This page was originally authored by Catherine Fowler in 2013
This page was revised by Stefani Oakes in 2014
Reading Management Programs
Reading Management Programs (RMP) are software programs that are designed to improve, promote and provide accountability in regard to independent reading for students of all ages. Generally, their purpose is to assess students' independent reading levels, track students' reading quiz scores for ongoing assessment, encourage independent reading through a rewards or points system, while assisting teachers in shaping their instruction in their literacy programs to best meet the needs of their students. The basic premise of reading management programs is that students select their reading materials from the list of books supported by the RMP and once they complete reading a book, they go online and take the corresponding quiz. The starting point when using any RMP is to assess a student’s reading ability in order for educators to be able to help students select reading materials at their own ability level. Based on Vygotsky's theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), educators know that students will be more successful if they are reading text that is within their range of ability. Because RMPs are now offered entirely online, they are very fluid programs that change with trends in education and incorporate new content and features to appeal to educators that are looking for ways to incorporate more technology into their instruction, especially those seeking to differentiate their instruction in the area of literacy skill development. RMPs primarily target specific reading skills such as comprehension and vocabulary development.
The two most popular reading management programs today are Scholastic Reading Counts! and Accelerated Reader.
The very first reading management program software called ‘The Electronic Bookshelf’ (EBS) was developed in 1981. It was developed by a school librarian named Rosalie Carter along with her husband Jerry Carter, in the hopes of creating a computer based program that would both encourage students to read and also hold them accountable for their reading. This premier software included a list of recommended book titles, multiple choice style comprehension quizzes, as well as a points and record keeping system.
Educators both then and now face a number of challenges in regard to tracking and supporting students in their home reading endeavours. The time that students spend reading independently has a direct impact upon their literacy skill development. Home reading is incredibly difficult for teachers to track and monitor and many teachers use a paper based reading log that requires students to honestly record their time spent reading outside of the school day. There generally is no comprehension check used in conjunction with this reading log system, as it is just not feasible for teachers to carry out any assessment in regard to the students’ understanding of what they choose to read on their own time. Because of the way in which the Electronic Bookshelf solved many of these problems for educators, the software was quite successful and it was not long before competing products such as Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader program came on the market. A newspaper article about one school’s use of the Electronic Bookshelf program can be found here. Most schools that used the EBS, coupled the program’s points system with an extrinsic reward program run by the school. At pre-established point benchmarks, teachers commonly rewarded their students with items such as bookmarks or t-shirts or for larger accomplishments, a lunch out with their teacher. The Electronic Bookshelf was eventually acquired by the Scholastic Corporation in April of 1998. The Scholastic Corporation called the Electronic Bookshelf ‘a strategic addition to [their] school-based technology business’ (PR Newswire, 1998)
Popularity of Use
Due to the accountability aspect of RMPs, they have been popular in the past and continue to be popular today in educational settings in which standardized testing is a common practice to determine student progress. Many schools use them as evidence of academic growth particularly in the United States where state goals as a result of the “No Child Left Behind Act”(2001), greatly shape the instructional choices made by schools and teachers. RMPs are viewed as a valuable option that may help to 'close the achievement gap, particularly among low-achieving children'(Hansen, Collins and Warschauer, 2009, p.57). Pressure to increase test scores on standardized assessments often originates from the highest level of government as is evidenced by this statement made by President Bush when he announced that, “States, districts and schools that improve achievement will be rewarded. Failure will be sanctioned. Parents will know how well their child is learning, and that schools are held accountable for their effectiveness with annual state reading and math assessments in grades 3-8” (Bush, 2001). Many school boards needed something to prove their success and their commitment to the NCLB Act. Many appealing aspects of RMPs such as the fact that they provide detailed information about reading progress for students, parents and teachers for the purposes of assisting reading skill development, monitoring progress and targeting instruction, resulted in RMPs becoming a tool used by many schools. To further encourage the use of educational tools such as RMPs, the NCLB Act also proposes this; “States that establish a comprehensive reading program anchored in scientific research from kindergarten to second grade will be eligible for grants under a new Reading First initiative” (Bush, 2001). Many states implemented reading management programs in order to be eligible for a grant. Accelerated Reader (AR) by Renaissance Learning is now the most widely used RMP in North America and perhaps the world, as it is used in 57 countries to date (Renaissance Learning, 2013).
Scholastic Reading Counts!
After acquiring The Electronic Bookshelf in 1998, Scholastic introduced its own reading management program aimed at improving literacy in 1999 called Scholastic Reading Counts! (SRC!) This RMP is Lexile-based and is designed to facilitate a personalized and engaging reading program for students that ensures accountability for what they are reading. With the push in education today to have students take more of a role in their own learning, Scholastic appeals to educators by toting their program as being highly motivating, empowering and helpful in enabling students to take ownership over their own literacy skill development. Additional information about the SRC! program is available here in this information brochure.
One of the advantages of the program for teachers is that the online quizzes are designed to be ‘cheat proof’ (Morner & Lutz, 2000). Each book encompassed in the program has 30 different questions that are randomly selected from, each time that a student completes a quiz. Students are usually given three chances to pass a quiz on any one book and each attempted test would have a new selection of questions. It is unlikely that students would be able to supply other students with test answers. Students can rate the books that they read for others using the program. Teachers can edit quiz questions and customize reading lists to further individualize instruction. Students are able to select books from their own book collections, their school library or a public library. With the online version of this RMP, students can use the ‘Book Expert Online’ feature to find out if the book has a quiz, as well as what the readability level of the book is to help them select books that are a suitable readability level for them. Although there is not a level assessment tool as a part of the online program, teachers are provided with a guidebook to determine their students’ ability level from the grade level charts that match the students’ national percentile score on their U.S. State’s End of Grade Test with their projected proficiency level on the Lexile Framework. Teachers have the benefit of leverage within the site, as educators are encouraged to join the SRC! Online community and share tips and advice from master teachers and other program users to learn from each other and have their own voices heard in the SRC! Online Community. Teachers are also able to use the ‘Suggest a Quiz’ feature on the website to provide suggestions for additional book quizzes for reading materials that they would like to see included in the program.
The Scholastic website boasts, “SRC! is the most cost-effective solution available to improve students’ independent reading accountability.” (Scholastic, 2013). Despite this claim, the cost of purchasing and carrying out this program within a school is still quite costly. Based on the information currently available on their website the ‘Getting Started Fee’ web subscription is $350 per site plus $5.50 per student. There is a minimum requirement of 50 licenses. The locally hosted version of this RMP is still available to educators at a lower cost than the online version. More information in regard to products and pricing can be seen here. With the focus of many literacy programs being on deeper comprehension skills that require the students to make inferences and draw their own conclusions about the text, many educators have concerns in regard to the type of questions used in the comprehension quizzes. The type of questions that are used in the quizzes are quite basic and literal and the students are not required to think deeply about the text. Much of the website is designed to appeal to educators who are looking for ways to boost their students’ literacy skills, while also helping them achieve higher scores on the standardized assessments that are used in many schools.
The Accelerated Reader (AR) program is a reading management program created by Renaissance Learning that is designed to supplement the regular classroom literacy program and is not designed to take the place of the main reading program delivered by teachers. It was developed by Judi Paul in 1984 and at that time, she used the program on a very small scale with her own children. In light of the success she experienced using the software with her own family, the Pauls began to sell the AR program to schools in the year 1986. The entire Renaissance Learning Milestones timeline is available here.
The main goal of the program is to increase the amount of time in which students are engaged in reading practice and to be sure that the level of the material being read by students is at their actual ability level. The program website indicates that it takes just five steps for students to experience reading success. A student’s reading ability is first assessed by an additional Renaissance Learning piece of software called the STAR Reading Enterprise assessment. This tool is used to determine a student’s zone of proximal development in order to ensure that they begin reading books that are at their true ability level. Once the STAR assessment is complete, students meet with their teacher to collaboratively establish three individualized reading goals. Using the AR Bookfinder, students select books at their own level. When students have completed a book, they will take an AR quiz. Finally, teachers, parents and students will receive instant feedback about the student’s level of success and teachers can then plan further instruction as needed based on the comprehension results.
