Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thoughts about Accelerated Reading

As a mom, I thought I was pretty familiar with the Accelerated Reading (AR) program which my kids' school uses to track their reading progress. Now that I am digging a little deeper it gets very confusing! In my previous posts I have been assigning an AR number to each book, but the number is actually an ATOS level. I get most of my information from a site called AR Book Finder, which our school website provides a link to. ATOS is basically a formula used to determine how hard the text is to read, for example length of the sentences and difficulty of vocabulary words. So an ATOS level of 3.6 would be suitable for the average child in his/her sixth month of third grade. Here is where it gets a little confusing, because even though the text may be suitable for the child, the content may not be. I found a pretty good article called a Parents Guide to Accelerated Reading explaining the AR program in greater detail.

So when choosing books for a child, you can't go on the ATOS level alone. The AR Book Finder site also provides an interest level, broken down into four categories: Lower Grades (K-3); Middle Grades (4-8); Middle+ (6 and up); and Upper Grades (9-12). Therefore it would be possible to have a book with an ATOS level of 4.5 but based on content suitable for kids in the Upper Grades category.

To make it more confusing there are other scales out there for determining reading levels. The Lexile Framework for Reading is one, and as stated in Wikipidia is "Recognized as the most widely adopted measure of reading ability." A Lexile reader measure is indicated by an "L" after the number and can range from below 200L for new/beginning readers to above 1700L for higher-level/advanced readers. Others you might find are the GRL (Guided Reading Level) and DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) numbers which, as a mom searching for the right books for my kids, confuse me even further! A good site to make some sense of this is Scholastic. There is an area called Book Wizard that will tell you any of the different leveling systems for a particular book. I think in the end you just have to use your best judgement based on each kid.

As an example of how subjective this whole system seems to be, my 4th grade son took a STAR reading test that put his reading level at 11.5, which would be mid way through 11th grade! The report said he should read books in the ATOS range of 6-13, but his interest level is mostly still in the 4th to 5th grade range. Now a STAR test only takes about 10 minutes, so really, how much can a computer learn about a human in such a short time, especially when the test is multiple choice?! One of my son's favorite books so far this school year was The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and that has an ATOS level of 4.5! The 4.5 is on the low end of the interest level which is middle grades (4-8) but right where my son should be reading.

The main reason I wanted to research this more, is to make sure if I am going to write a book that it falls into the appropriate reading level AND interest level for my target age group. So if my intended interest level is lower grades (K-3) then I want to make sure the ATOS level would not be over 4.0 or the equivalent in other rating systems. And to keep the reading level down I would need to keep my sentences shorter and vocabulary fairly simple. Off to check my manuscript! LOL!

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