The Underrated Problems with School (Word Count & Accelerated Reader)

School is a place where students receive an education that prepares them for life, and they receive a lot of experiences, hopefully positive, that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their life. This does not mean school is perfect. Sometimes it could be said that this “imperfection” could actually prepare students for life even more. With the common problems like the backwards times that school starts (younger students vs. older students), online schooling, transportation complications, etc. there are some that I think are pretty underrated. The two I will be discussing is word count and Accelerated Reader.

Pretty much everyone who has attended school has, at some point, written an essay or an open-ended response. Those, depending on your attributes in school, may or may not be fun. Sometimes they appear to be quite simple, and other times they don’t. I think one of the major reasons for this is due to word count. Word count is typically the minimum amount of words that one has to write or type in order for the writing prompt to even pass to be graded.

In some instances word count is basically used as a means to prevent students from giving poorly constructed, and oftentimes vague, or uninterpretable responses. However, many essays that I’ve taken actually took a counterproductive initiative. Some word counts are unnecessarily large. Sometimes, people can make their point clear enough in just a couple paragraphs. Sometimes, it may take them several pages to make their point clear. Having word counts simply alters the way students make written responses to express information.

As an example: In 20 words, explain what a carpet is. You could very simply do that. You could say something along the lines of, “A carpet is a flat piece of material, which has a variety of textures, placed on the ground so people can walk on it.” That was 24 words. Now if the writing prompt told you to have a minimum of 200 words, then you’d be in a pickle.

Accelerated Reader is supposed to be an online education program/teaching tool used in schools, that helps students to expand their vocabulary and their reading comprehension. It is popularly used in middle school/junior high. This program operates by using books that are already designated and cataloged in it’s system. Typically, there are reading levels which are shown by different colored stickers that are placed on the spines of books that are A.R books, and you read books based on your reading level (represented similarly as grade levels).

Accelerated Reader primarily operates based on a point system. It’s not complicated, but I’ll explain anyway. Every A.R book has a certain number of points. The larger and “more difficult” the book is to read, the more points it is worth. A student goes to the school library and picks out the book they want to read. After reading said book, they log into the website and take a test on that book. Based on how well they scored on the test, they will get a certain number of points, but never more points than the book was already worth. In addition to this, every nine week marking period, the student is given a point goal. It is recommended by the school/teachers that the student reach this goal.

There are problems with this though. Firstly, your A.R point goals actually affect the student’s grades in their E.L.A course. So if the student does not get an adequate amount of points for their goal, their E.L.A course grade goes down. Another issue with this is that the amount of points the student was lacking (in order to reach their point goal) had to be made up in their next nine weeks marking period goal. For example: Tom has an A.R point goal of 50 points for the first nine weeks. Tom only gets 40 points out of 50, so Tom has to make up those 10 points added towards the next, already established point goal for the second nine weeks, which, for the most part, is the same and only changes based on your reading level. So if Tom had a point goal of 50 for the first nine weeks, his next goal would be 60, since he has to make up what he didn’t get for the last nine weeks.

This system is obviously flawed as it makes no effort in actually aiding the student in achieving any success in reading books. It actually makes the next goal harder to achieve instead of easier. Plus, not every book in the school library is an A.R book. This has the potential effect of leaving some students feeling “left out” because their genre or reading level of books is not even registered in the system, making students read books that they’re uncomfortable with reading. What’s even worse is that this system actually discourages students to read, since they’re forced to read, not what they want to read, and what they are passionate to read about, but what the school thinks they “should” read. See the problem?

It appears as if the school fails to address the uniqueness of every student, and sure the argument can be made that a school board cannot individually create specialized education for every single student ranging from the hundreds to the thousands, but this does not mean they cannot have a more, varied, and “adaptable” educational approach. Every student thinks, learns and responds different. Trying to force them to adapt to the school’s very narrow box is futile and counterproductive. It just does not work in the long run, it does not achieve the effect of wanting students to learn, it absolutely kills their desire to do so.

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