- School District: Bristol Virginia Public Schools
- Number of Schools: 6
- Number of Students: 2,283
- Grades: PreK-12
- Population: Caucasian 88%; African-American 10%; Other 2%; Students eligible for free/reduced meals 55%
- School Structure: Urban
Bristol Virginia Public Schools Achieves Literacy Gains and Improves State Test Scores
Bristol Virginia Public Schools began using Scientific Learning® Fast ForWord® products in 2006 to help at-risk students build critical language and literacy skills. Since then, the urban school division has integrated the Fast ForWord software into Title I, Response to Intervention, special education and ninth grade transition programs. Thanks to the division’s efforts, from 2006 to 2008, the percentage of students passing English/reading on the state test jumped from 81 percent to 89 percent.
- Economically disadvantaged, mobile community
The city of Bristol lies on the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. Bristol, Va., and Bristol, Tenn., have separate governments and school divisions. Many families move back and forth between the two states during the school year.
“Children transition in and out of our schools,” said Jennifer Hurt, coordinator of federal programs for Bristol Virginia Public Schools (BVPS). “A big issue is children coming to school unprepared. Students’ prior knowledge, lack of exposure to reading material in the home, and mobility are all factors that present challenges. Another is our poverty rate, which keeps increasing.”
Four of the six schools in BVPS are Title I schools. More than 55 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunches, compared to only 33 percent statewide.
“We wanted to find a proven way to help our at-risk students build the language and literacy skills they need to succeed,” said Assistant Superintendent Michael K. Amstein, Ed.D. “Language and literacy skills are the basis for achievement in all academic areas, from reading and language arts to science, social studies and math. We believe that if you focus on improving these skills, it will pay dividends across the board.”
In 2006, BVPS used Reading First funds to purchase the Fast ForWord program for one elementary school. Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently.
The school division soon expanded its Fast ForWord implementation to all four elementary schools, and then to its middle school and high school. BVPS now integrates the Fast ForWord reading intervention software into several programs — including Title I, Response to Intervention (RtI), special education, and a ninth grade transition program — to address the individual needs of at-risk students.
“Our primary goal is to close the achievement gap,” said Hurt. “We also want to provide children with the skills to become independent learners.”
At-risk and Title I
At the elementary and middle school levels, students work on the Fast ForWord reading intervention software 30 to 45 minutes a day in computer labs. The program develops and strengthens memory, attention, processing rate, and sequencing — cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.
“Teachers frequently comment on the improvement they see in students’ focus,” said Hurt. “Students are more on task than they were before we started using the Fast ForWord products.”
Response to Intervention (RtI) and Special Education
BVPS also integrates the Fast ForWord software into its three-tier RtI process. “Like any other school division, we felt we probably had more special education referrals than we should have had,” said Amstein. “We wanted to become more effective in the referral process. We wanted to identify additional strategies that should be employed before any student is referred for special education services.”
At the elementary school level, the district has a Child Study Committee, a team of professionals that reviews referrals for students to special education services. The Fast ForWord software is one of several interventions used as a Tier 2 intervention in the RtI process. It is also used as a Tier 3 intervention, if the Child Study Committee thinks additional time with the software might help the student.
Ninth Grade Transition Program
In addition, the Fast ForWord program is used as an intervention in “Bearcat PRIDE” (Positive Rewards Initiate Desired Expectations), a ninth grade transition program at Virginia High School. Bearcat PRIDE is designed to provide at-risk students with the skills necessary to make a successful transition from middle school to high school. At the school-within-a-school, ninth grade students fill in gaps to reach 10th grade — and graduation.
“Often, these students have many of the same needs as students in elementary school,” said Amstein. “They may not have ever developed those basic building blocks to have strong literacy skills.”
Thus, the Bearcat PRIDE curriculum focuses on language arts, algebra and study skills. In addition to taking classes in these three areas, students work on the Fast ForWord program 40 minutes each morning. Other classes and electives are offered in the afternoon.
“We had our first group of Bearcat PRIDE students reach graduation last year,” said Ronnie Collins, an assistant principal at Virginia High School. “I saw students, who otherwise would have fallen by the wayside, make it through and graduate.”
- Increased state test scores in English/reading
- Improved quality of special education referrals
Across BVPS, the Fast ForWord program is one of many interventions schools are currently implementing to improve academic achievement among all students. The division’s test scores show its efforts are working. From 2005 to 2008, in grades 3-8 and high school, the percentage of students passing the state test in English/reading increased at every level. From 2005 to 2008, the pass rate across the division jumped from 81 percent to 89 percent.
|English/Reading Pass Rate
Grade 3 through High School
“Our test scores reflect that something is making a big difference,” said Amstein. “While we can’t pin it down to one program, we know Fast ForWord is helping kids.”
According to Amstein, an unintended effect of the Fast ForWord program has been a noticeable decrease in disciplinary problems. “Students who are successful with the Fast ForWord program often do better in school because they no longer feel the need to garner as much negative attention as they did in the past,” he said.
Amstein also reports the district is experiencing success with its RtI approach. “We have noticed a decrease in referrals, and those referrals are much better than those we have seen in the past,” he said. “People see that Fast ForWord is making a difference.”