Soap Box

30 01 2008

All year I have heard complaints from the girls regarding their school library limiting their book choices.  The school has a program called “Accelerated Reader” that tests the children and assigns them a level of book that they should be reading.  The books are labeled with a specific color for each level.   And…. get this…. the kids are not allowed to pick books at the library that are above their level.


 I just finished writing the following email to their principal (sorry if it bores you but I’m pissed and want more than one person to read it):

 Dear Mr. Principal Guy,

My name is Shari Lastname and I am the parent of two girls who attend Meeker Elementary.  I absolutely love the school, the teachers, and the parental involvement that makes the learning environment so fantastic there.  However, I do have one concern that has been weighing on me all year. 
I am, to be quite honest, horrified at the limitations the AR reading levels impose on my girls, and the students in general.  I have heard comments all year regarding being limited to only certain books within their level.  Sophie, who is in third grade, started reading the Lemony Snicket series with zeal at the beginning of the school year.  Because these books are at a level higher than her STAR test put her, she was told she couldn’t take the AR tests for these books.  I find this odd, because each evening for many months I would get an enthusiastic update from Sophie on the lives of the Baudelaire children in exquisite detail.  I find it hard to believe that she would not be able to pass any AR test about these books with flying colors.
She has also mentioned, along with similar comments from her sister Maya, that books above her level were refused to her at the library.  They have both been told to put these “higher level” books back and choose other books within their level.  I completely believe that the ability to choose any book they are willing to tackle should be their right.  I am sure that they would run into something that they did not understand, or enjoy, at some point, but that is an important part of learning and exploring books that might normally be outside of their comfort zone.  Just last night I took them to Borders for some fresh reading material – emphasizing to them to carefully choose something challenging and new.  They were so excited to find something that they had never read, and currently are curled up with “Inkheart” and “Peter and the Secret of Rundoon” (both outside their “levels”).  I would never tell them to put these books down in favor of a book in their AR level just to earn points, and I don’t think the school should do so, either. 
I have always read “difficult” books to them since they were very young to encourage them to never limit their minds.  As a humorous case in point, when Sophie was asked in her preschool class to introduce herself, she said, “Call me Ishmael.” (Inspired by the audio book we were listening to at the time.) 
I have done some research on the Accelerated Reader program and definitely see its benefits.  Overall, it encourages children to read, and to read a lot.  It improves scores.  I see the statistics on the Accelerated Reader site, but of course this comes from the company itself:
I also have found the pro and con comments on the Wikepedia article about AR interesting:
The following article and its comments was enlightening (I have put the comments that summarize what we feel in the body of this email below):
“Using the STAR test (not all schools go for this part of the package) to evaluate reading levels is terrible. I cannot imagine that being allowed in my district.

Wrong headed administrators, with the best of motives and trying to maximize anything that will enhance reading scores, sign off on using AR point totals for grades, restrict access to books, for example, “That book is too high/low for you or “put that book back–it is not an AR book” They reduce a school library into a reading laboratory of leveled reading.

Happily, I have never worked in a situation like that.

AR is a tool and it can encourage and motivate kids to read. Like a hammer, it can work beautifully but you have to be sure of your aim or else you end up with a very sore thumb.

I guess I always felt that I was the reading-motivator-in-chief at my school. It was my role and job. Kids respond to passion and enthusiasm and also appreciate an adult taking a personal interest in their reading life. Give me a budget to buy fantastic books and I will not rest until I find the right book for each child.”


“I hear the moans from the children coming into our school library when they need AR books. They have trouble finding books that they really want to read at the “correct” level. They find it tedious to search the shelves for a book that they actually want to read with the correct color coded spot on the spine. They know what they like and want to read but if it isn’t the correct level then they can’t have those books and have to keep sifting through all the other books hoping to find something of interest. I see kids wanting to read and the AR program limiting them.”

And this chart:

Under disadvantages it lists:

“Children tend to focus only on AR”

“Teachers tend to limit kids to AR books.”

“STAR program only allows children to read at their present reading level.”

Could you please let me know the logic behind the limiting of books at the library to AR levels, and if this is a district-wide policy? 

I appreciate your time,

Shari Lastname

Proud Parent of Maya and Sophie Lastname




8 responses

31 01 2008

They are only “allowed” to read books within their ‘level’?

Wow. Thanks for the heads up.

Is this to ‘protect them from potentially mature material’ or to simply ‘keep everything EVEN and FAIR’ like everything else?

31 01 2008
big brudda

WTF is right! Is this more of Bush’s no child gets ahead program?

31 01 2008

Good stuff. Can you post (or at least paraphrase) the response when it comes?

This sounds really like the kind of educational target bull that Tony Blair used to harp on about – statistics, levels, targets, numbers. All complete toss that devalued what people could call “a degree” and meant absolutely nothing when it came to proper education.

Right on proud mom!

31 01 2008

You go girl! Tom and I will take the girls shopping for some inappropriately difficult reading material when we get there. Obviously the school doesn’t want them to expand their minds beyond some sort of statistical criteria. Biz-arre!

31 01 2008

When I was bored in 4th grade math, I used to read, hiding my book in my desk. My teacher did not like this, and would get angry, and send me to the library for the rest of the session. Being in the library was 100x better than fractions!

31 01 2008

Astoundingly inefficient and unproductive.

If a child is given too little challenge, they get bored and give up reading. If a child is challenged too much, they get disheartened and give up reading. Given their own way, with some judicious prodding to read in the first place, most children will find books which keep them appropriately educated and entertained.

Color coding, as a general guide, may be a good idea. But to use that as a standard or limit on what a child can experience is wrong. It retards a child’s ability to expand mental abilities and limits free exchange of ideas. I’m not suggesting they be allowed to grab “The Godfather” or “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” (nor do I condone outright bans on their availability outside of the classroom), but this is elementary school. I don’t think censorship is the problem here. I could be wrong, censors are notoriously devious in their evil agendas. I just think this is stupid.

I might tell the principal that unless these restrictions are lifted, you might start a book club with your children and other parents, starting with “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984.”

6 02 2008

In sixth grade my English teacher said I was a liar for saying I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She said there’s no way I could understand it. It was infuriating at the time, and I can’timagine anyone saying that to my kids now.

Way to go on a great letter – I hope that someone with the power to change process reads it and truly listens.

11 03 2008

any response from Mr. Principal Guy?

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