- School District: Washington Local School District
- Number of Students: 450
- Grades: K-6
- Population: Caucasian 67%; African-American 17%; Multiracial 11%; Hispanic 4%; Special Education 11%; Students eligible for free or reduced price meals 54%
- Assessment tool: Ohio Achievement Test (OAT)
- School Structure: Urban
Greenwood Elementary Improves Reading Proficiency and Ohio Achievement Test Scores with Fast ForWord Software
With Scientific Learning® Fast ForWord® products, Greenwood Elementary changed its approach from intervention to prevention and focused more attention on building a solid foundation for reading proficiency in kindergarten, first and second grades. As a result, the number of third graders performing at and above the proficient level in reading on the Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) jumped from 27 percent in fall 2003 to 90 percent in spring 2007 — surpassing the state standard of 75 percent. In addition, the school met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements for all student groups.
“Students experienced higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of frustration... As a result, they were less likely to disrupt classes.”
- Highly mobile, economically disadvantaged community
- Low state test scores
At Greenwood Elementary in urban Toledo, Ohio, the majority of students come from highly mobile, economically disadvantaged families. In October 2003, only 27 percent of students passed the reading section of the OAT.
Back in 2002, Greenwood Elementary Principal William Magginis had attended a Fast ForWord presentation at a conference. “They were offering a free breakfast so I went,” he said laughing.
Magginis remembers being impressed by what he heard. “Everything they said made sense,” he said. “The idea that many of my students were missing an important step in their cognitive development captured my interest. I realized that my students not only needed assistance in traditional areas, but also in enhancing their neural processing to build cognitive skills and learning capacity.”
Curriculum Director Sue Pedro and Magginis lost no time in getting the Washington Local School District superintendent on board. In fall 2003, the district used some of its Title I funds to implement the Fast ForWord software in all third grade classes.
“Every third grader across the state has to take the Ohio Achievement Test,” said Magginis. “And they have to pass it to get out of third grade.”
Pedro recalls how excited teachers and administrators were that first year of using the Fast ForWord products. “In October 2003, the average number of performance points for third graders was 385.7. The kids needed 400 points to pass the Ohio Achievement Test,” she said. “We put those kids through the Fast ForWord program after the October testing, and in March, when we tested them again, the average score was 406.8.”
In 2004-05, the school expanded its implementation to all kindergarten through third grade students. Students use the Fast ForWord software daily for at least 10 weeks. In addition, students in grades four through six now work on the software when intervention is needed.
To motivate students, Greenwood Elementary created a Fast ForWord store. Students earn plastic coins for good behavior or for completing a certain number of levels, which they can use to buy store items.
The school also introduced literacy groups in 2005 to supplement classroom instruction with small group instruction and practice for first graders and low-ability second graders. “Our goal for both first and second graders was to develop the language competencies that would enable students to become independent readers and effectively prepare them for the high stakes testing in grade three,” said Maginnis.
- OAT reading achievement gains
- Ohio Performance Index Score increase
- Improved student self-esteem
- Fewer behavior issues
- Met AYP requirements
Since implementing the Fast ForWord software in 2003, Greenwood Elementary has experienced many positive changes.
The percentage of third grade students performing at and above the proficient level in reading on the OAT increased from 27 percent in October 2003 to 90.1 percent in 2006-07 — surpassing the state requirement of 75 percent.
“The key to this turnabout was laying a solid foundation in the primary grades to prepare students for the coursework, studies and testing that lay ahead for them,” said Magginis.
In addition, the school’s Ohio Performance Index Score, which reflects the achievement of every student tested, steadily rose from 79.2 points (out of 120 points) in 2002-03 to 93.3 points in 2006-07.
“The most gratifying change was that children who previously would not touch a book were now taking books home,” said Magginis. He encouraged their enthusiasm by partnering with the local Rotary Club and a venture capitalist grant to establish a library in a local apartment building’s common room for after-school and summer use.
Teachers also saw improvement in other subjects, such as math, and with behavioral issues. “Students experienced higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of frustration,” said Maginnis. “As a result, they were less likely to disrupt classes.”
This was especially evident with one student who repeatedly had been sent to the principal’s office because of disciplinary problems. “He was bored to tears with our other digital courseware and so would act out,” he said. “However, he took to the Fast ForWord software as if it was a PlayStation. A little while after he started, he reappeared in my office — and asked if he could read me a story. It became a weekly habit until his family moved out of the area.”
Greenwood Elementary realized other benefits as well. In 2005-06, the school’s designation advanced from “Continuous Improvement” to “Effective.” In 2006-07, the school was again designated as “Effective” and met AYP requirements for every student group.
“The Board of Education was thrilled because we’d been in a state of ‘Continuous Improvement’ for years, and we could not get out,” said Pedro. “We finally made it to ‘Effective’ status.”
Magginis thinks one of the things that has made the Fast ForWord software such a success is that “the kids pay attention to this product,” he said. Unlike other digital courseware, “the Fast ForWord software is more lively, more colorful.”
Pedro noted that the district has many different forms of intervention and they work very hard at them. “But I believe the Fast ForWord program is the reason why we've made such gains,” she said.
Pedro regularly visits other school districts to talk about what the Fast ForWord software has done for her district. “I explain to people that you can have one-on-one tutoring, small group intervention, test preparation workbooks, all those things — but if the kids' brains aren't ready, you're not going to make much progress,” she said. “This is the foundation that has to be there before you can really be effective with everything else.”
Note: In 2007, Mr. Magginis became principal of Monac Elementary School in the Washington Local School District.