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District Statistics

  • School District: Bridges Academy
  • Number of Students: 80
  • Grades: 1-12
  • Assessment tool: Woodcock Reading Mastery Test
  • School Structure: private school

Bridges Academy Students Significantly Improve Reading Skills and Confidence with Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant Software

Bridges Academy implements Scientific Learning Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ products to help struggling readers strengthen their brain processing and literacy skills. By integrating these programs with direct instruction as part of a two-hour reading block, students are gaining the skills and confidence to become effective readers. In a 2008 study, students who worked with both the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant software showed significant improvements in reading skills, with an average gain of one year and three months over a three-month period.

Challenges

  • Students with specific learning disabilities
  • Students with academic gaps in reading

Bridges Academy in Winter Springs, Fla. provides academic opportunities for students with specific learning disabilities. It combines state-of-the-art technology and research-proven curriculum methods with hands-on learning strategies to assist students and prepare them for future opportunities.

“One-hundred percent of our students have learning disabilities and 99 percent have reading deficits,” said Jacqueline R. Egli, executive director of Bridges Academy. “Our ongoing focus at Bridges Academy is to close the academic gap, so students can transition into a more traditional educational setting.”

Solution

Fast ForWord

In 2003, when Bridges Academy opened its doors, the Fast ForWord program was implemented as an intervention to address the students’ academic gap. Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently.

As part of a daily two-hour reading block, all students work on the Fast ForWord software for 50 minutes in the computer lab. The software’s intensive, adaptive exercises develop and strengthen memory, attention, processing rate, and sequencing — cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.

“Students take what they learn in the lab and immediately put those skills into practice in the classroom,” said Egli. “This accelerates students’ acquisition of skills. Students also find this approach motivating because they feel they’re making progress toward becoming effective readers.”

A certified learning disabilities specialist runs the computer lab, monitors students’ progress, and provides weekly reports from the Fast ForWord program to teachers and parents. She also meets with teachers to discuss concerns and indicate where individual students might need extra support.

Bridges Academy created a reward program to motivate positive performance in the computer lab. Students earn “Fast ForWord dollars” based on the points accrued for each exercise correctly completed. Students save their dollars and shop at end of the week in a “store” that contains items donated by local businesses and parents.

“These rewards help motivate students to succeed,” said Egli. “As students develop confidence in their skills and realize they’re capable of reading, they begin to take ownership in their learning and aim for high scores for their own satisfaction.”

At the end of the school year, students who have started or completed Fast ForWord Reading Level 2 are invited to an off-campus bowling and pizza party. Older students who have started or completed the highest level, Fast ForWord Reading Level 5, travel to lunch off-campus in a limo, thanks to donations from local businesses and the school’s parent teacher organization.

“Neuroscience advances demonstrate why what we do as educators is so critical and why we must never give up on students,” said Egli. “We know that the brain can change in middle school, high school and beyond — and that is so exciting. My career in education for children with learning disabilities spans 30 years. The timetable for these youngsters is critical. We want them to read, to be successful in school, and to embrace all the learning opportunities offered to them. What’s exciting about the Fast ForWord program is that by using technology to strengthen the processing efficiency of the brain, we can help struggling readers become effective readers much more quickly and efficiently.”

Reading Assistant

In 2008, Bridges Academy added another technology solution to its two-hour reading block: Reading Assistant. Reading Assistant combines advanced speech recognition technology with scientifically-based interventions to help students strengthen reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

“Working on oral reading and fluency can be very labor-intensive in some classroom settings,” said Egli. “We wanted to give kids more opportunities for reading practice to strengthen their fluency, and we wanted an efficient way to get real-time student data. Reading Assistant is very beneficial in both of these areas.”

During the two-hour reading block, students continue to work 50 minutes daily on the Fast ForWord software in the lab and participate in direct instruction programs assigned by the teacher in the classroom. In addition, two to three times a week, students now spend 20 to 30 minutes of their classroom time working on Reading Assistant.

“All three pieces are critical to reading success,” said Egli. “The Fast ForWord program sets the foundation by developing and strengthening student’s cognitive skills to make the brain more efficient in what it’s doing. Direct instruction in the classroom allows students to learn the mechanics of reading. Reading Assistant then provides students with an opportunity to apply their skills, which is what reading is all about.”

Reading Assistant uses research-validated speech recognition technology to “listen” to each child as he or she reads aloud. Readers are helped with interactive resources, immediate feedback on errors, and private playback. The software also maintains performance records and the corresponding audio of each reading session for review by the student and teacher.

“With Reading Assistant, students can practice their skills in a very engaging way,” said Egli. “It’s not threatening because students don’t have to read aloud to a teacher or their peers. They read to the computer and it tracks their results.”

During fall 2008, the school measured students’ fluency in words correct per minute with Reading Assistant and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), and found the data was nearly identical.

“With Reading Assistant, we can pull student reports at any time. It gives us real-time data, so it provides a much more efficient, consistent readout of children’s progress over time,” said Egli. “The DIBELS assessment is very time-intensive. There’s also a human element; if a child is having a difficult day, he or she may not assess well with the DIBELS. To be able to track students daily or weekly with Reading Assistant, rather than every nine weeks with the DIBELS, is much more effective. It allows us to quickly see students’ progress, so we can adjust our instruction and interventions accordingly.”

The school can also adjust Reading Assistant to allow more leeway for students who have speech or language issues. “Kids find it fascinating to play back their own voice, which is an element we can’t provide in a basic classroom setting,” said Egli. “Students are becoming more aware of how they sound. As a result, they’ve made substantial improvements in their oral language delivery, in reading and in communicating socially. Our speech pathologist also listens to students’ recordings to see how they’re integrating strategies to improve articulation over time.”

At the middle and high school levels, Egli also invites selected students to work on Reading Assistant after school to help increase their fluency and comprehension as they progress to grade level reading selections. “Two days after I launched the program, I had other students asking me to enroll. That speaks very strongly of what this tool offers when students volunteer to come in and work after school,” she said.

Results

  • Improvement in reading skills
  • Significant gains on Woodcock Reading Mastery Test scores
  • Increased confidence

Over the years, Bridges Academy has found that by integrating technology with its existing classroom instruction, it can quickly and efficiently close reading gaps, as evidenced by students’ gains.

In 2008, Bridges Academy conducted a study with 17 students in grades 2-10. Students worked on the Fast ForWord software daily and Reading Assistant two to five times per week. Students’ reading skills were assessed with the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test before and after using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products. In an average of three months, students achieved average reading gains of one year and three months on the Basic Skills Cluster (Word Identification and Word Attack) on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test. Students also gained one year and two months on the Passage Comprehension subtest.

Woodcock Reading Mastery Test
 Basic Skills ClusterPassage Comprehension
Expected Gain3 months3 months
Actual Gain1 year 3 months1 year 2 months

“Together, Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant help students transition more quickly to becoming confident, engaged readers,” said Egli. “These children, who have struggled with reading for so long, start to see themselves as readers who can pick up any text and read it. We frequently hear from parents that their children now talk about the stories they’re reading, and read material at home they would have never picked up in the past.”

Thanks to their hard work, 14 of the school’s 80 students will move to traditional schools in the 2009-10 school year.

Egli has also seen a difference in the lives of many individual students. “Last spring, a 16-year-old student entered our school,” she said. “He was very quiet. I wasn’t even sure if he could read because he was very uncomfortable with print and didn’t appear to feel safe reading aloud to anyone. After about six weeks, I walked into a classroom where he was working on Reading Assistant. This young man had an amazing, deep speaking voice. He was reading with eloquence and intonation. When he finished the selection and put his headphones down, I congratulated him and asked if he had ever considered a career in radio work because his voice was so striking.”

With Egli’s encouragement, the student enrolled in a radio voiceover class at a local community college. He also did voicework for a 30-second commercial for Bridges Academy. “He did a phenomenal job,” said Egli. “He read the script beautifully. I do not believe we would have learned about his level of reading ability if not for Reading Assistant. Now he is much more confident about reading. I largely attribute that to his comfort with this technology, which allows kids to feel safe about reading aloud.”

Egli looks forward to continuing to bring the benefits of technology-based reading interventions to her students. “There’s a lot of good curriculum out there, and when you add Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant, you’re creating opportunities for these children to make better use of the instructional tools you already have,” she said. “By giving students the foundational skills, the direct instruction, and the opportunity to practice, we’re empowering them to succeed. The main benefit of our reading program is that it brings hope to children who have struggled, often for years, and that’s one of greatest gifts we can give.”


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