- School District: Manchester City Schools
- Schools: Westwood Elementary School
- Number of Students: 600
- Grades: preK-6
- Population: Caucasian 78%; Hispanic 17%; African-American 4%; Asian/Pacific Islander 1%; English language learners 15%; Students eligible for free/reduced meals 60%
- Assessment tool: Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Achievement Test
- School Structure: Rural
Westwood Elementary Achieves Significant Academic Gains and Increases Parent Involvement
Eight years ago, Westwood Elementary implemented Scientific Learning® Fast ForWord® software to help students build critical reading and language skills, and improve student performance on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Achievement Test. Since then, the Title I school has expanded the Fast ForWord program to provide targeted interventions through its Response to Intervention process and English as a Second Language program. In 2008, the school received “A’s” for academic achievement and academic growth in reading/language arts.
- Economically disadvantaged community
- Low academic growth in reading
- Growing population of English language learners
At Westwood Elementary in rural Manchester, Tenn., teachers are dedicated to helping all students reach their potential. However, in 2000, the Title I school was concerned about student performance on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Achievement Test. While the school received an Academic Achievement Grade of a “B” in reading, it received an “F” on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which measures academic growth within a grade and subject over one year.
“Back in 2000, our achievement scores were not satisfactory,” said Principal Sandra Morris. “We were an average-performing school, but we had low-achieving students who were not making significant gains. Nothing was working with these students. I was concerned and my teachers were concerned.”
In addition, the school’s population was changing. From 2000 to 2008, the percentage of students who were English language learners (ELL) tripled, increasing from 5 to 15 percent.
While Morris searched for a program to improve student learning, she heard about the Fast ForWord program at a conference. Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently.
After researching the reading intervention software, she applied for and received a dropout prevention grant and purchased the Fast ForWord software to provide targeted instruction for seven struggling students.
“Dropout prevention begins in the early grades,” she said. “I sent those seven children through the Fast ForWord program that spring. We had awesome results. They gained two years achievement in reading in six to eight weeks. Those results were so amazing that our director of schools went to a conference with me to learn more about the Fast ForWord program. We bought a site license for the school and that’s how we took off.”
In the first few years of Westwood’s implementation, all K-6 students worked on the Fast ForWord software. However, as the student population grew, the school refocused its implementation and currently targets grades K-4.
“We’ve changed our focus over the years to make sure students develop those foundational reading and language skills early,” said Mary Jane Crites, school-wide coordinator. “If students can’t hear or process language properly, they’re lost from the get-go. Our goal is to help children improve brain processing efficiency early on, so they’ll be able to benefit from the reading instruction they receive as they progress through school.”
Students work on the Fast ForWord software in the lab, 30 minutes a day. The computer lab manager uses Fast ForWord Progress Tracker, an online data analysis and reporting tool, to monitor student progress daily.
“We run Progress Tracker reports every day and compare them with the previous day’s results,” said Crites. “That helps us determine which students we work with the next day for direct instruction or one-on-one interventions.”
In addition, Westwood uses the Fast ForWord software to provide additional support for at-risk students, and for ELL students and parents.
Response to Intervention
To support students at risk for academic failure, Westwood initiated a Response to Intervention (RtI) process in first grade during the 2007-08 school year, and expanded it to kindergarten and second grade in 2008-09. The school uses the Fast ForWord program to provide targeted interventions for Tier 2 students and intensive interventions for Tier 3 students.
“Last year was our first year with RtI,” said Crites. “We like that we can use Fast ForWord as a scientifically-based, research-based intervention. We usually start students in Fast ForWord Language Basics. As students master one product, they move on to the next.”
In addition, Westwood integrates the Fast ForWord program into its English as a Second Language (ESL) pull-out program. ELL students work on the Fast ForWord program 50 minutes a day.
Upon their arrival at Westwood, ELL students are placed in the Fast ForWord Language and Fast ForWord Language to Reading programs. “We have seen wonderful results from that,” said Crites. “When one little boy finished a Fast ForWord level, he said, ‘I think my brain feels bigger.’ I thought that was pretty observant. He was aware that things were becoming clearer for him and he was just catching on better. That’s good to hear!”
In addition, in 2004, Westwood received a 21st Century Community Learning Center (CLC) grant to support ELL students and their families, and to foster a positive and connected home-school relationship. The CLC offers programs and opportunities for students to achieve academic success, and for their parents to increase their English language skills and promote school readiness for preschoolers.
“We wrote the grant because we knew we needed to find a way to make our school more accessible to members of our Hispanic community,” said Morris. “Many parents didn’t feel welcome and were reluctant to engage in activities at school. We wanted to bridge that gap.”
The grant provided funds for a CLC director and interpreter, and a van to provide transportation. In a survey at the center, many parents indicated they wanted to learn English so they could help their children. So, the CLC launched the Fast ForWord program and English classes for parents.
Parents work on the 100-minute Fast ForWord protocol and then attend English classes. The center offers two levels, beginner and advanced; each meets two mornings weekly. The interpreter is available while parents are in the Fast ForWord lab and the English classes.
“It’s not uncommon for parents who work the night shift to bring their children to school and then go to the Fast ForWord lab to do their 100-minute program,” said Morris. “They are very dedicated. Plus, students are so pleased with their parents’ efforts to learn English, which benefits the entire family.”
At the end of each school year, the center holds a Parent Celebration, where plaques and certificates are awarded for parents’ achievements, including the completion of levels in the Fast ForWord program.
In addition to the Fast ForWord program and English classes, the CLC offers several other programs to help parents and students. For example, through the “Circle of Friends” program, junior high and high school students volunteer their time to work with K-6 ELL students at the CLC one day a week after school for reading practice, skill review, homework help or paired reading.
Westwood Elementary also has its own one-on-one tutoring program for ELL students. When teachers identify an ELL student who needs extra help, that student is paired with a high school student who provides skill-specific tutoring one afternoon a week during the school day.
- Increased reading proficiency
- Improved TCAP and TVAAS scores
“We’ve seen several benefits with the Fast ForWord program. One of the main benefits is increased reading proficiency,” said Morris. “We are now a successful school academically. We are a school that makes AYP. We make all ‘A’s’ in our Academic Achievement and Value Added grades.”
|Academic Achievement Grades|
|Academic Growth (Value Added)|
Westwood is a state and nationally recognized school, due to its record of achievement, rigorous curriculum and activities offered to students. It has been recognized twice as a National Title I Distinguished School, and twice as a Tennessee Title I Distinguished School.
In addition, Westwood has seen many positive changes among ELL students and parents, including:
- An expanded English vocabulary
- Improved student attendance
- Increased parent involvement in school activities
- A rise in self-esteem
- Increased reading at home
“I would say parent involvement has gone up 400 percent in four years,” said Morris. “Parents are so much more comfortable and confident coming into the school building. Plus, the younger children who regularly attend our Community Learning Center are more prepared for preschool and adjust well to their classes. One of the neatest things I’ve experienced is watching the expressions on the faces of children who come to the Fast ForWord lab with their parents. They are so proud.”