8 Jun 2021

An exploration of the effectiveness of the Accelerated Reading Programm

Blogpost by Sinead KelleherGradDip in Library and Information Studies, Graduating in the Summer of 2021

In an information rich society, it is evident that literacy skills and in particular, reading is an essential skill to have. The Department of Education in Ireland recognises this need and in 2019, provided a practice report to teachers, “Effective Interventions for Struggling Readers A Good Practice Guide for Teachers” (Department of Education and Skills, 2019), this report explored new forms of reading intervention methods. Different intervention methods using technology to improve reading skills (Valmont, 2003) are being used more often by teachers. One method the report suggested for struggling students to improve their reading was a web-based reading intervention program called Accelerated Reader (Department of Education and Skills, 2019). In 2019, two hundred schools in Ireland were using this Accelerated Reading programme, (Department of Education and Skills, 2019). This literary review will explore the literature surrounding the Accelerated Reading programme and in particular how Accelerated Reading effects a student’s reading in terms of quality, quantity and the effectiveness of the programme in improving reading standards. This review will also explore how the implementation of the Accelerated Reading Program in schools has an effect on the results of the Accelerated Reading programme. Within this paper the term Accelerated Reading/Reader will be abbreviated to AR for the sake of ease of reading.

How the Accelerated Reading Programme Works

The Accelerated Reading programme was developed by Renaissance Learning as a reading tool to assess, analyse and develop a student’s reading and is done in the following way. The student reading level is assessed through their STAR reading level test. The results are automatically fed back to the teacher, who then allocates a target level of points for the student to read. Students then read a book within their reader level bandwidth and do an AR comprehension test based on the book they have read. Books are levelled using the ATOS reading formula. Students earn points in the test based on how many questions they answered correctly with an aim to reach their points target assigned by their teacher (Cuddeback et al. 2002). Literature such as Cuddeback et al. (2002) suggests that AR could be used as a tool to measure a student’s reading by using this three-pronged approach of measuring the quantity of the number of books read by the students the quality of the reading tested through the AR comprehension test and the reading challenge by progressing through the reading level bandwidths.

Quantity of Reading

The literature that supports the Accelerated Reading programme indicates that the more you read, the better a reader you become and that students who are not such good readers will avoid reading, (Topping et al. 1999). In this sense the Articulated Reading programme gives the student the opportunity to read more (Topping et al. 1999; Krashen, 2003; Moyer et al., 2011). Research papers including Cuddeback et al. (2002) supports the premise that AR gives its user’s a gentle nudge into reading although it does concede that their research mainly focused on reluctant readers. Studies such as (Topping et al. 1999; Cuddeback et al. 2002) show that the AR system allows teachers to measure the number of the books students have read and in this way, teachers can use the AR system as a tool to monitor students reading levels and therefore identify students who are at risk readers.

Quality of Reading in terms of Comprehension and Challenge

As well as monitoring the reading levels of students the AR system is promoted as a tool to monitor the quality of the participants reading levels (Topping et al. 1999). The literature within this review found varying different results from different studies on this. The findings in (Foster et al., 2014; Shannon et al., 2015) supports the premise that the AR program is an effective tool to analyse the quality of the participants reading comprehension. Foster’s findings were based on an evaluation of an American school in the Caribbean. His results showed that if a student does not do any additional AR reading that their reading level will fall behind, in addition research in this paper showed that the Accelerated Reading program’s use of reading levels was a valuable tool in designing personal reading goals for students, which contributed to the quality of their reading achievements.

Other studies in the United Kingdom such as Gorard et al. (2015) evaluated the AR reading system involving a randomised control test of 349 participants in 4 schools, the participants did a 22-week programme of AR and reports indicated an increase in the level of reading comprehension, with a particular increase with children from disadvantaged communities.

Most educators and advocates of reading will agree that the quality of reading will improve by challenging a reader, it is not enough to read the same type of books at the same level, even students at a high reading level will benefit from reading at and above their level, this method is promoted through the AR program in testing and reading at appropriate reading bandwidths (Topping et al. 1999). This supports the scaffolding model of education, a model which is used in most school environments, and is used in primary schools in Ireland. In this sense the AR system is the scaffolding model which supports the students reading, the zone of proximity, which is when an educator or peer exacts the correct level of knowledge Zygotsky (1963), or in this case the reading level of the student in order to challenge the student by reading to the next level, not reading below or too far ahead in reading levels. The student will progress under the guidance of the teacher by following the feedback from the AR testing system. In this sense the literature in the review examines the Accelerated Reader as an evaluation tool to determine reading levels. Nunnery et al. (2006) reports the positive effects AR has on the reading achievements of at-risk students and children with learning disabilities. Literature such as Johnson et al. (2003) showed that there was an increase in reading achievement and vocabulary development in a group of students from a low socio-economic background.

Although literature such as Biggers (2001) argues that the AR programme only assessed a lower more literal level of comprehension ignoring a higher level of reading comprehension which would generally include a more critical or analytical comprehension of the book. Literature such as Cuddeback et al. (2002) argues that educators should not put the importance of higher comprehension over lower level comprehension. Literal comprehension can sometimes be undervalued. Cuddeback et al. (2002) suggests that higher order comprehension can be sometimes a result of a student’s background and in this sense the AR program reduces the bias in testing all students at a more literal level. Literature such as Cuddeback et al. (2002) supports the use of the Accelerated Reading Program with the added measures of other teaching directives that promote a lower and higher level of reading comprehension.

