Table 2: Standardized test scores: one year of AR in Arizona
From: Goodman (1999)
Howard (1999) examined the impact of AR on children in grades three, four and five over one academic year. Before AR, 17% of third graders, 19% of fourth graders and 23% of fifth graders scored at or above grade level in reading comprehension. One year later, these figures increased to 57%, 52%, and 41%. But a closer analysis revealed that the gains were not universal.
Howard divided her sample into low, average, and high AR users. Only the high user category was defined: High users were those who devoted at least one-half hour per day to AR reading. "Low users" gained only .73 grade levels during the year, but high users showed remarkable gains, 2.24 years. Average users fell in the middle; 1.52 years. But few students were high users, only 11% of the sample. Most alarming is the finding that 65% of the poor readers (below grade level) were low users. Most (82%) of the high users were good readers (at or above grade level).
Despite the fact that the Waitz Elementary School in Texas serves many low-income families, its children have done remarkably well on the TAAS test (Texas Assessment of Basic Skills), given in grades three through six. Nintyone percent of Waitz students passed the TAAS reading test in 1998, compared to the state average of 84 percent. In 1993, only 63% at Waitz passed the reading test. Renaissance Learning, the company that produces AR, claims that AR deserves some of the credit for high achievement at the Waitz: "Waitz's success is attributed to many factors including a commitment to time for reading practice and extensive use of Accelerated Reader" (http://research.renlearn,com/research/52.asp).
Renaissance does not indicate what these factors are, but according to the Waitz website, http://iweb.mission-cons.k12.tx.us/waitz/main.html, this school (pre K to 6) uses the following literacy programs in addition to Accelerated Reader: Literacy Lab (Early Success), Soar to Success, Reading Recovery, Hosts Learning, Expressways to Learning, and Lexia, which includes several programs, such as the Herman Method, and the Hanson Initiative. Cawelti (2000) also points out Waitz uses bilingual education, phonics, whole language, paired reading, and "oral reading." Cawelti also states that there is one instructional aide for every two teachers, "teachers give extra help to individual students during free periods or after school" (p. 43), and "on Saturdays, high school students and parents tutor students" (p. 43). There is also intensive test preparation with a focus on math, reading and writing. Students take six practice tests for the TAAS during the year. The school unashamedly "teaches to the test" - they "focus their efforts on results that are important to local parents" (p. 44). Cawelti also informs us that Waitz includes "silent reading" but does not provide any details.
Smith and Clark (2001) is a 192 page evaluation of AR as implemented in the McKinley district in Texas over one year (1999-2000). The Renaissance Learning website claims that this report "reveals districtwide success with Renaissance programs." (www.renlearn.com), but a close look at the report shows that there is no evidence of "district wide success" - only a modest percentage of the students appeared to profit from AR.