March 21, 2017
Judi Paul wanted her four children to love reading as much as she did. For her, reading had always been a source of joy. Yet her children didn’t seem to share the same passion. On top of that, she started to notice that her children weren’t reading the classics she enjoyed as a child in school. So one afternoon in 1984, in the basement of her family’s home in little Port Edwards, WI, Judi sat down and curated a list of classic novels, complete with a point system based on difficulty and length, to inspire her children. Judi wanted her children to read things that were at the right level and would inspire a love for reading in each of them. To ensure that her children were comprehending what they were reading, she wrote multiple-choice questions for each novel, awarding her children points after they answered each question correctly. She wrote questions that required reading a novel in its entirety—each related to the main idea or themes throughout. Little did she know, she had just created what would later become Renaissance Accelerated Reader.
After initial success with her children, word about Judi’s reading program quickly spread to St. Mary’s Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic School, a nearby parochial school in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. Impressed by the program, teachers at St. Mary’s offered to pay for Judi’s program. Intrigued, Judi’s husband, Terry, helped turn his wife’s reading program into computer software. Thus, Accelerated Reader was born.
Lynda Borgen, one of the first teachers to use Accelerated Reader at St. Mary’s, was impressed. “My students loved gobbling up book after book,” she said. “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.” At the time, her daughter was at the school and was also one of the first students to take an Accelerated Reader quiz.
Working closely with Lynda and the other teachers at St. Mary’s, Judi and Terry would listen to their feedback and tweak the program. They would regularly pop into the school and check to see how the program was working. They were genuinely interested in making the program the best it could be for teachers. Teachers loved being able to gauge their students’ comprehension and keep track of what they were reading. Word about the program quickly spread to the other schools in the surrounding area. Two years later, in 1986, Renaissance officially launched as a company, then named Advantage Learning Systems.
A bright future
Now, more than 30 years later, our name has changed, our solution offerings have expanded, and we’ve grown tremendously, but our mission remains the same. Judi and Terry set out to improve education, and knew that teachers were at the heart of every school. To them it was making sure schools—and the ever-important teachers that work in them—have the tools and resources they need to achieve their goals more effectively, ultimately empowering student growth. It is something that we still strongly believe today.
Today, students all over the nation use Accelerated Reader. In fact, Lynda’s grandson now uses it at the same school, since renamed, in Wisconsin Rapids. Lynda can’t help but smile when her grandson comes home excited about the latest Accelerated Reader quiz he’s passed. Although a lot has changed since it was first introduced more than 30 years ago, one thing remains the same about Accelerated Reader—the ability to inspire a love for reading in students everywhere.
Curious to see how Accelerated Reader has evolved over the years?