November 4, 2014

We are fast approaching an exciting time of year for many schools using AR, and in the Renaissance Learning office. Schools begin to meet eligibility for Renaissance Certification 12 weeks into the school year.

Certification is recognition that classes, schools and project managers are meeting the research-based criteria with AR that we recommend for accelerating student growth.

Several of our in-depth success stories cite Certification as an important part of the reading culture schools have developed. Suzanne Strathern, librarian at Eston Park Academy in Middlesbrough, gives a typical example:

Model and Master Classes have had a massive impact on the academy. Everyone wants to achieve – they want the badges, and when they are close they get really excited.

Classes achieving Certification status are awarded a certificate, badges for every student and a listing on the Honour Roll on our website. The class teacher also receives a mug, and a letter for their head teacher commending their success.

How do you qualify for Certification?

You can check whether a class has reached Certification standards by checking the Diagnostic Report for any 12-week period.

  • Engaged Time: Class average of 20 minutes (25 minutes of scheduled time)
  • Comprehension: 90% of students average at or above 85% on AR Quizzes
  • Independent Reading: Class of established readers (Years 4 and up) maintain at least 80% of points earned from independent reading practice, rather than “read to” or “read with” practice

After achieving Model Class and Model School status, there are further criteria to work towards Master Class and Master School – the highest standard of Certification available.

How can I achieve Certification?

From my own classroom experience and by working closely with schools on the Renaissance School Partnership Programme, I have seen many successful ways to work towards these excellence standards. Every school is different, of course, and some ideas work better in some schools than others.

I asked some of the teachers and librarians who have experienced the greatest success with Certification to share their tips for what has worked well in their schools.

1. Make sure students know the criteria and why they are important

Your students will be more motivated to work towards Certification when they understand what the criteria are and why they are crucial to their success. They have a minimum average target for engaged time of 20 minutes because that’s the quantity of reading at which they will begin to make accelerated growth. They are aiming for above 85% in their quizzes, and below about 95%, because reading practice is at its most effective when it is stretching students but not so challenging as to be discouraging. And they are aiming for over 80% of their reading to be independent (in Year 4 and beyond) because they will develop their reading skills most extensively when they are reading without direct assistance.

2. Raise the profile across the school

Reaching Certification standard is a significant achievement. A special presentation for the class and teacher in an assembly will not only ensure that they get the recognition they deserve, but also raise the profile of reading. Display boards showing the progress each class is making towards Certification also help to keep students and staff focused on their targets.

Photo of display for Eston Park Academy house league table
A prominent display board at Eston Park Academy shows the progress each house and tutor group is making with Accelerated Reader.
3. Foster healthy competition between classes

Just as inter-form or inter-house rivalries can help students to engage with sports and other extra-curricular activities, they can have a big impact on reading practice. Classes often want to out-do each other and reach excellence standards before the others. House systems can be used for co-operation, too: Every class in one house at Eston Park Academy gained Model Class status last year, but rivalry gave way to learning as they used the lessons they had learned to help the other houses to achieve similar success.

4. Have regular conversations with students about their progress

Students enjoy working towards Certification criteria, but the best way to help them individually is to speak to them about their own progress. Are they reading books that are too hard for them, or too easy? Are they reading often enough? Their reading logs or Diagnostic Reports help you to keep an eye on their progress and make sure they are on track for success. Certification changes the dynamic of this kind of conversation, making them much more positive. Instead of simply having shortcomings identified, students are given positive encouragements to make steps towards success.

5. Set lots of small, achievable targets

Certification provides lots of opportunities for impromptu competitions based on small, achievable targets. Students respond well to little achievements, like increasing their engaged reading time over the previous week. Better still, if two classes in a year group are closing in on one of the criteria, an award can be given to the one that reaches it first. Using small targets, you can build momentum towards the overall goal of Model and Master Class status.

Photo of a World Cup reading display at Eston Park Academy
Activities and competitions work very effectively when established around current events, as seen in this World Cup reading display from Eston Park Academy.
6. Be consistent

You can start working towards Certification criteria at any time. However, like with anything, students benefit more from consistent growth than last-minute cramming! Aiming for these standards throughout the term will mean that you are on course to meet them for any 12-week period. Student growth will accelerate most when they are consistently focused on these criteria throughout the year.

7. Beware of coasters!

As you focus on participation and average per cent correct scores, don’t forget to look out for students who are coasting along by reading books that are too easy or too short for them. Students who get 100% on every quiz are probably not being challenged by the books they are reading. Aim for between 85% and 95% correct on quizzes.

8. Encourage students to share a common goal

AR targets are personalised, focusing on each individual students’ attainment and progress. Certification is a fantastic way for students to share a common purpose as part of a team working towards collective goals. Certification gets students talking to each other about what they are reading and how much they are reading. Quite quickly, they start encouraging each other to read more and to share ideas among themselves.

With thanks to Emily Martin, Julia Brunning, Mary-Jane King and Rachel Dixon, who contributed to this piece by sharing their experiences of Certification.

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