Misconceptions about the AR system: 

 1.  Book Levels:  The book level system used by AR is a grade level system. Not true! The AR leveling system is not a grade level system.  There is no way a book like Of Mice and Men is a fourth grade book, yet it has a book level of 4.5   Of Mice and Men is most definitely NOT a fourth grade book!  The ATOS system runs the entire book, page by page through a scanner, and then a program that counts every single syllable and difficulty level of each word in the book.  The book level is not designed to be a number that tells you appropriateness in terms of age or grade in school-it is merely the vocabulary level of the words in the book.  Looking at a book level only and saying it’s a “grade level” is an example of poor implementation. The content in Of Mice and Men is much to mature for most fourth graders (and even older students) to handle, but the vocabulary level makes it so much easier for high school teachers to use it, because students are not hung up on the vocabulary of the book and are able to decipher and analyze the deeper literary elements.  Likewise, many books are written on higher vocabulary levels.  The biggest disservice we give our top performing students is when we demand they read books on higher and higher levels, just because they have the ability to do so. There is a time and a place for reading on level vocabulary-wise,  in school.  AR is not the place for that, especially with regard to our best readers!  AR should be about pleasure reading, and for most of us, we get pleasure when we read books that are easy to understand.  


2. “The questions on an AR quiz don’t measure quality comprehension; they merely ask basic recall questions.”  This is entirely true.  The purpose of the quiz is to find out whether or not the student understood what was read. If someone is reading a chapter book, they are using all of the deeper skills, like character analysis, predicting outcomes, context clues, etc.  Once we know they are understanding what they’re reading, it’s our job–not the job of the AR quiz–to teach them how to recognize and harness that magic.  


3.  “Amassing large amounts of points does not create a reader.”  Again, this statement is entirely true. In the beginning, before the company began mining the research to see what is effective, they did advocate point clubs, point stores, top point earners, etc.  Many people don’t realize that the company has not advocated rewarding based on points alone for a very long time.  All of the research indicates that average percent correct on the quizzes, combined with incorporating that comprehension into direct reading instruction is far more important than amassing large amounts of points.  In fact, the research shows that students who amass large amounts of points, yet have low percent correct averages, not only don’t grow, they actually go backward in their reading growth.  


4.  “Students who use AR will not read a book if there is not a quiz available for it.”  This is true, too–if the AR quiz alone has become the end-all, be-all for those students, because of poor implementation practices.


The bottom line is, there is no magic formula for getting kids to love reading and to become critical thinkers–as far as a program is concerned.  The magic formula is in the teacher/librarian’s ability to know their students, know their books, and have the ability to make the match. (In the words of Dr. Teri Lesesne)  The problem with the way many schools use the program is that teachers and librarians want an easy way to let something else make the match….and there really is nothing else besides a relationship between books and kids.  


When kids are developing their reading ability, it is important to pay attention to the vocabulary level of the books, because if they don’t have to struggle with deciphering the vocabulary, they can focus on what’s important–loving the book.  A sticker on a book that lists the point value/book level is NOT how we should be matching kids to books.  Once a student becomes a mature reader, (meaning they can read books written on approximately a 4.0 book level and higher) it should be emphasized that we will stop focusing on their book level goal entirely, so they can move away from selecting books based on book level and focus on finding the books they love.  It’s not about points or book levels, it’s about a monitoring system that allows us to teach kids to harness the magic of their pleasure reading.  


Concepts for this essay come from Mrs. Schauer, District Librarian, Pettus ISD