From a report entitled "Does Accelerated Reader Work?"
None of the studies included long term follow-up data telling us if children continue to read after the incentive system is no longer in place. This is crucial in light of McLoyd's finding (McLoyd, 1979) that the use of rewards inhibits subsequent reading.
McLoyd (1979) asked second and third graders to read from "high interest" books under three conditions: a "high reward," "low reward" and "no reward" condition. In the high reward condition, children were promised a reward that they rated the most highly out of six presented.
In the low reward condition, children were promised a reward that they rated the least highly out of six presented (Accelerated Reader can be considered a high reward system, because children can exchange points for a wide variety of prizes).
It was explained to the children that the reward would be granted if they read up to a marker in the text (indicating 250 words), and that the experimenter was interested in their opinion of the book. Rewards were not mentioned to the children in the no-reward condition; rather, they were simply asked to read up to the indicated place in the text and to then give their opinion of the book. The reading sessions lasted for ten minutes. (McLoyd also included a group reading from "low interest" books; I consider here, however, only the high interest group, children reading a book that they rated the most interesting out of six books presented to them. This group is of the most interest to us, because it reflects what is or should be the case in sustained silent reading and in most reading management programs.)
Both rewarded groups read only what they had to in order to get the reward, barely going beyond the 250 word maker. The no-reward readers went well beyond this point; they were engaged in reading about twice as much than the two rewarded groups, and read more than twice as much.
Robbins and Thompson (1991) did a separate study of seven low-achieving readers who participated in their incentive program. For at least four of the seven low-achievers, the incentive program had no lasting effect. One low-achiever, Walter, continued reading after the program ended (p. 67), but Timmy, "didn't do much reading ... once the summer reading program ended" (p. 65). Octavious earned all his points in the first few weeks, then his reading "slowed considerably" (p. 71). Sann "found little time for reading and library visits ... as the summer ended" (p. 73)." The incentive program clearly had no impact on Jason, who remained a reluctant reader (p. 69). Robbins and Thompson's analysis thus suggests that rewards do not "jump start" reading interest.
There is, thus, suggestive evidence that the use of incentives does not have positive long-term effects on reading frequency and enthusiasm. The studies reviewed here were short-term and the focus was on the impact of AR on reading achievement. If the amount of actual reading children do is the cause of their reading achievement, one could argue that long-term reading frequency is the crucial issue. Studies must ask whether AR contributes to a reluctant reader becoming an enthusiastic reader long after the program ends.
The results presented here strongly suggest that of the four aspects of AR, access to books, time devoted to reading, tests, and rewards, only the first two are supported by research. There is considerable evidence that providing access to books results in more reading and better reading and considerable evidence that providing time to read results in better reading. There is suggestive evidence that incentives do not promote additional reading in the long term. The AR research literature does nothing to change these conclusions.
Read the full report here...