Latest success stories from Renaissance Learning

A complete change in attitude towards reading with the results to show for it!

St Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School, Birmingham

In 2013 St Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School, part of the Lumen Christi Multi-Academy Trust, invested in Accelerated Reader (AR) and Star Reading (SR) to promote a love and motivation for reading amongst their students.

Since then, the school have gone on to see a year-on-year improvement in their Progress 8 score. Most notably, the Progress 8 score for their disadvantaged pupils has increased substantially over the last two years. In 2019, according to the DfE’s latest published data, the school performed within the top 29% of all secondary schools in Birmingham based on Progress 8 Score.

In 2018, five years after the school initially invested in AR & SR; an Ofsted inspection noted the following about the school’s new reading culture: 

“Students benefit from a wide range of non-qualification activity, which most embrace with enthusiasm. For example, students help younger pupils with their reading.”

We spoke to Debbie Keeves, School Librarian at St Thomas Aquinas RC School. Debbie spoke to us about the difference both AR & SR have made to the school’s reading culture, which has subsequently been reflected in students’ improving results across the curriculum. 

Debbie writes –

Accelerated Reading works so well for St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School because the head of literacy, Mr Ridgeway, and I as the school librarian, have an in-depth understanding of the whole programme and use it to its best ability. It is often difficult for teachers in schools to have the time to monitor the AR programme along with their heavy workload so by having a dedicated member of staff overseeing the delivery of AR and liaising closely with the Head of Literacy. It is always possible to obtain an overall picture of how students progress and pass on data and relevant information to teachers and SLT when required.

Year 7s have an AR lesson every week and year 8s every other week. These are part of the student’s English lessons, but the whole of the lesson is dedicated to reading. During the lesson, the students are either reading, taking book quizzes or choosing a new book. There is always a teacher and myself in the lesson. Together, we both help the students choose a book suitable for their ability and interests.

The students sit a Star Reading test at the beginning of each new term to have the results of at least three Star tests per academic year. After each class has completed a Star test, I use it to compare previous tests, and monitor which students have progressed, remained the same or gone down in their reading level. I collate each year group into a Star Reading Summary Report to easily identify the students who need the most help. The Summary Report is passed on to the staff that work with the students requiring intervention. During the lessons, we also closely monitor those students who have the lowest reading levels in the group.

Two years ago, a new principal was appointed at our school. Mr Martin has made literacy and reading of school-wide importance, and although only years 7 and 8 have AR lessons, literacy is a focus for every year group. Years 7, 8 and 9 take part in a Reading Canon, this means that each year group has a copy of the same book and time is dedicated to reading during form time. Each term the year groups begin a new book. As the books chosen are always AR books, this links well with the lessons as students can take book quizzes on the books when they have been read.

“We have done Star tests with them, and the results have been amazing after just a few weeks!”

We have worked with local primary schools and invited their year six students for a lesson every week for a half term. We have done Star tests with them, and the results have been amazing after just a few weeks! Some of these students are now our year 7s, so it was also a good way of introducing potential students to our school and staff. As a result of this project, some of the primary schools have invested in Accelerated Reading for use in their curriculum.

At the end of the summer term and over the summer holidays last year, the school invested in a new library. It is approximately four times the old school library’s size, has more computers and areas for both lessons and studying to be going on simultaneously, and is a really bright, inspiring area. Due to school areas being allocated to social bubbles, the library is only open to sixth form students. The AR lessons have continued in classrooms, using iPads and a shopping bag full of library books!

We became aware, particularly in the first lockdown, that many of our students do not have access to any books at home. In September when the new year 7s started, we invested in Bookbuzz, a scheme where students are introduced to a collection of books, shown a copy of each of them and a video of authors and students talking about them. They are then able to choose a book that they will keep for themselves. I order the books and distribute them to the AR class when they arrive. Again, these titles are usually AR books, so the scheme fits in well with the AR lessons.

“I wish we had acquired it in the previous academic year. myON has been brilliant and has entirely met our needs and requirements for investment.”

Since the start of the 20/21 academic year, with remote learning always being a looming possibility in the foreseeable future, we invested in myON by Renaissance. I wish we had acquired it in the previous academic year. myON has been brilliant and has entirely met our needs and requirements for investment. myON has been particularly great for students who would typically get distracted when sitting and reading a book. With the online books, students have to interact with an iPad or digital device, which helps them stay focused on the screen and therefore, their reading. We are already using the programme with EAL students. Because they can use the audio function simultaneously as the words flash up, it helps EAL students understand the text and pronunciation more. The staff that work with EAL groups are using it with their reading intervention EAL groups and have seen positive progress so far.

