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Parents Guide to AR Books and Tests: What is Accelerated Reader?

Updated on February 26, 2008

Many parents are initially confused when their kids come home talking about the AR books they checked out of the school library or AR tests they took at school on a given day. Here are the basics of Accelerated Reader (AR), ZPD, and those pesky little tests!

The Basics of AR

What is AR? It's short for Accelerated Reader, a reading program designed to get students reading books at an optimum level for advancement based on their tested reading level. The level assignment helps kids choose the right books and the tests provide feedback on the student's progress.

AR books are evaluated and assigned a reading level and corresponding points depending on the level of difficulty of the sentences and vocabulary and the length of the book. There are quizzes written for each book and sold to schools by various vendors. Many schools have several hundred to over 10,000 AR quizzes.

How Kids Use AR

Students are tested and receive a ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) score. The ZPD determines the level of book the child should read in order to improve reading skills. The numbers correspond to grade level and month. For example, a second grader may have a ZPD of 3.2 - 4.1. This means the child should be reading at a third grade, second month level up to a fourth grade, first month level. It's handy for parents to be able to check the label on the book to see if a book is within the child's assigned level.

Kids are also sometimes given a goal of a number of points to accumulate. Kids select AR books that meets their criteria of points and reading level, read it, and take a quiz. The computerized tests have 5-20 questions designed to evaluate the student's comprehension. Points are determined based on the student's score as well as the book's possible points.

The Program

As of 2006, Renaissance Learning had categorized approximately 100,000 books into the AR system with quizzes written for each. About 10,000 are planned to be added each year. According to IntraData, Inc., over half of American schools are using Accelerated Reader. The program is even becoming a factor in children's book publishing. Many school librarians will not purchase book for which no quiz is available. There is pressure to get books approved before going to print.

While it may be a great way to get students to read, many librarians object to the use of points to motivate children to read. Also, finding books based on the child's interest, as opposed to level and points, proves to be a challenge.

Next time your child comes home to tell you about his AR tests, you'll know what he's talking about!


Submit a Comment

  • Mander Lee profile image

    Mander Lee 6 years ago is a great place to find these books. They are already categorized for you and they have descriptions so you can make sure it is appropriate.

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    SharedBDay 6 years ago from Starkville, Mississippi

    As an elementary school librarian I have to say that AR does show age appropriateness. I am sure that that book would have had a level of Upper Grades (not validating that book being in the library). Many libraries only list reading level (5.3) and number of points the book is worth. It is very necessary to also list the interest level (LG - lower grades, MG - middle grades, UG - Upper Grades). Especially for a school that has lower and middle using the same library. I also agree that it is difficult to find an 8th grade book for an 11th grader. Just because she can read 8th, her reading range should not be just 8th. She should be able to find something that would interest her that would not be below grade level (for her 4th or 5th). Check her range and don't let the teacher pigeon hole her into such a small range.

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    DeAngela Burney 6 years ago

    Have you all consider allowing parents to purchase time. With the technology we have in our society we, as parents may want our children to independently to do the Accelerated Reader Program at home, if their schools are not particiating in the program.

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    kirstenhatt 6 years ago

    i thnk reading book is my favet to do when i am dound

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    JosephTree 6 years ago

    Okay, I'll jump into this pirhana pool.

    Caring Dad has a point. We can't edit everything our kids are going to come into contact with. We can teach them how to ask questions and maybe to bring those questions to us. There's more "filth" out there than we, as parents, can ever cope with. It's everywhere! (Have you watched what's coming through the Disney Channel lately?) Books are almost the best way I can imagine for my kids to come into contact with questionable stuff. They are at "arms length" and can be closed without any real effort, unlike tv and peer contributions, which seem to be piped directly into their brains without any mediation whatsoever.

    Teach them to read, teach them to think, and teach them to trust us to help with the tricky stuff. That seems like a plenty big enough challenge without trying to screen them from everything in the world that makes us uncomfortable.

  • profile image

    Odayls 6 years ago

    I love read

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    more caring dad 6 years ago

    Caring dad: you're wrong, she's right. The ar system does not evaluate books for age appropriateness and it should.

    By your logic, we would sell porn and snuff films to kindergartners.

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    A guest 6 years ago

    To "Caring Dad",

    Your argument is both invalid and highly/grossly inappropriate. I agree with the mom that cares. Books that would be questionable for a teenager, have no business in a primary setting. If you believe they do, then you - as well as your type - are the issue in America today. AR should label books not only according to sentence and wording, but according to content as well. I am so glad I am studying to become a teacher that can help clean out the filth.

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    Caring Dad 6 years ago

    To Caring Mom,

    If you don't have time to teach your child the difference between right and wrong, don't have kids. Just because some sort of behavior is in a book doesn't mean someone's trying to convince the reader that the behavior is okay. Sounds like a great opportunity to show your child that some people make good decisions and some make bad decisions. It's a teaching moment. Don't try to filter everything that comes to your child's eyes and ears, but rather teach her how to use her brain to evaluate it and decide what's worth remembering and what's not. Better it's done now when you're there than when she's older and you're not.

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    Amanda 7 years ago

    I totally agree with the Caring Mom's post. I teach advanced/gifted reading, and my number one complaint is that AR labels way too many books as 4th or 5th grade level that are NOT appropriate for children that young. It's hard to find books for advanced readers that are above their level but are appropriate for them using the AR system. If there was a way to fix this I'd jump on that bandwagon immediately.

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    LINDA 7 years ago


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    curious kid!! 7 years ago

    Hi, I have a book project due tomarrow. I want to take an AR test on my book for my project, but how do I find a list of what books are available for AR? I don't want to wait till tomarrow at school. plz and thx!!!

  • profile image

    Dezzi 7 years ago

    My daughter isreading a book and It is very interesting but what I hate is that it isn't on AR I wanted to know if there is any way I could request book to put on AR. Also, I want to know if anyone completely understands how the do the book scall IT IS ABOULUTLY HORRIFYING how they dont't do it too well. My daughter and I spent all day looking for a book that was at an 8th grade level but age appropriate since she is only 11?

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    dristi thakur 7 years ago

    ar is great

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    miley 7 years ago

    ilove the book"s

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    Caring Mom 7 years ago

    Hi there. My daughter just brought a book home that she found around school. She is in the first grade, and still learning what responsibility is. I informed her the correct thing to do was take the book to the lost and found. I am an avid reader and decided to read the first few pages. This is a LIBRARY book in a school from K-8 grades. This book is rated at a 5.3 level of competence. Within the first 20 pages, you see the curse word "bitchy", and the 17 year old's friend reflects on last year's (at age 16, mind you) drinking Goldschläger and skinny dipping with her. Have I missed too many years between my own grammar school and that of my kids? When did we start giving children of grade five, age 10 or 11, reading material condoning underage drinking and promiscuity? And how did Renaissance Learning miss something like this? Do I need to read every book they have ever rated on the learning scale to make sure they are age-appropriate? I called Renaissance Learning and a lady I spoke with informed me that the skill level and the interest level are different. I told her that was understandable, but if the legal drinking age is 21, what business does this book have being in our schools? She told me I should request to have it taken out of the library and I told her there is a bigger issue here. Although I am concerned for my child's welfare first, I am also concerned for her whole generation and for generations to come. We as adults have a responsibility to teach our young children what is ok and what is not in life. I believe that Renaissance Learner and the whole Accelerated Reader program needs a closer look. The problem is that I have 2 babies in diapers, and am a very busy mother. I do not have that kind of time at this point, so I am reaching out to anyone else who can hear me. Has anyone else experienced anything like this from Accelerated Reader? When I was young I was one of the top readers in my school, and participated in the AR program for many years, but I cannot remember reading anything this trashy in high school, much less in elementary!

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    haley 8 years ago

    I want to find this ar book.

  • Missi Darnell profile image

    Missi Darnell 8 years ago from Southern California

    Excellent article, my kids are so happy when they come home with 100 percent on an AR test!

  • profile image 8 years ago

    A great help. Now I can explain the reason for an AR book to my grandson and his mother. Perhaps he will start reading them now.

  • profile image

    Rylee's Mom 8 years ago

    Thanks for the information! My daughter particpates in the AR program at her school but I was not exactly clear about the points styled rating system. Thanks again!

  • profile image

    cbaxl 8 years ago


  • profile image

    tyrese 9 years ago


  • profile image

    qpc89 9 years ago

    hi there what are you doing this is a really good website

  • profile image

    brayden 9 years ago

    reading is good for your brain it helps you learn sooooo itssss goooooood...

  • profile image

    brayden 9 years ago

    reading is hard intill your 3 or 4 or 5

  • tcnixon profile image

    tcnixon 9 years ago from California

    Importantly, the method that Renaissance Learning uses to level books is horrid. They could primarily at word length and sentence length and not at content. Steinbeck at the fourth grade? Really? This happens far too often.

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    madisyn 9 years ago


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    highwaystar 10 years ago

    Thanks Lela for an informative and relevant hub, you've really nailed this subject good, lots of nuggests of useful information, cheers!


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