- School District: Lamar County School District
- Number of Schools: 13
- Number of Students: 7,863
- Grades: K-12
- Population: Caucasian 76%; African-American 20%; Hispanic 3%; Asian 1%; Native American <1%; Special Education 12%; Students eligible for free and reduced meals 42%
- Assessment tool: Mississippi Curriculum Test
- School Structure: Suburban/rural
Lamar County School District Increases State Test Scores and Reduces Special Ed Referrals
Lamar County School District implemented Scientific Learning Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ educational products to improve achievement among struggling readers at both the elementary and secondary levels. Students who have worked with the software have achieved significant reading gains, including improved scores on the Mississippi Curriculum Test. In addition, as a result of its successful Response to Intervention (RtI) process, the district has reduced special education referrals by approximately 40 percent over the last two years.
- Increasing number of struggling readers
- Lack of resources to teach reading at the secondary level
Lamar County School District’s (LCSD) motto is “helping students prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.” Yet, similar to many districts, Lamar County educators saw that a growing number of students struggled with reading, particularly at the secondary level.
“We realized several students were progressing to middle school and high school but could not read adequately,” said Peggy Williams, director of instruction for LCSD. “Teachers at that level are not trained to teach reading. We needed a solution that could give students the tools to catch up quickly.”
To address students’ needs, LCSD implemented the Fast ForWord reading intervention software at the middle school and high school levels in fall 2005. Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently.
“I don’t believe in quick fixes but the Fast ForWord program was different than anything I’d seen,” said Williams. “The Fast ForWord program actually works on the brain itself. It doesn’t start out teaching reading skills; it starts with sounds. It was such a different concept. Compared to other intervention programs, it looked like the only program that could work.”
After achieving success with the Fast ForWord products in the middle and high schools, LCSD expanded its implementation to the elementary schools in fall 2007.
“Our goals are to catch students with difficulties early on and to help them build cognitive skills — memory, attention, processing rate, and sequencing — they need to be successful in English and reading and across the curriculum,” said Williams. “We’ve found the Fast ForWord program truly does help across the board.”
Schools targeted students who had the greatest need to work with the Fast ForWord program, including:
- Students who scored Minimal or Basic on the state assessment
- Students whose Lexile scores indicated they were not able to read textbooks at grade level
- Struggling students recommended by their teachers
- English language learners
- Students who received special education services
In fall 2008, LCSD began using Scientific Learning® Reading Assistant software to help struggling readers as well. Reading Assistant software combines advanced speech recognition technology with scientifically based interventions to help students strengthen their reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
“We allow each school to decide how it would like to implement the Reading Assistant software,” said Williams. “Most schools are using it with the same populations that are using the Fast ForWord software to continue to strengthen their reading skills.”
Response to Intervention (RtI)
In addition, LCSD integrates the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs into its three-tier RtI program as a Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention.
The paraprofessionals who serve as Fast ForWord lab coaches use Fast ForWord Progress Tracker and Reading Progress Indicator features to monitor student progress daily, and to report the results to the intervention coaches as well as to classroom teachers. Similarly, teachers use the Reading Assistant assessment reports and recorded audio to track each student’s progress. In addition, the coaches and teachers review the data with students to motivate their progress.
“We use these features extensively,” said Williams. “We’re seeing lots of success with this approach. Now that we’re doing the three-tier intervention process and using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs, few students are getting to the point of being tested for special education.”
To ensure that all students see results from their work with the software, LCSD insisted that schools strictly adhere to the Fast ForWord software protocols. Most schools deliver the Fast ForWord exercises to students with a 40-minute protocol. However, some elementary schools use the 30-minute protocol with primary level students, while some high schools use the 50-minute protocol with students who have a block schedule.
“Schools that follow the protocols get results,” said Williams. “Last year, one middle school ran every sixth grader through the Fast ForWord program, but it didn’t make sure students worked on it every day and didn’t always let students finish the protocol. At the end of the year when I compared scores, their growth was negligible compared to the other schools. I took that information to the principal and explained why I thought that happened. This year, the school is following the recommended protocol. Now it’s seeing terrific gains and the coach is so much happier. It’s great to be able to do it right.”
- Improved Mississippi Curriculum Test scores
- Increased Lexile gains
- 40 percent fewer students referred to special education
- Improved student attention, behavior and self-confidence
- Improved student grades
Indeed, students who use the Fast ForWord program have shown significant gains on the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT). From 2005 to 2006 and 2006 to 2007, students who worked on the Fast ForWord program significantly increased their language scale scores and reading scale scores. In contrast, when looking at all students at the same schools, the schools showed only small increases or even decreases in their scores.
|Mississippi Curriculum--Language||Scale Score Gains|
|Middle School A/Fast ForWord Students||24 points||15 points|
|Middle School A/All Students||-6 points||-3 points|
|Middle School B/Fast ForWord Students||11 points||6 points|
|Middle School B/All Students||3 points||-1 point|
|Middle School C/Fast ForWord Students||13 points||5 points|
|Middle School C/All Students||-10 points||-8 points|
|Mississippi Curriculum--Reading||Scale Score Gains|
|Middle School A/Fast ForWord Students||40 points||25 points|
|Middle School A/All Students||2 points||-7 points|
|Middle School B/Fast ForWord Students||9 points||46 points|
|Middle School B/All Students||0 points||2 point|
|Middle School C/Fast ForWord Students||10 points||4 points|
|Middle School C/All Students||-6 points||-7 points|
From 2006 to 2007, students using the Fast ForWord program also achieved Lexile gains averaging 120 points, far surpassing the expected gain of 50 points.
|Mississippi Curriculum--Lexile Gains|
|Middle School A/Fast ForWord Students||147|
|Middle School B/Fast ForWord Students||186|
|Middle School C/Fast ForWord Students||28|
In addition to improved high stakes test scores, students who participated in the Fast ForWord program demonstrated significant reading gains at every grade level. On average, across the district, students gained 1.4 years progress in 55 days of Fast ForWord participation.
|Lamar County Schools Reading Gains|
|Average number of days of Fast ForWord participation||Reading Gain|
|K-1 School||22||1.1 years|
|K-2 School||35||1.2 years|
|K-5 School||67||8 months|
|K-8 School||47||7 months|
|Grades 2-3 School||44||6 months|
|Grades 4-5 School||43||1.7 years|
|Middle School||96||1.6 years|
|Middle School||83||1.3 years|
|Middle School||71||1.2 years|
|High School||35||1.1 years|
|High School||33||1.2 years|
The district’s RtI program has experienced success as well. Over the last two years, the district has had approximately 40 percent fewer referrals to special education.
According to Williams, student attention and behavior have also improved across the district. “We’re seeing great gains,” she said. “Students have more self-confidence and less frustration in class, as well as better grades across all subject areas. Teachers see how excited it’s making children about reading, and they see the kids are working so much harder because they now know that they can do it.”