Wednesday, April 17, 2013

remember Accelerated Reader?

As soon as I learned how to read, that’s all I wanted to do with my time. The day I got my first library card was probably the greatest day of my life. When my school implemented a new program called Accelerated Reader, I knew I would like it just fine.
Don’t quote me on this, but I’d like to say that Arlington adopted Accelerated Reader when I was in third grade (around 1995). The premise was simple: each book you read was worth a certain number of points based on its difficulty level (most books were worth something like five or six points apiece). When you got done reading the book, you would take a quiz about it. 
You were then awarded a percentage of the possible points depending on how many questions you got right. If you got so many questions wrong – I think 40% – you got no credit at all.

During the beginning of the Accelerated Reader program, I spent a lot of time taking quizzes on books I had read over the last few years. After I had caught up on quizzes for my previously read books, I started in on the new ones. I loved reading, but now that I could earn points for it, I attacked my hobby with new fervor.

After a while, the school decided to buy Accelerated Reader plaques for all of us. They would hang in our classrooms for most of the school year, and each class would take turns exhibiting their plaques in the big glass display case in the hallway. The little bars on the plaques were awarded in 25-point increments. When the plaques were first announced, I remember that we got to vote on what they should look like. We had choices of wood (oak or cherry) and metal for the bars (gold or silver). I distinctly remember voting for cherry and silver, but I was defeated on both counts and was angrier about it than I should’ve been. (But then again, I’ve always harbored a distaste for yellow gold – when I was a kid, I didn’t want to get married because I thought wearing a gold ring was a requirement.)

Those plaques were around throughout junior high, and then we got to take them home. At that point, my friend Allison (also an avid reader) and I had earned so many gold bars that there was no more space left on our plaques (even though the bars eventually switched to 50-point increments). I’m pretty sure we ran out of space at 500 points. Go ahead, be impressed.

As we entered junior high and then high school, Accelerated Reader was no longer such a big deal. However, it was still a part of our grade in English class. When we were freshman, we all took a test to assess our reading levels. Once we were assigned our reading levels, we were only allowed to gain points by reading books within the appropriate range. For example, if I tested at a tenth grade reading level, I could only get points for books that were an eighth grade level and above (or something like that). The rules made sense, but it made those of us who tested at high levels kind of irritated – after all, there were only so many books at the appropriate reading level that we hadn’t read. We only had a small school library at our disposal, so resources were limited.

At the same time our reading levels were assessed, each individual student was given a set number of Accelerated Reader points they had to earn in a semester. The higher your reading level, the more points you had to earn. Thanks to our smarty-pants reading test scores, Allison and I were assigned the maximum number of points per semester. (The number 25 sticks in my mind, but no guarantees to the accuracy of that memory.) That was all good and well, but again with the limited resources within the Arlington School library. We had read almost everything, hence our high numbers of elementary school Accelerated Reader points. So what now?

Luckily for us, the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books became Accelerated Reader-friendly. They were all worth a significant amount of points (especially Lord of the Rings), and we were pretty much set for the remainder of high school.

(Shameful secret: I never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I made it partway through The Fellowship of the Ring and gave up. I still took the Accelerated Reader tests, though… after I had seen the movies. Shame, shame, shame on me.)

During our junior year of high school, Allison and I somehow got involved in an independent study class. What was our independent study? Accelerated Reader. I can’t for the life of me remember why we had an independent study. Maybe there was nothing else for us to take during second period? Who knows. Anyway, our responsibilities for this class involved earning 50 Accelerated Reader points per semester (on top of the 25 for English class) and doing a few odd projects. “Class” was in the library every day, where Allison and I just sat (unsupervised) and read books. (We did actually read books some of the time. But some of the time, we did our homework, and a lot of the time, we read the dream interpretation books aloud.) The aforementioned projects involved going into classrooms and reading a book aloud so many times per semester. We also went into classrooms and had kids read to us. Needless to say, we both got As.

Out here in the real world, there is no Accelerated Reader, but I think it would be kind of fun. I still read a lot, and I would love to take quizzes on the books I read to test my comprehension. I also would just like to be able to feel smart and accomplished by saying things like “I got 100 book points last week alone!” But then again, I’d probably just sound like a dork. Some things are better left in elementary school.

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