Traditional methods to account for and manage book reading (reading logs, journals, parent reports of their child’s reading, oral and written book reports) take much teacher time to moderate and are not reliable as they are essentially subjective.

Accelerated Reader (AR) is currently used in thousands of UK schools. It was designed to make the job of managing book reading easier and more reliable whilst also motivating pupils to read more books for pleasure. Pupils read books of their individual choice and then take AR computer quizzes to check if they have understood what they have read. In the UK 28,000 quizzes are currently available and approximately 2,500 are developed and added each year. There are quizzes on most of the books children are likely to want to read, both fiction and non-fiction, from the most popular books – including the Harry Potter series – to classics such as Pride and Prejudice. In addition to the reading practice quizzes, there are vocabulary practice quizzes that test a child’s understanding of particular words, and also literacy skills quizzes that analyse 24 different areas of higher order thinking skills.

AR keeps track of all aspects of pupil book reading – for example, titles of the books, book readability levels and quiz scores. AR gives immediate feedback on each quiz to the children and to teachers, administrators and parents. It also does this for all quizzes combined. This formative feedback helps teachers shape subsequent reading instruction, guide individual pupils and motivate children to continue reading. AR is thus an accurate and efficient continuous progress-monitoring system that monitors both quantity and quality of individual book-reading.

The book difficulty level is determined by the ATOS formula. This is marked on the book, so pupils can make sure that they are choosing books that are not too easy or too hard – challenging without causing frustration. ATOS uses four factors to determine readability: average sentence length, average word length, word difficulty level and the total number of words in the book. The entire book is scanned and the formula applied to the whole book – not a small sample of text as with other formulae. ATOS can be applied to all publications. In order to relate the ATOS levels to the British system, ‘1’ would have to be added to bring the difficulty level up to English, Welsh and Northern Irish Years and ‘2’ added to bring it up to Scottish P years. The interpretation takes this into account.

To illustrate this point, ATOS was applied to about 30 text samples from some common UK publications. Interestingly these common periodicals were not as different in terms of their average readability as might have been expected, but the range of readability of items within each one was considerable. An exception was Hello magazine, which had many text samples within a narrow range of readability, as if its policy was to constrain readability deliberately. The Economist had consistently high readability text. The differences in size of text sample were also interesting – the Sun had some shorter but also some longer pieces while Hello texts were even more varied.

Publication Reading Age Range Based on Word Count
The Economist 13.6 12.0 – 15.2 500 – 2,000 words
The Times 12.7 11.0 – 15.1 500 – 800 words
The Daily Mail 12.0 9.1 – 14.2 450 – 700 words
The Sun 11.5 9.7 – 13.3 350 – 1,000 words
Hello Magazine 11.4 9.5 – 13.3 250 – 2,000 words