While students are learning from home, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their AR schedule has remained the same. They continue to have AR lessons on Microsoft Teams and use myON to access books if they have read all the books they have at home or from the school library. I regularly monitor the class lists to see who is taking and passing quizzes. If a quiz has not been taken for a while, I will speak to the student to see how they are getting on.

During a typical academic year, the class teacher and I ensure that the students do not rush Star tests. We also ensure that a test-like environment is maintained. At the risk of reading levels being inaccurate, we have decided to wait until the students are back in school to carry out the next Star test.

“I feel that students are achieving and are more enthusiastic than ever!”

In school, AR lessons are quiet reading lessons that students are familiar with, work hard to concentrate in and enjoy. I feel that students are achieving and are more enthusiastic than ever! Comparing year 8 Star Test results to their results in year seven, all classes overall have performed above and beyond their benchmarks. You can sense it amongst the students’ attitudes, too; they enjoy reading and are progressing well with it. We haven’t enough year 7 data for comparison yet, but they are enthusiastic and seem to enjoy the lessons. When lessons are held in the library there is a reward system for students who score 100% in their book quizzes, the more you have, the more likely you are to win the prize draw each term. But with restrictions and AR lessons being held in classrooms, this hasn’t been in place this year, but students are still quizzing lots, every student had completed at least one quiz before we broke up for the Christmas holidays.

The Accelerated Reading lessons and Star Reading have been intrinsic in supporting our disadvantaged students by providing them with an environment for reading and access to books that are accurately pitched at their ability level. Many of these students may not have experienced reading at home or ever have visited a bookshop or library. By using Accelerated Reader, to match students with the right books for their level and ability students begin to enjoy reading, grow within their reading level and develop at a good pace. We have the results to evidence this.

Our school is absolutely an advocate for Accelerated Reader, Star Reading, and now myON, if used to it’s best potential the programme is an amazing tool to use to improve literacy and understanding of books.

Other voices

I really like Accelerated Reader because it tells you things about the book like how many words are in it and its level. – Alessia Year 8

I teach a boy who is really disengaged with learning in Year 7, and we gave him one of the audiobooks to listen to, and he stopped me in the corridor to ask when the next lesson was as he couldn’t wait to listen to another book. Can’t get better than that.  – Mrs Ulmkalns English Teacher

The numbers don’t lie!

Product usage stats:

  • 3,071 Accelerated Reader quizzes carried out over the last twelve monthsan increase of81%*
  • 1,205 Star Reading assessments carried out over the last twelve monthsan increase of8%*
  • Average ZPD level over the last twelve months – an average increase of 33%*
  • Average Accelerated Reader Quiz Percentage Correct of 79% over the last twelve months.*
  • Average Accelerated Reader Reading Level over the last twelve months – an average increase of 3%*
  • Average Star Reading Scaled Score over the last twelve months – an average increase of 82%*
  • Average time per Star Reading test over the last twelve months is 20 Minutes 10 Seconds*

*2020 product usage stats will be distorted due to school closures March 2020 resulting in infrequent quizzing/testing

External stats (DfE):

  • St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School achieved an ‘Average’ Progress 8 Score in 2019, based on its unique confidence intervals. This means the school still performed the same or better than 69% of other primary schools with the same confidence intervals.
  • St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School saw an increase in Progress 8 Score from 2018 – 2019 an increase of over + 22% forecasting a continued increase of + 725% by 2021*
  • St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School saw an increase in Progress 8 Score for disadvantaged pupils from 2018 – 2019 an increase of over + 98% forecasting a continued increase of + 75% by 2021*
  • St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School performs better than 71% of other secondary schools in Birmingham’s local authority based on Progress 8 Score.
  • St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School performs better than 58% of other secondary schools in England with similar pupil population figures and whose pupils entered KS3 with similar prior attainment.

*All forecasts are sourced from DfE data and calculated before school closures March 2020

Ofsted – Good – 2018 (five years after subscription with AR/SR began):

“Students benefit from a wide range of non-qualification activity, which most embrace with enthusiasm. For example, students help younger pupils with their reading.”

To find out more about how your school or Trust can take advantage of the Complete Literacy Solution from Renaissance, including Accelerated Reader, Star Reading and myON, click here.


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