September 18, 2020

In spring 2020, educators who use Accelerated Reader had two key questions for us, as they worked to quickly transition from in-person to remote instruction. (1) Does Accelerated Reader support at-home quizzing? (2) If so, can you provide us with guidance around this?

The answer to both questions is: absolutely. Accelerated Reader supports guided independent reading in face-to-face, remote, and hybrid/blended learning environments. Many of the AR routines and best practices that apply in the physical classroom are equally relevant when students are learning virtually.

We recently had the opportunity to discuss at-home quizzing in AR with Kristine Deitz, Senior Product Manager; Tanna Colwell, National Academic Advisor; and Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer. Here are the highlights from our conversation, along with links to helpful resources:

Q: How long has Accelerated Reader supported at-home quizzing?

Kristine Deitz: Districts have been able to allow at-home quizzing since March 2020. We actually started working on this feature long before the COVID-19 pandemic, to support closer integration between Accelerated Reader and our myON digital reading platform.

When districts use both AR and myON, students can now discover and access myON digital books within AR. Once they’ve finished reading, they can then easily launch the associated Reading Practice Quiz. Because students can read anywhere and at any time with myON, we wanted to give districts the ability to let students quiz immediately.

Tanna Colwell: As a best practice, we suggest that students take an AR quiz within 24 hours of finishing a book, while the details are still fresh in their minds. In the past, we’ve heard stories about students who read five or six books over the summer, and then rushed to take the AR quizzes as soon as they returned to school in the fall.

As Kristine says, we wanted to give districts the flexibility to decide when and where students could quiz—at home, on weekends, during summer break, etc. The timing just happened to work out well, coinciding with the spring 2020 school closures and the abrupt transition to distance learning.

Q: What guidance do we provide to educators around at-home quizzing with AR?

Gene Kerns: We’ve created a quick-reference document that lists key guidelines and considerations. We certainly recognize that in more normal times, students would often finish a book outside of school (say, at home in the evening) and then take the AR quiz at school the following day. But with many students learning remotely either full- or part-time this fall, quizzing at school isn’t always an option right now.

Having said that, it’s important to realize that at-home quizzing isn’t an “all or nothing” decision. In other words, if a district decides to allow at-home quizzing, this doesn’t mean that any student can take any quiz at any time. Educators still have control over when, where, and how students can quiz. I tell educators that at-home quizzing doesn’t have to be a wide-open thing if they don’t want it to be a wide-open thing.

Tanna Colwell: We also emphasize that AR involves a lot more than just quizzing, and that educators should follow familiar classroom routines and best practices even when they’re in a virtual environment. For example, students should continue to keep reading logs, which they can do electronically using one of these fillable PDFs. Teachers should also continue to have regular check-ins with students to talk about the books they’re reading. In a virtual environment, this can be done using Zoom or a similar video conferencing system.

Scheduling time during the school day for independent reading is still very important, as is recognizing students’ reading achievement—even if this recognition is done virtually. And we want to make sure that every student has access to a wide variety of books. Connecting students with print materials can be more challenging when school and classroom libraries are closed, but districts have implemented a variety of creative solutions, including book mobiles, home-delivery programs, and much more.

Q: How do districts enable at-home quizzing? What does this process involve?

Kristine Deitz: An important first step is for the site administrator to adjust IP restrictions, which control where students can take quizzes. We should point out that quizzing at home isn’t the only option. A district might decide, for example, to allow quizzing at community centers or public libraries, if students are spending time at these locations.

In addition to modifying IP restrictions, administrators may also need to adjust date and time restrictions, which control when students can quiz, as well as requirements around monitor passwords. Educators will find information about all three of these settings in our implementation tips document and in this short video walkthrough. Our customer support teams are also happy to assist with this process and to answer any questions.

Q: Are educators concerned that students might cheat on quizzes they take at home?

Gene Kerns: In education, I think we tend to worry about things that end up not coming true, and that’s likely the case here. I’d encourage educators to assume good intentions on their students’ part, unless this is proven otherwise.

If educators suspect that students are cheating, I’d also ask them to consider why students might feel the need to do this. AR’s purpose is to connect students with engaging books at the right level of challenge, and to provide educators with information about how well students comprehend what they’re reading. It’s important for students and their families to realize that cheating on AR quizzes doesn’t really accomplish anything. On the contrary, it stands in the way of providing educators with insight into students’ progress and instructional needs.

Tanna Colwell: As Kristine mentioned, the combination of IP restrictions, date/time restrictions, and password requirements gives educators a lot of control over the quizzing process. A teacher might, for example, use the monitor password requirement to limit AR quizzing to a certain time window within the school day. She might also set up a Zoom meeting for the students to join, so that she—or a member of the support staff—can monitor students via video as they quiz at home.

I also want to reemphasize the importance of following AR best practices in a virtual environment. If students are keeping reading logs, and if teachers are regularly conferencing with students, then teachers will have a good understanding of what students are (and are not) reading.

Q: How are parents involved in at-home quizzing?

Tanna Colwell: As Gene mentioned, it’s important for parents and other caregivers to understand the purpose of an AR quiz. If students—especially younger children—ask for help, parents will naturally jump in and assist. However, the same rule that applies to remote administration of a Star test applies to AR quizzing as well: The purpose is to find out what students know and can do on their own, not what they know and can do with a parent’s help.

To help communicate this point, we’ve created a family guide that educators can share with parents and other caregivers. The guide has a space for providing login instructions (the site URL, along with the student’s username and password). It also includes details about AR and the process for at-home quizzing. The guide is available in English, Spanish, and several other languages on our Renaissance Everywhere—Educator Resources page.

Kristine Deitz: In some districts, parents are even taking an active role in the quizzing process. I spoke with one educator who held a short training session with parents via Zoom. She then shared the AR monitor password with them, and they served as proctors while their children quizzed at home. Because the parents understood the purpose of the quiz, they were less likely to inadvertently help their children with the answers—and more likely to encourage the children to make their best effort.

Q: How can Accelerated Reader support remote and hybrid learning this school year?

Gene Kerns: We know that if we can get kids to do even a modest amount of reading, we can largely mitigate the learning loss that so many people are worried about right now. If we can take this a step further and provide guided independent reading—meaning, kids are matched with books at the right level of challenge on topics they find engaging—the returns are even greater.

The research base on the benefits of guided independent reading is extensive. Students learn far more vocabulary through independent reading than we’d ever be able to teach them directly. Reading is also critical for building background knowledge, and study after study has demonstrated that prior knowledge of a topic has a much larger impact on comprehension than general reading ability. It’s sometimes said that to be successful, students need to know a lot of things about a lot of things—and they do this through wide independent reading.

In one sense, remote- and hybrid-learning environments are ideal for independent reading because there’s often more time available. Students are no longer waiting for the school bus, or standing in the cafeteria line, or going from one classroom or building to another over the course of the day. We also know that students benefit from—and like—having a daily routine, so scheduling 30 minutes of reading time into the remote school day is a win-win situation.

Despite the research, daily reading is often still viewed as “just reading”—an activity to keep kids occupied (and quiet) while the adults are attending to other matters. This is obviously a misconception. If we use a tool like Accelerated Reader to guide students to books that match their interests, and if we confirm that students are reading these books with a high level of comprehension, then independent reading becomes active learning. The solution is so simple that we tend to overlook it, but keeping kids engaged in daily reading this school year is literally the most important step we can take to close the achievement gap.

Looking for diverse books to engage your students? Check out the latest edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

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