The company creates educational software (see Renaissance Learning software) and hardware for K-12 schools (primary and secondary), and over 67,000 schools in the USA use their software. The company's software includes applications for reading, math, language acquisition, and early literacy. Most of the software are progress-monitoring tools of the practice of various skills (e.g., math practice). Several of the software programs have been localized to various countries (e.g. UK, Australia, Canada, Germany). With the recent acquisition of AlphaSmart and the release of the 2Know! Classroom Response System, the company now provides hardware to assist with teaching, scoring tests, and other educational purposes.
Accelerated Reader, the company's flagship product, was created in 1985 by Judith "Judi" Paul. Judith and Terrance "Terry" Paul founded the company in 1986 under the name "Advantage Learning Systems" (ALS). The company's name changed to the current "Renaissance Learning, Inc." (RLI) in 2001. The couple own about 75% of RLI. The company has been the target of some controversy, most of which started in 2003 with the publication of "The Flickering Mind," by Todd Oppenheimer, which included a lengthy expose of the company's questionable research claims.
For more information about the company's history, see the history profile from the International Directory of Company Histories.
* Source: Annual Report, Form 10-K, 2005
Renaissance Learning, Inc. believes that there are three types of progress-monitoring assessments, listed below in "Tiers". Most of the software created by the company fits into these three "Tiers." The company's pyramidal logo (see graphic) is a metaphor for the purpose and use of its software.
Tier 1: Daily Progress Monitoring
"Tier 1" assessments are daily progress-monitoring assessments. This type of software is designed to monitor skills practice and provide feedback on the impact of instruction. This software provides the most information, often on a daily basis; thus, the associated tier is larger than the other tiers. For example, Accelerated Reader monitors reading practice, and provides information concerning how well students are reading (like reading rates or amount of reading). Tier 1 software include Accelerated Reader, Accelerated Math, Accelerated Vocabulary, Accelerated Grammar & Spelling,* and Accelerated Writer.*
Tier 2: Periodic Progress Monitoring
"Tier 2" assessments are periodic progress-monitoring assessments. This type of software is designed to provide information about student achievement two to ten times per year with at least monthly intervals. Basically, these assessments fit in between daily and high-stakes annual tests (Tier 3). Tier 2 software include STAR Reading, STAR Math, and STAR Early Literacy. (See STAR (software) for an overview of the STAR Assessments.)
Tier 3: Annual High-Stakes Tests
"Tier 3" assessments are high-stakes assessments like state tests. The company provides a Tier 3-type assessment called AssessmentMaster,* but Tier 3 assessment usually appear in the form of state tests (not provided by RLI).
*Product discontinued as of May 2006.
Renaissance Place provides a number of benefits over the traditional desktop versions. Instead of installing software on each computer, students, teachers, and administrators can access all of the purchased software in one place. Teachers and administrators can access reports and data from any computer, and data is consolidated in one area. Just as with the client-server model for the company's older desktop versions, the Accelerated Reader quizzes of any type and Accelerated Math libraries are all still installed to the server, as these are still licensed to individual school buildings. Additionally, Renaissance Learning offers to host the school's data for a fee, reducing the time required of the school's technical specialist for maintaining a server. Renaissance Place versions of Renaissance Learning's software are compliant with the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF).
Accelerated Reader, the company's flagship software created in 1985 and defined as "reading management software," is intended to help "teachers guide students' independent reading practice and motivate students to read more books." Essentially, "AR" is an assessment that primarily determines whether a student has read a book, with more efficiency, speed, and accuracy than a book report because it is computer-scored. The software provides additional information to teachers regarding reading rates, amount of reading, and other variables related to reading. In May 2006, the company announced Accelerated Reader Enterprise positioned for use for entire school districts. This version offers the entire library of quizzes. See Accelerated Reader for more details.
STAR Reading is a computer-adaptive reading test and database. It assesses students' reading levels and provides norm-referenced reading scores for students in grades 1 through 12.
Accelerated Math, a "math management program for grade 1 through calculus," is designed to work with any curriculum or textbook. It generates "personalized math assignments at each student's level," and it scores the assignements via scanner. Additionally, it provides reports and record-keeping functions to monitor student progress and address individual needs. In May 2006, the company announced Accelerated Math Enterprise positioned for use for entire school districts. This version offers the entire math library, from first grade math to calculus. See Accelerated Math for more details.
STAR Math, a computer adaptive math test and database, provides norm-referenced math scores for students in grades 1 through 12. Like other software provided by the company, it provides data regarding individual progress.
Renaissance Learning recently began providing educational hardware with the acquisition of AlphaSmart in 2005. For information on the AlphaSmart product line, see the AlphaSmart page.
The company has recently created the 2Know! Classroom Response System, which is intended to aid classroom participation and assessment. Each student uses a wireless handheld device that looks like a cross between a cell phone and a calculator. The device has a small LCD screen with a number of buttons, including a phone-type number pad, ABCDE voting buttons, True/False buttons, and other miscellaneous buttons. Using wireless technology, teachers can post questions and receive student responses without using paper-and-pencil quizzes or disruptive raise-your-hand techniques. The system can use built-in assessments or teacher-made assessments. The hardware also comes with the 2Know! Toolbar, software to help receiving and scoring information from the 2Know!.
In August and October 2006, eSchool News conducted an online survey asking readers which reading and math software were the best for various categories. Accelerated Reader, Accelerated Vocabulary, English in a Flash, Fluent Reader, STAR Early Literacy, and Read Now Power Up! were among some of the best reading software. Accelerated Math was among some of the best math software.
RLI itself maintains a research webpage, covering uses of its products for support of various curriculum. Its products have also been covered by the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC).