Freed from Accelerated Reader Stress

I received this email from my daughter Kelly yesterday.  Go Kelly!  Go Danny!  Following in the family tradition of being plain-clothes revolutionaries.


Since the beginning of September the dreaded AR points have been hanging over Danny’s head.  At Danny’s school 4th graders need 12 points a month to go to the carnival at the end of the year.  The minimum monthly points required at his school for 4th graders is 4 points or you get disciplined by the principal.  She will “cut a corner” off your behavior card.  I’m not sure what that even means but each student has one card and I imagine you only have 4 corners.  What happens when they’re all cut off?  Public stoning?  Jail?  No idea but according to Danny, it isn’t good.

But Danny has never been the type of kid to just do the minimum to get by, so 4 points was never good enough for him.  He was aiming for 12!  Because that’s what our family does.  We don’t aim for C’s we aim for A’s…  right?

During September Danny read some Joey Pigza books do get the points.  But the language, topic and mood of the story was difficult for Danny so he begged me to sit and read with him (or, to be quite honest, to him).  That was hard for me because his younger brother having Autism needs a lot of help with homework and everyone tries to get their homework done right after school.  It was hard for me to help two boys at once so the reading became a stressor and was aIways pushed off until later in the evening when we were all exhausted.  And when Dad came and visited he saw Danny was so stressed out about finishing his book before the end of September (so he could take the test before the end of the month), Dad and Danny sat and finished one of the books together.  Then the same thing happened when you came to visit in October, remember?

After that Danny was done with Joey Pigza and grabbed “The Lightning Thief.”  He was aiming high!  12 points for one book.  All he would have to do was read one book for the whole month and take the test and get his points.  One problem, he couldn’t get through it.  Not on his own.  He begged me to read with him again because he just wasn’t getting into it.  Plus it was taking him a long time to read and that was stressing him out because he needed to finish it before the end of the month to get the points in.

Around the end of October, after he lost the school government election to the kid that ran on the premise that he had the most AR points in their grade, I sat down with a defeated Danny who was absolutely beginning to HATE reading.  And he told me he was feeling “stupid” cause he couldn’t get the reading done.  The AR system, the pressure from the school (whether deliberate or perceived), the other kids bragging about their AR points and the carnival were destroying his love of reading.  It was time for something drastic.

I had to have a sit-down with Danny.  I explained to him how absurd and pointless this AR system was and that in this case, we’re going to make an exception and just do the minimum required.  What a lesson I was teaching my son but it was time for an intervention.  I told him to forget the carnival and I would let him stay home from school that day and take him to a movie and to ice cream, whatever he wanted.  I told him to aim for just 4 points and month (do we didn’t have to deal with the dreaded corner cutting) and only choose the books that he likes to get the points.

It is now 3 weeks into November and he’s just about to complete his 4th Diary of a Wimpy Kid book.  The type of books he loves.  Now he comes home from school, reads on his own curled up in the big chair in my family room because he loves the story, the characters, the humor.  He loves reading again.  And now he slaps the book on the coffee table when he finishes and says “done!”  And then walks outside to jump on the trampoline.  ๐Ÿ™‚

The funny thing is he’s still on track to get the points he needs for the silly carnival at the end of the year.  But now it’s not about that anymore.  He’s not reading for points he’s began to love reading again.

Today he asked me if he still gets enough points for the carnival at the end of each month, if we can still skip school the day of the carnival and spend the day together.  Of course I told him we could.   


3 responses to “Freed from Accelerated Reader Stress”

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are brilliant. As a public children's librarian i see parents looking to a reading list as a bible and ignorning books that cihildren WANT to read. As a result kids who have difficulty reading are hating to read. The irony is that the best way to improve reading skills is practice. i applaud your recognition of a bigger picture and finding a way to preserve the joy of reading in your son.

  2. Traci Rubner says:

    Thank you! I detest the AR system.

  3. When used correctly AR is great. It is not correct to have the same goal for the entire school. Each child should have their own goal based on their reading level and the number of minutes they have to read each day. The best place for this reading is in the class room. They should also read books that are on their reading level (comfort level). I love AR and what I have seen happen with it.

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