One of the major advantages of this RMP for students is that they are not only reading a higher volume of material, the material being read is at an appropriate level for them, which leads to higher student success rates. Proponents of the program also propose that students undergo a positive change in their overall attitude toward reading. Below is a chart that features feedback from a questionnaire that was sent to parents with children that had been participants in the Accelerated Reader program for five years (Guastello, 2002).
|Survey Statement||Yes (%)||Don't Know (%)||No (%)|
|My child's oral reading has become more fluent||81||16||3|
|My child's interest in reading books has increased||92||6||2|
|My child's vocabulary and use of language has improved as evidenced in his/her speaking and writing||89||7||4|
|My child reads other books besides those named on the Accelerated Reader list||90||6||4|
|My child reads at least thirty minutes each evening without having to be reminded||97||0||3|
|My child seems to understand what he/she is reading based on his/her ability to summarize the story||88||6||6|
|My child is enthusiastic about going to the library on a regular basis||95||2||3|
|My child looks forward to taking the Accelerated Reader Test||97||2||1|
|My child's interest and motivation to become a better reader has increased since participating in the Accelerated Reader program||98||2||0|
|My child watches less TV and engages in reading more often||89||8||3|
|I made an effort to make time to read to or with my child||98||2||0|
|I am taking the time to read more myself||83||7||10|
|I take the time to listen to my child read||98||2||0|
|I spend more time talking to my child about what he/she is reading||87||9||4|
|I ask my child questions about what he/she is reading||92||4||4|
|I supervise my child's reading every night||91||0||9|
|I frequent the library more often now with my child||97||3||0|
|We have set aside time for the entire family to engage in reading||83||0||17|
|I try to buy books for our family library||86||0||14|
|I have noticed that other members of the family are reading more often||87||3||10|
Information for this table was retrieved from and the full article can be viewed at http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/ehost/detail?sid=6a261c5b-cdda-478c-a573-
By utilizing the AR program, teachers are able to facilitate differentiated literacy support for all students in addition to the regular literacy program that they are delivering in their own classrooms. It is challenging to make students accountable for personal and home reading choices, the use of AR helps teachers manage this while providing educators with measurable evidence of student success. It also enables teachers to match their instruction in the classroom to the students’ zone of proximal development, which in turn reduces student frustration and potentially can lead to more growth in the students’ literacy skills. The program offers quizzes that target reading comprehension, vocabulary, as well as critical thinking skills. With the option to complete quizzes on a variety of devices, students are able to complete quizzes on their own time anywhere that they can access the internet. The site currently indicates that they have more than 150 000 AR quizzes, so students have quite a substantial selection of reading material to choose from.
Many critics of the AR program express concerns that the reward aspect of the program takes away from what educators wish to instill in children in regard reading. One such critic feels that the idea of reading for enjoyment is being eradicated and is being replaced with the notion that reading is a job and completion of that job equals an extrinsic reward (Schmidt, 2008). Hansen, Collins and Warschauer (2009) comment on the effects of rewards as follows: “In a study comparing Accelerated Reader use with and without incentive rewards found that students’ attitudes towards reading declined with the use of these rewards, although the number of books read and AR quiz scores remained the same” (p.69). Alfie Kohn, an American author of child education and leading figure in progressive education, comments on Reading Incentive Programs in an article here
Another aspect of the program that is often cited as a weakness is the fact that the comprehension assessments at the end of each book consist of multiple choice questions that are very literal and basic (Schmidt, 2008) and require little depth of understanding of the text. A sample question has been provided in the table below.
