Not so fast for Accelerated Reader and early reading

Accelerated Reader is a computerised supplementary reading programme that provides guided reading instruction from ages 4-18. It aims to improve reading skills through reading practice and by frequent feedback on students’ progress to teachers. Students select and read a book based on their area of interest and reading level. When they have finished reading the book they take a computerised quiz based on the book’s content and vocabulary. Results on the quiz allow teachers to monitor student progress and identify students who need additional help.

An intervention report from the US What Works Clearinghouse considers the impact of Accelerated Reader on beginning reading (ages 4-9). The review identified two studies that fell within the scope of beginning reading and the WWC group design standards. The studies included a total of 265 beginning readers in grades 1-3 (age 5-9) in four schools. Accelerated Reader was found to have mixed effects for comprehension and no discernible effects on reading fluency for beginning readers.

Source: Accelerated Reader™ (2016), What Works Clearinghouse.

Promising findings for Accelerated Reader

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a literacy catch-up intervention. A new article published in Educational Review describes a randomised controlled trial (RCT) in which pupils using AR achieved higher literacy scores than children in a control group.

AR is widely used worldwide, and over 2,000 schools in the UK use it on a regular basis. It is a web-based reading programme intended to encourage pupils in independent book reading. The system allows teachers to monitor pupils’ reading levels and progress, and use this information to support appropriate book selection and motivate them in achieving advanced reading levels.

Four mixed urban secondary schools were involved in the trial. 349 pupils in Year 7 who had not reached National Curriculum Level 4 in their Key Stage 2 results for English were randomised to two groups. The intervention group (n= 166) used AR for 20 weeks, after which they achieved higher literacy scores in the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) than the control group pupils (n= 183); an effect size of +0.24.

This RCT was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). In a novel approach, the schools involved applied independently to the EEF for funding to set up a programme for AR and simultaneously evaluate its impact. The schools were invited to co-operate so that the scale would be sufficient for an ’aggregated’ efficacy trial. You can find out more about the project on the EEF website.

Source: Accelerated Reader as a Literacy Catch-up Intervention During Primary to Secondary School Transition Phase (2015), Educational Review.

Social skills in kindergarten linked to positive outcomes in adulthood

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports a link between children’s social skills in kindergarten (which most children in the US attend when they are age 5/6) and their well-being in early adulthood.

Data for the study came from the longitudinal Fast Track project, an intervention designed to reduce aggression in children identified as high risk for long-term behavioural problems and conduct disorders. As part of Fast Track, nearly 800 children were evaluated by their teachers on a range of social behaviours, such as whether they resolve peer problems, listen to others, and share materials. Each child received a composite score representing his or her overall level of positive social skills/behaviour on a scale from 0 (“not at all”) to 4 (“very well”). Using a variety of data sources, researchers monitored these children and their life events, both positive (eg, obtaining a high school diploma) and negative (eg, getting a criminal record), until they turned 25.

Findings showed that for every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:

  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:

  • 64% higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood; and
  • 52% higher rate of recent binge drinking and 82% higher rate of recent marijuana use.

In conclusion, the authors say, “Our results suggest that perceived early social competence at least serves as a marker for important long-term outcomes and at most is instrumental in influencing other developmental factors that collectively affect the life course. Evaluating such characteristics in children could be important in planning interventions and curricula to improve these social competencies.”

Source: Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness (2015), American Journal of Public Health.

Effects of a summer maths programme on algebra readiness

WestEd has released a study examining the effects of the Elevate Math summer mathematics programme on seventh-grade (Year 8) pupils’ algebra readiness, general maths achievement, and perceptions of maths.

Elevate Math is a four-week programme that pupils attend for 19 days in the summer for four hours a day. It addresses properties and operations, linear equations, ratios and multiple representations, and transformational geometry, with one hour spent on Khan Academy (a free online learning system). Elevate Math also incorporates a college visit to inspire pupils and 40 hours of professional development for teachers.

A total of 477 seventh-grade pupils at eight schools in California’s Silicon Valley who volunteered to take the course were randomly assigned to receive Elevate Math either at the beginning of the summer (treatment group) or the end of the summer (control group). The treatment group scored significantly higher than controls in tests of algebra readiness and general maths, however most pupils’ scores suggested they were still not ready for algebra. Pupil surveys showed that Elevate Math did not change attitudes towards maths or views of their maths competence.

Researchers stated that most pupils would need more support than solely Elevate Math in order to succeed in algebra. They also discuss how results indicated that Elevate Math reduced summer learning loss.

Source: The Effects of the Elevate Math Summer Program on Math Achievement and Algebra Readiness (2015), Institute of Education Sciences/WestEd.

Accelerated Reader for quicker route to reading

Accelerated Reader is a web-based programme that aims to encourage independent reading by suggesting books that suit individual learners’ reading age and interests.

An Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)-funded study into the use of Accelerated Reader in England found that pupils who used the programme recorded higher literacy scores than those who did not.
Statistical analysis revealed an overall effect size of +0.24 in favour of the Accelerated Reader programme. This effect is equivalent to around three months’ extra progress in reading ages during the 22-week study. The effect size was larger (+0.38) for pupils in receipt of free school meals, but the smaller number of pupils (n=115) made this finding less secure. Overall, the trial involved 349 pupils across four secondary schools. The EEF rated the evidence from the study as moderate (3 out of 5) on their scale of evidence security.

Among the report’s main conclusions were:

  • Accelerated Reader appears to be effective for weaker readers as a catch-up intervention at the start of secondary school.
  • A well-stocked library with a wide collection of books banded according to the Accelerated Reader readability formula and easy access to computers with internet connection, are the main requirements for successful implementation.
  • Pupils at very low levels of reading may not be independent readers and would need initial support from a teacher to start reading books.

The report is one of nine new studies published by the EEF this month.

Source: Accelerated Reader – a web-based programme that encourages children to read for pleasure (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.