During the fall of 2003, I conducted an analysis of the operation of the Reading Renaissance instructional reading program used in a local elementary school. My review of this program consisted of interviews and observations of the students, their teacher and the school librarian.
The subjects of this study are the third grade students in the class in which I served as an intern. The demographics of the class are aligned as follows: twelve Caucasian males, three Hispanic males, three Hispanic females, five Caucasian females, two Black females and one female of Middle Eastern descent. One Caucasian male student is affected with Down syndrome and is mainstreamed in the class full time. Four students (two Hispanic males and two Hispanic females) are classified as English language learners (ELL). Accordingly, the total number of students who are the subjects of this study is twenty-six.
The school in which I served as an intern benefits under Title I guidelines and the students generally come from families of modest economic circumstances. Of significance, the ELL students in the class receive daily English language instruction in a separate classroom. This pullout program is taught by two ESL endorsed teachers who are fluent in Spanish and English. In addition to the ELL pullout instruction, a number of the students attend other specialized schooling. Two of the students receive "specialized reading" (i.e., remedial) instruction provided by the school district. Further, three other students in the class receive "reading resource" (i.e., special education) instruction to address more profound reading challenges. On top of this, four students in the class receive reading assistance provided through a federal program (known as "Title I Reading") and another student receives math assistance (known as "Title I Math") through the same program.
It should be noted that the state of Arizona is in the process of dismantling its ESL instructional programs under the mandates of the successful "English only" ballot Proposition 203. The new statute requires that ELL students receive instruction in a general education classroom and that all subject content be administered in English.
The Reading Renaissance Instructional Model
Reading Renaissance (RR) is a literature-based instructional reading program developed by Renaissance Learning Inc. in the 1980's (formerly known as Advantage Learning Systems). The goal of RR is to dramatically accelerate student reading growth through an intensive reading program and then assess student reading performance using management software called Accelerated Reader (AR). Despite its broad acceptance by over 50,000 schools in the United States, the educational community is deeply divided over the value and effectiveness of RR. There is research that supports RR as being an effective reading program when it is properly implemented and diligently applied (e.g., Paul, VanderZee, Rue & Swanson, 1996; Walberg, 2001; Sadusky & Brem, 2002). Conversely, many educators believe that RR is nothing more than a well promoted but inconsequential computerized tracking and assessment program (e.g., Pavonetti, Brimmer & Cipielewski, 2000; Serafini, 2002). One of the principle concerns articulated by critics of RR is that it is not considered by many educators to be an instructional program (e.g., Biggers, 2001; Stevenson & Camarata, 2000).
The RR program requires that students independently select and read books that are assigned a point value depending on the difficulty of the book (School Renaissance Institute, 2000). The point value assigned to the book is determined based on the textual difficulty of the book which is calculated by using RR's proprietary readability formula called ATOS (Advantage--TASA Open Standard). Initially, and from time to time thereafter, the student's reading level is determined by using a norm-referenced assessment. …