|Sample question taken from the AR website from within the 'Take a Quiz' feature. This question was taken from the reading comprehension quiz for the novel Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck|
|Question: George thought he and Lennie would get the job if _____________.|
|A.) the other workers could see how strong they were|
|B.) he could think of a good lie to explain their presence at the ranch|
|C.) the boss could see Lennie work before he heard him speak|
|D.) he could keep Lennie out of sight until the boss was gone|
It appears as though the AR developers are trying to address this latter concern. The AR website indicates that their ‘Literacy Skill Quizzes’ can be used to measure students’ proficiency with 24 higher-level reading and critical-thinking skills, although details in regard to what those 24 skills are exactly, are not provided. A sample question from a quiz categorized as assessing higher-level reading skills has been provided in the table below.
|Sample question taken from the AR website from within the 'Take a Quiz' feature. This question was taken from the literacy skills quiz for the novel Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis|
|Question: How were George Babbitt and Paul Riesling alike?|
|A.) They disliked traveling.|
|B.) They were unfaithful in their marriages.|
|C.) They were real estate brokers.|
|D.) They were accomplished musicians.|
Sample quizzes can be taken by anyone on the AR website under the ‘Take a Quiz’ feature.
One of AR’s draws for educators is its claim that it creates life-long readers. Some educators that have used the program for a number of years feel that what AR is actually creating is students that are ‘learning to consume books quickly and move on to another after answering questions either successfully or unsuccessfully’ (Schmidt, p. 3/10). There is no built in component within the program that would allow students to collaborate with others as a means to share knowledge or ask questions and because of these limitations of the program, the students do not feel like they have the time to delve more deeply into the stories they read. When schools adopt an RMP, they are potentially limiting reading options for students to the books in the library that are leveled and have quizzes on the AR system. By limiting the books that students may want to read, educators may inadvertently be turning students away from reading.
The AR program is also quite expensive. As of October of 2013, the cost for the program including the AR software, all of the quizzes and online access to Renaissance Online University, plus one year of hosting with professional development the cost was $2899 per school. A prescription renewal in following years was $5.50 per student. Further details about the cost of the program and related products can be found here. Schools must then deal with the additional costs of ensuring that they have adequate technology to facilitate the entire school utilizing the AR program. Due to the high costs associated with running the program, there is a need for a school wide commitment to utilizing the program in order to justify the cost of purchasing the software, hardware and necessary library materials to effectively make use of the AR program (Hansen, Collins, and Warschauser,2009, p. 63). Depending on the amount of money that a school is able to put into the resources they purchase for their librarians, students’ choices in regard to books that the school actually has in their library for which there is also an AR quiz for, may be limited. Some critics that are opposed to the use of AR feel that a well-designed literacy program that involves additional reading time coupled with instructional scaffolding, including teacher-student conferences, peer discussions, assisting children in choosing the appropriate book level, and accountability (i.e. keeping track of the number of pages read) improves children’s reading achievement’ (Hansen, Collins and Warschauer, 2009,p. 60). Other trends in studies about the use of the AR program show that students in lower grades tend to benefit more from the program than students in higher grades do. Girls also tend to view the program more positively than boys (Hansen, Collins and Warschauer, 2009). Some findings indicate that the program may actually ‘discourage less capable readers’ (Hansen, Collins and Warschauer, 2009, p. 68). Overall, the majority of the studies conducted in regard to reading management programs cannot provide evidence to conclusively state that these programs are responsible for gains made in student reading performance and achievements. Researchers feel that there is a need for further longitudinal studies to determine the long term impact of reading management programs in general.
Thoughts of the Original Wiki Entry Author About the AR Program
Implementing RMPs must involve a commitment from the whole school to be most effective. Teachers all need to agree on an incentive program, goals, use of the program from year to year and the level of importance the RMPs will have in their existing reading program. “Schools that use reading management programs tend to have more books in their libraries, allow more time for sustained silent reading in class, and have students who read more books, than schools that do not use these programs. (Hansen, Collins and Warschauer, 2009, p. 70) In my own experience, I have found they promote and increase library use, especially for the primary students. Students are more likely to ask the librarian for assistance in choosing the right book and are likely to read more often when being held accountable for their independent reading. RMPs become a part of the school curriculum and culture; students know as they move through the school what to expect from the program.