Accelerated Reading Program and Incentives

An integral part of the AR programme is its reward system to encourage reading. Cuddeback et al. (2002) points out that literature such as Cameron et al. (1994) shows that motivators when properly administered will have a positive effect and actually encourage intrinsic motivation. However, Biggers (2001) argues that the AR system favours the more competitive child and questions whether reading levels will drop when the rewards stops. Edmunds, et al. (2003) shows that when reading motivation decreases, reading decreases, however, although there wasn’t a decrease in motivation when students were given non- reading incentives to read, incentives alone have not had a positive impact on children’s reading motivation. Other motivators such as a teacher reading aloud and allowing students to talk about what they are reading can be used as powerful motivators in reading for students. Literature such as (Chenowith 2001) also discusses this challenge with the Accelerated Reader programme that although students who participate initially do read more books than the non-participants of the AR system, in her study the reading slowed down or even stopped when the program finished. Further studies such as Belland et al. (2013) suggests that a combined effort of computational scaffolding such as with AR with teacher support can benefit the student. Other literature sources such as Pavonetti et al. (2002) discusses how the AR system does not promote long-term reading using points and testing strategies. This variation in findings suggest a gap in the literature indicating that further research is needed into the longevity of the effects of the Accelerated Reading program on a student’s reading habits.

An obvious incentive to foster a student’s reading development is to provide material that they are interested in reading. Students surveyed in a study, (Thompson et al. 2008) described how within the AR reading lists there was a lack of supply of multicultural books or of books with a high readability level. Biggers (2001) suggests that the AR publisher does not take into account the reader’s interests when compiling reader’s list to correspond with the star test results. The students surveyed in Huang (2012) suggested that the biggest negative experience associated with the AR programme was the lack of the selection of reading material. As the school in question purchased the economy package from the publisher the reading selection was curtailed and therefore student choices were limited. Research such as Huang (2012) cited that the economy package restricted the reading material to authors from big publishing companies and newer or books from smaller less-known publishers/authors were not made available to them. Pavonetti et al. (2002) discussed also the economic limitations of the Accelerated Reading Program, in that it is an expensive package, the school just pays for the program and that the price does not include any books. Krashen (2013) suggests that instead of spending money on expensive reading software that the money would be better spent on providing more reading material and a reading environment.

Implementation of the Accelerated Reading System

Literature has shown that the incorrect implementation of the AR Programme can have detrimental effects on the results of the tool, Foster et al. (2014) has pointed out that students who read a lot and did well on the reading tests did better than those who didn’t get the correct guidance from their teacher, thus showing that teacher’s need to pay attention to best practice when using the AR system. Nunnery et al. (2006) also found that children with learning difficulties achievements had higher reading gains when the AR system was implemented well in comparison to a group where the AR system wasn’t implemented well. Waters (2016) also explores the importance of the correct implementation of the AR system and cites the lack of guidance from Renaissance learning in using the system for the teacher and suggests more input in training from them as a factor to resolve this. Moyer et al. (2011) showed in that with the teacher’s participation a more customised approach to the Accelerated Reader program increases the reading results for the students. Waters (2016) discusses the importance of involving parents within the AR system, suggesting that the school could have parent evenings in which the students could discuss the various reports from the books they read. This would become another motivator for the student, extending the incentive aspect of the Accelerated Reader program.

Literature such as Gorard et. al (2017) in looking at methods to support the correct implementation of AR found that many children in the UK were leaving primary school with low levels of literacy skills and although they were offered the support of the AR system within secondary schools, AR coupled with the new challenges of starting in secondary school proved to be too much an adjustment. These findings show that the AR system is more appropriately suited to primary school levels although more research in this area is needed.

Gorard et al. (2015) also focuses on the value of a good implementation of the AR system, for an AR system to operate effectively it’s important to have a well-stocked library, a wide collection of books of varying interest including fiction and non-fiction banded accordingly and easy access to computers with internet connection. Critics of AR such as Biggers (2001) have also noted that in school libraries where the books have been divided into AR reading books and regular reading sections students have been denied access to those reading sections.


In conclusion although the literature review shows that the Accelerated Reader programme has an effect on student’s who are in the at-risk reading group, it does also highlight limitations of the Accelerated Reading programme.

Most of the studies of the AR programmes are conducted with at risk readers, therefore studies on the effects of the Accelerated Reading programme on a more generalised normative student population would need to be done. Most of the literature’s findings are based on studies in American elementary and middle schools there is very little peer-reviewed literature based on studies in Irish schools. More research would be needed on this within the Irish school system to evaluate properly the programme within Ireland. Further research into a comparative studies of other reading intervention assessments such as the Lexile framework which has shown some positive results, Archer (2010), would be a useful study. Also, more studies on the long-term effects of the Accelerated Reader programme are needed to establish whether it is a tool with long term reading benefits. Finally, there is a limited number of peer-reviewed published papers available on this subject so further studies on the gaps in the literature on AR as shown in this literary review is essential to provide a more thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the Accelerated Reading programme.


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