For decades, schools have relied on assessment-based reading programs to motivate students to read independently. These programs incentivize students to read pre-approved books and take short comprehension quizzes, which often bolster their language arts grades. But as veteran educator Beth Jarzabek wrote in a recent article: “If our intention as educators is to create lifelong readers, ‘rewarding’ students with the opportunity to take a computerized quiz at the end of a novel greatly misses the mark.”
In recent years, educators have started abandoning assessment-based reading programs, in large part because they simply don’t foster a deep love of reading. In this blog, we’re sharing four reasons school districts are ditching assessment-based reading programs and encouraging students to read for fun, which contributes to a lifelong love of reading and greater academic outcomes.
One of the biggest problems with assessment-based reading programs is that they significantly limit students’ ability to choose books they want to read. In the same article by Beth Jarzabek, she asked her administrators: “’What happens if a student wants to read a book that isn’t on this list?’ ... ‘Then it doesn’t count!’ came the answer.” With an assessment-based program, if no quiz exists for the book, it doesn’t count toward the student’s independent reading goal. This limits students’ choices to often outdated books that don’t reflect the diverse reading options available for kids today.
Moving away from assessment-based reading means encouraging kids to read what they want, when they want. And that freedom of choice has lifelong benefits. As the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) notes in a recent publication on the benefits of choice, students are more likely to take ownership over their independent reading and find pleasure in it if they have more autonomy.
Educators know that extrinsic rewards can be helpful for students, particularly if they are working on a task they find difficult or unpleasant. But at the end of the day, teachers want their students to love reading for reading’s sake—and that doesn’t happen if the only reward students get from their independent reading is a good grade on a quiz. That’s why many schools are moving from assessment-based reading programs to apps like Beanstack, which balance extrinsic rewards like digital badges with intrinsic rewards like the satisfaction of tracking and achieving personal goals. Over time, the extrinsic rewards that motivated more reluctant students will give way to a natural love of reading as they discover books they enjoy and recognize their achievements. As elementary school teacher Elizabeth Mulvahill writes: “Kids are still developing and building up their bank account of experiences that provide the basis for intrinsic motivation. So if they need a little external motivation to master a new skill or tread into unfamiliar territory, that’s okay…The key is finding the right balance.”
One challenge teachers and librarians face is incentivizing students to choose books at their reading level. With assessment-based reading programs, advanced readers can “game” the system by reading books far below their reading level, answering the quiz questions, and scoring more points than their peers. Similarly, students reading at a lower level might choose books that are too difficult to compete with their peers and become frustrated and apathetic. And because of the limited options available within the program, avid readers might run out of books at their grade level and start reading books that are either too challenging or contain inappropriate content for their age group.
The best way to avoid this problem is to choose a program that doesn’t reward or punish students for reading above or below their level. Programs like Beanstack reward students for the number of minutes they read, which encourages students to choose books that work for them. And it doesn’t matter whether they get through one hundred pages or five pages if they read every day.
Finally, assessment-based reading programs don’t encourage students to join a reading community. With a reading assessment, students read independently, take their quizzes independently, and move on. There’s no opportunity for discussion with friends or sharing of knowledge—and that can feel lonely. In contrast, reading challenges are a community effort. Programs like Beanstack let students share their progress with friends, find new books, and compare their badges. Plus, students can track time spent during class read-alouds which help build vocabulary, improve listening skills, and spark a lifelong love of reading.
If you want to create lifelong readers, you need to make reading fun. Luckily, there are great programs today don’t rely on arbitrary assessments and a limited catalog to track student reading. With programs like Beanstack, you can motivate students to find and read the books they love—and share that love with their community.
Learn more about Lamar Consolidated ISD.