Let’s take a journey back in time…

By Chris Jarosh

Here at Renaissance, we’ve been accelerating learning for all for over 30 years. Although we’re a global business now, we’re actually very proud of our humble beginnings. Learn more about our history and how we got to be where we are today!

Introducing the magic of reading to the next generation

It all began back in 1984. Judi Paul, a mother in Port Edwards, Wisconsin, just wanted her four children to love reading as much as she did. Reading had always been a source of joy for her, but she was saddened to see that her children didn’t seem to share the same passion. In fact, she realised, they hadn’t even read the classic novels that she’d loved so much at school. Judi was determined to do something about it.

The four Paul children

And so one afternoon in 1984, she curated a list of her favourite classic novels, and assigned them all a points value based on their difficulty and length. And to ensure that her children were comprehending what they were reading, Judi wrote multiple-choice questions for each novel, rewarding her children when they answered the questions correctly. Starting to sound familiar? That’s right – Judi didn’t know it, but this was actually the birth of Renaissance Accelerated Reader.

The first school

Judi’s new creation worked a treat with her children! In fact, word of its success quickly spread to a nearby school, St. Mary’s Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic School. Teachers there were so impressed by the programme that they offered to pay for it! Surprised and intrigued, Judi and her husband, Terry, decided to turn it into computer software.

Judi and Terry Paul

Judi and Terry Paul

“My students loved gobbling up book after book.” Lynda Borgen, a teacher at St. Mary’s Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic School, was one of the first teachers to use this new programme. “It gave each one of them a sense of accomplishment when they would finish reading something and pass their Accelerated Reader quiz. We went through a lot of quizzes that first year.” Lynda’s daughter was at the school around the same time, and was one of the first students to take an Accelerated Reader quiz.

Judi and Terri worked closely with Lynda and the other teachers at the school, and they’d tweak the programme according to the feedback they received as they regularly visited. The teachers loved being able to gauge their students’ comprehension and keep track of what they were reading. Word quickly spread to the other schools in the surrounding area. Two years later, in 1986, Judi and Terry officially launched a company to sell the programme, named Advantage Learning Systems.

"The Accelerated Reader"

“The Accelerated Reader”

Look at us now!

Little did Judi know that 35 years later, Accelerated Reader would be used by millions of students across the globe. Including, in fact, Lynda’s grandson, using it at the same school, since renamed, in Wisconsin Rapids! Advantage Learning Systems was renamed to Renaissance Learning in 2001, and over time we’ve added new solutions to our offering, including assessment and maths programmes. But even though a lot has changed, our mission remains the same as it always has. Judi and Terry set out to improve education, and knew that teachers were at the heart of every school. They were determined to make sure that schools had the resources they needed to empower student growth. These are all things that we still strongly believe in today.

Using Accelerated Reader today: at St Matthias Primary School in Bethnal Green

Students using Accelerated Reader in 2019: Bethnal Green, London

The Renaissance timeline

1984 Judi Paul creates a points-based book quizzing system for her four children that will later become Accelerated Reader

1986 Judi and her husband Terry form Advantage Learning Systems, which is renamed to Renaissance Learning in 2001

1996 Star Reading, the company’s literacy assessment package, is released

1998 we release Star Maths, our maths assessment package

1999 Renaissance begins operating in the UK

2009 the Pauls found the LENA Research Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving language development worldwide

2018 Renaissance acquires myON, a digital literacy platform, which is launched in the UK and Ireland in March 2019

2020 Renaissance products are used by 52,500 schools across the world, helping accelerate learning for 18.5 million students in 96 countries

Join the Renaissance family

Become part of the Renaissance history! Over 6,500 schools in the UK and Ireland are using Renaissance to accelerate learning for their students. Click here to read some of their stories. Or if you’d like to find out more about working at Renaissance, head to our careers page.

This blog was adapted from a post on our US site, Introducing the magic of reading—a mother’s story

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