A few hours later, a former student sent me a PM on Facebook asking for help because her district wants to eliminate AR and there are complaints from some who see it as a wrong move. They (the people who want to keep AR) cite the "research" indicating that it is the only hope for improved scores, motivating kids to read, and a better life for all. So, that has brought me back here to beat what I thought was a dead horse. Hence, again, here is my diatribe against AR (and could actually be used with some modifications for any PROGRAM. Here are some reasons, then, for arguing against implementation (or for removal) of AR:
1. There is NOTHING (I repeat NOT A THING, NADA, ZIP, ZILCH) that demonstrates that taking a multiple choice test over a book will increase test scores. Let me make this plain: the only component of AR that is unique is the test. ALL of the other elements are part of good instruction and have been for centuries, decades, eons for all I know. What are those other components that are NOT AR's property? Reading aloud, giving choice in reading materials, providing time at school to read, pointing to reading as an important activity, etc. These are all time-honored and evidence-based activities, strategies. Simply taking the test does not drive test scores in and of itself.
2. Reducing a complex text to a series of multiple choice questions is the LOWEST level of reading comprehension (as a matter of fact, I am surprised the CCSS has not criticized the use of AR as they talk about rigor and higer order thinking skills neither of which can be accomplished through AR quizzes). It also reduces the importance of literary elements: themes, characterization, mood, tone, and the like. Again, these do not lend themselves to multiple choice questions.
3. The assigning of points seems almost capricious. Here are some random examples. They are all in the 4-5th grade readability range:
NIGHTSONG 1/2 PT
FAULT IN OUR STARS 10 PTS
SOLDIER'S HEART 2 PTS
OLD MAN AND THE SEA 4 PTS
IN DARKNESS 13 PTS
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS 11 PTS
HUCK FINN 4 PTS
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE 1 PT
PEDRO AND ME 2 PTS
4. And then there is the level designation, also capricious. Same books, now with reading levels:
FAULT IN OUR STARS 5.5
A SOLDIER'S HEART 5.7
OLD MAN AND THE SEA 5.1
TUNES FOR BEARS TO DANCE TO 5.2
IN DARKNESS 5.6
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS 4.9
HUCK FINN 5.4
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE 3.3
PEDRO AND ME 3.9
Note: GN levels have to be suspect to begin with.
5. I am making this the last point for today though I could go on. One of the chief reasons I dislike this program is that it does nothing to build a community of readers. It is competitive (how many points do YOU have? I have MORE!) and solitary. Book discussion is not necessary, than you. Just take the quiz and pick out your new book (and there is now software that can "help" kids with pre-packaged lists, too). Read, quiz, repeat.
There is so much more, but I need to go write something to respond to the former student who is seeking help in clearing out some kudzu. I have some pruning to do. The garden metaphor is an apt one, isn't it? We can help readers grow by providing them with books that nourish mind, soul, and spirit. We cannot nourish them on points and prizes.