What Do Our Kids Read During Independent (But Not Really) Reading Time?


When students choose “independent reading” books, what do they pick? According to Renaissance Learning’s 2016 report, high school students chose To Kill a Mockingbird, (9th graders), Night (10th graders), The Crucible (11th graders), and Macbeth (12th graders).

It’s hard to believe The Crucible, a 1953 play by Arthur Miller, would surpass comic books or modern fiction, but these results aren’t an indication of what children choose to read entirely of their own accord. The report is based on data from 9.9 million participants from grades K-12 in the company’s Accelerated Reading 360 program (presumably including my children, who go to a school that participates in this program). It isn’t truly independent reading: teachers set individualized goals with each student, the students choose from books selected by the program to meet those goals, and, ultimately, the students take quizzes on the books.

Interestingly, Renaissance Learning found that students are generally reading below grade level, and high school seniors are reading below the expected reading level of incoming college freshman: “By the time students finish high school, they are reading books in the 5-6 range, which is close to the level of typical fiction best sellers of about 5.6; however, their selections are one to two grades below the demands of books assigned as summer reading to incoming freshman (6.5) and typical nonfiction best sellers (7.2).”

It’s concerning that American students aren’t meeting expectations, but it’s hardly surprisingly in a country in which more than a quarter of adults haven’t read a single book in the past year. Hopefully, in the future, more high school seniors will graduate with enough of a love of reading to read more than adults do today–whatever the level.

*I learned about this report from Education Week, November 30, 2016.


  1. Nothing to do with the post topic but I dislike Accelerated Reader so much. There can be benefits to its use, but the way it is utilized in most schools is, like the first article you saw, highly problematic. I’ve been at schools that use it and schools that don’t and prefer the schools that don’t.

    I nearly posted about it (since I link to AR ratings on my blog) but didn’t because it’s too far from the scope of ColorfulBookReviews. Your girls will be fine since you promote literacy so much at home, but I hope for the sake of the other children that their school is doing AR correctly rather than teaching to the test.

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t know as much about the AR program as I should considering the fact that my children use it through school. Reading your criticism of the program (I’d love to know more!) makes me wonder how my kids’ school is utilizing it. I’m going to pay closer attention.

      1. So it took a little digging, but this article contains all the criticisms that I have of the AR system in a much more scholarly and research-backed way than my thoughts.

        In my personal experience from working, volunteering, and parenting at a variety of schools, when AR is used as a whole-school method, the school is less successful at teaching reading as life skill. Although there may be temporary gains in reading level, students read less and take less interest in what they are reading, so their long-term gains are less. AR evaluation tests are okay but the book quizzes are flawed and at times biased. It is a useful tool to have available for individual students who may benefit from a highly structured and reward driven program and those who don’t already have personal reading interests. I also find it handy for a general sense of the text complexity of a book.

        I find Lexile to be better but suffer from many of the same flaws.

  2. Fascinating post. When I read the first paragraph, I was shocked to see that all the books students “chose” were also assigned school readings. I can guarantee that most kids do NOT want to read The Crucible or Macbeth of their own accord. x)

    1. Thanks, Naz! I learned about the report from Education Week, which framed the reading as “outside reading” without much detail. I was surprised when I read the report to see that it was something entirely different.

  3. Interesting. . . I never would have guessed which books were the most popular selections of high school students. I’m not surprised, but it’s a little discouraging, that 25% of adults didn’t read any books last year.

    1. I agree that it’s discouraging that so many Americans don’t read. I think we would be better off as a country if they did.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. It’s sad that kids don’t reach much, if any, unless forced to. Books were my big escape when I was growing up. I even worked in a library for a couple years and loved it. Reading has such an impact on the developing mind, I’m really surprised it isn’t pushed more, at home and at school. I still remember what a revelation it was to read the first page of The Hobbit one year in English class. It immediately captured my attention. I couldn’t wait to read the rest.

    1. Books were my big escape when I was growing up too (and they still are). I wish more people embraced literature. Thankfully, my kids love books. What a relief!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s