Nov 20, 2012 by Scott Sterling

improved test scores On November 5th, Dr. Martha Burns and Mr. Charles Wilson, principal of the Korematsu Discovery Academy in the Oakland Unified School District, presented a live webinar that explained the research behind the Fast ForWord program and how it took Korematsu from NCLB Program Improvement (PI) status to achieving double-digit learning gains -- and emerging from PI status in only two school years!

Dr. Burns focused on the neurophysiology of learning, specifically the importance of several key left hemisphere pathways. Dr. Burns noted that these pathways appear to be originally founded in object naming networks but gradually expand to symbolic representation systems. She described how information is moved from perceptual/comprehension regions in the rear of the brain to the anterior regions of the frontal lobe, where the learner can utilize the information in useful ways.

This process is particularly important in reading. Reading represents one form of symbolic processing in which the visual symbol corresponds initially to speech sounds and ultimately to words and sentences. Fast ForWord is particularly designed to activate and strengthen speech perception, comprehension and production regions and those key pathways that enable processing for struggling learners by:

  • Targeting key neurological centers for language, perceptual processing and sequencing
  • Enhancing processing speed and accuracy through repetition and practice of brain fitness exercises
  • Building executive functions (life skills) through exercises that increase students’ ability to control their attention and retain information (working memory)

The best testament to Fast ForWord’s capabilities is real-world success, which is exactly what Mr. Wilson provided in his section of the webinar. Korematsu is a heavily disadvantaged school with a 95% free lunch rate and a high percentage of ELL students. Korematsu found itself in NCLB Program Intervention status due to not meeting AYP requirements, at which point Wilson and his staff adopted Fast ForWord. In the subsequent school year, the Academy experienced double-digit gains on the CSTs and was named the Alameda County English Learner School of the Year.

Those of us who have worked in a low-performing school understand the immense challenge it is to improve student achievement, especially in the midst of record budget cuts.  A lot can be learned from Mr. Wilson, a man who has achieved such great success for students in one of the most challenging educational environments.  With a mix of leadership, determination, innovation, and inspiration, Mr. Wilson shows us that anything is possible.