Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reading Wednesday: Giving Acclerated Reader The Boot

Unhappy that reading scores on standardized tests aren't rising fast enough, school administrators in Mesa, Arizona, have ordered classroom teachers to cut back on the use of Accelerated Reader in the classroom:
Mesa Public Schools top administrators have decided to stop elementary school teachers from allotting class time for an independent reading program that tests students comprehension and vocabulary skills through computer quizzes.

Instead, the Accelerated Reader program, used to encourage children to read, will only be allowed during free-time such as lunch, clubs and before or after school. The changes take effect next fall.

The district has found that reading and writing scores on standardized tests such as AIMS are not improving enough, and district administrators say research shows direct teacher instruction, not independent reading, is the most critical factor that increases a child's reading ability.

Some parents and teachers are upset, arguing that the program helps kids and required a big financial investment that should not be abandoned.

In e-mails to the school district's governing board, teachers and parents said the reading program helps students improve test scores, provides students with practice they don't receive at home and develops young students into dedicated readers.

Barbara Carroll, co-president of the PTO at Highland Elementary, said she's unhappy with the district's "fairly abrupt" decision to pull AR from regular class time. Carroll said her PTO last school year raised $18,000, an amount matched by the district, to supply classrooms with refurbished computers specifically set up to accommodate the reading program.

Carroll also questioned the district's proposal to make the reading quizzes available before or after school, an option that she said might not be practical for students who are bused to school.

"I think it is a beneficial program," Carroll said. "My daughter likes to read, and she does well with the program and does well with the books and testing."

School board President Elaine Miner said she understands the frustration of parents and teachers because she advocated heavily for the reading program when it was first being introduced to the district.

"I still believe in the AR, and I am sympathetic to what they are saying," Miner said. "But I don't think they understand what we are at risk of losing if we use AR too much."

She said too many teachers are over-emphasizing the program in lieu of more technical reading training.

"Our reading scores aren't as high as they should be," Miner said, "so we had to address what we're doing and what we could be doing differently."

The unfortunate casualties, she said, are the teachers that properly used the program in the classroom to improve students' reading ability.

"It's a great supplement. There's no question," Miner said. "We really spent a lot of money getting it out to all the schools. It had such great reviews, and it sounded like such a great program. . . . It's not being taken away. It's just being changed."

Associate Superintendent Michael Cowan said the district has seen "waning or stagnant" reading test scores at some schools, indicating the need for a better approach to making kids literate, particularly those in lower elementary grades where the foundation for a student's education is set.

"The Number 1 factor influencing a student's achievement is the teacher," Cowan said.

That's why it's key, he said, to provide teachers with as much time as possible to actively teach students to read. By actively teaching, Cowan said he means activities like evaluating a student's reading level, identifying weaknesses and offering students instruction in specific areas of deficiency.

"We need our teachers to be engaged in the scientific and the research-backed aspects of quality teaching," Cowan said. "We're not saying kids are not supposed to be independently, silently reading in their classroom."
There's more to read in the whole thing.

As an actively serving classroom teacher, I can't say how many times I've seen teachers who were, as board member Miner put it, "properly" using programs and resources only to be ordered to change methods because some teachers weren't "properly" participating
See our latest EduPosts here, this date's Extra Credit Reading here and Carnival of Education over there.