RMPs change how libraries and librarians function, how the classroom, lab and library computers are used and may also change how teachers report to parents. These are not all negative aspects of an RMP. As a librarian, an RMP makes putting the right book in the right hands easy when knowing what level the student is reading at. AR tests are available for at least 90% of Fiction books and approximately 30% of Non-Fiction published in the U.S., there are fewer Canadian or International titles available. I encourage students to have at least one AR quiz book to meet the criteria for their classrooms and then encourage a wide range of other reading options within their level that may or may not be on the AR list.
Though I use and promote Accelerated Reader with my students, teachers and parents, I do try to ensure that all students have the opportunity to read what they like, choose books appropriate for them and to read a variety of genres that may or may not have quizzes available. I think RMPs provide valuable information to students, teachers and parents, but they should not be the sole reading program in a school. The reward system, if used, should augment the success students feel in improving their reading and not be the focus of the reading program. To avoid students being more concerned with AR than with reading, I award points for any book read, whether it has an AR quiz or not. I have the student tell me about the book. This not only tells me if they read the book, but it also starts a great conversation about books with the student. AR is not the center of my library program, providing a variety of high quality reading materials and services must be the central role to encourage students to become life-long readers.
Library Management Systems and RMPs
Software companies are catering to schools in which reading management programs are being used. As many educational institutions are in the process of shifting from a traditional library model to more of a learning commons model, the library management services offered by companies like Follett are becoming more popular in schools. The Follet ‘Destiny Library Manager’ is one such system that will allow schools to use their data from reading management programs such as Accelerated Reader or Scholastic Reading Counts! to enhance their library records and link their library resources to coincide with their particular reading management program’s materials. Reading program services are being marketed as a means for schools to get the most out of their reading program investments in their quest to improve students’ reading skills and differentiate their literacy instruction. Additional general information about reading program services can be seen here. Learn about this library management service from an educator in Niagara Falls who is actively using the Destiny Library Manager in her school's Learning Commons.
Bush, G.W. (January, 2001). No child left behind: Executive summary. Reading Rockets. Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/308
Everhart, N. and Guastello, F. (2002). Accelerated reader. Knowledge Quest, 30, 4, 53-55. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=184463be-b447-4e2f-b322-973f238d9c7d%40sessionmgr115&vid=2&hid=112
Hansen, L., P. Collins, and M. Warschauer. (2009). Reading management programs: A review of the research. Journal of Literacy and Technology 10, 3, 55-80. Retrieved from http://www.literacyandtechnology.org/volume10_3/hansen_et_al_jlt_v10_3.pdf
Morner, J., Lutz G. (2000). Celebrate reading success with electronic bookshelf’s Reading Counts from Scholastic. Ohio Media Spectrum 52, 2, 34. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/ehost/detail?sid=733e7415-3f21-48cb-9bb6-9a41bef6903c%40sessionmgr115&vid=1&hid=112&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=llf&AN=502851265
PR Newswire Press Release. (1998). Scholastic acquires the Electronic Bookshelf; Adds K-12 technology-based reading, motivation and assessment company to school-based operations. Retrieved from http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=8054&sr=HLEAD%28Scholastic%20Acquires%20The%20Electronic%20Bookshelf%29%20and%20date%20is%201998
Schmidt, Renita. (2008). Really Reading: What Does Accelerated Reader Teach Adults and Children? Language Arts 85, 3, 202-211. Retrieved from http://shorelinelibrarians.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/52238659/Really%20Reading_%20What%20Does%20Accelerated%20Reader%20Teach%20Adults%20and%20Children.pdf
Alfie Kohn article Kohn, A.(1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Mariner Books. Excerpt retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/readingincentives.htm