeply on the topic of motivation. My first suggestion would be to explore the work of Alfie Kohn (www.alfiekohn.org). He writes frequently about this subject and backs up his work with research and sound reasoning. It may clear up some misconceptions you appear to have.

      Best,
      Matt

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  4. I am a University Professor who recently moved the family across the United States and my daughters are now in a school with AR reading. All I know about the AR reading program is from my experience this year – My oldest daughter went from a straight A student in a pre-ivy league school that absolutely LOVED reading to completely refusing to read!! In fact, she used to love reading so much that I would catch her reading all night long! She read books that are considered “above” her AR level that she is now no longer “allowed” to read according the AR reading program! Now we are fighting with her to get her to read even the most simple book – and she will state that “she hates reading now because its boring”!!! In my opinion AR reading has done irreparable damage to my daughter’s sense of wonder and excitement over reading! In fact, I would absolutely avoid ANY school that uses the AR reading system! My daughter tested grades above her class at the beginning of this school year….but after several months of the AR reading program she is now tests well below her class level!! As an educator, I find this entire system to be very counter productive!!! I cannot believe that this system was “sold” to so many schools as a good way to test/teach reading!! Someone has definitely been sold a “bill of goods”!!! As a Professor, I will tell you that this program will absolutely kill your child’s sense of excitement for reading and as a parent, I will passionately fight this system with every fiber in my being!!

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