- School District: St. Mary Parish Public School System
- Number of Schools: 27
- Number of Students: 9,800
- Grades: K - 12
- Population: Caucasian students 48%; African-American students 47%; Other students 5%; Students eligible for free/reduced meals 67%
- Assessment tool: LEAP/iLEAP
- School Structure: Rural
St. Mary Parish Public School System Achieves Significant Test Score Gains After Using Fast ForWord Products
The St. Mary Parish Public School System implemented Scientific Learning® Fast ForWord® products to improve literacy proficiency and achievement on state tests. Students who used Fast ForWord products achieved significant gains on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) and the Integrated Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (iLEAP). As a result, the district has reduced the number of students retained in the fourth grade and the number of students required to attend mandatory summer remediation.
- Economically disadvantaged community
- Low state test scores
- Schools rated “Academically Unacceptable”
"Our challenge wasn’t necessarily that our programs were ineffective. It was that we weren’t meeting the individual needs of students."
The St. Mary Parish Public School System is a rural district in Centerville, LA. Two-thirds of students receive free and reduced price meals.
For years, the district’s high stakes test scores lagged behind the state average. Some schools had been in Academic Assistance (formerly School Improvement) — a designation for schools that fail to grow sufficiently — for nearly 10 years.
“When we were first investigating the need for reading intervention programs, we acknowledged that as a district we were woefully behind the proficiency curve required by high stakes testing,” said Superintendent Donald W. Aguillard, Ph.D. “We were looking for an intervention package that would jumpstart early education literacy proficiency.”
St. Mary Parish began using Fast ForWord products during the 2006-07 school year, with seven schools that were in Academic Assistance. Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently.
“One of the things I was excited about was that the Fast ForWord program is based on the science of how the brain learns and retains information,” said Dr. Donald Aguillard, Superintendent of St. Mary Parish Public Schools. “Our challenge wasn’t necessarily that our programs were ineffective. It was that we weren’t meeting the individual needs of students. We realized that to make the most of our programs, we needed to develop and strengthen the cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.”
In 2007, every third, fourth and fifth grader in eight of the district’s 16 elementary schools began working with the Fast ForWord products 50 minutes a day. In addition, two schools used the software with primary level students as well.
“We have seen a marked increase in student performance in these eight schools,” said Aguillard. “We knew that to be successful, we had to fully embrace the Fast ForWord protocol. We are 100 percent committed to the fidelity of the program. We haven’t allowed any barriers to prevent us from achieving that consistent level of program delivery. It’s exciting to see significant academic gains in these schools in a little as two years.”
- Improved LEAP/iLEAP scores
- Increased fourth grade promotion rate
- Fewer students required to attend summer remediation
- Improved District Performance Score
St. Mary Parish students who used Fast ForWord products achieved significant gains on the LEAP and iLEAP. From 2006 to 2007, the Fast ForWord products’ impact on the reading skills of 280 students in third through fifth grade was evaluated using LEAP/iLEAP scores. After using the Fast ForWord software, students significantly improved their LEAP/iLEAP scores, with 29 percent of students increasing one or more proficiency levels.
During the 2007-08 school year, students in the eight elementary schools using Fast ForWord products continued to make gains, contributing to significant proficiency gains in English language arts district-wide. On the LEAP test administered in spring 2008, 73 percent of initial-tester fourth grade students scored at the Basic achievement level or above, compared to 61 percent in 2007. Additionally, St. Mary Parish fourth grade proficiency results were 2 percentage points above the state initial-tester average.
Indeed, fourth grade is a critical year as Louisiana students must pass the LEAP to be promoted to fifth grade. The LEAP performance of students who were retained in fourth grade and then used the Fast ForWord software in 2006-07 was compared to the performance of students at the same schools the year before the district used the software. The two groups were very similar at pre-test. However, the group that used the Fast ForWord products achieved significantly greater gains, with an improvement of 49 points — 31 points more than the students who did not use the Fast ForWord products. Further, 76 percent of students increased one or more proficiency levels, compared to 46 percent the previous year.
In addition, the district’s fourth grade promotion rate for initial testers in 2008 was 3 percentage points better than the state average. Approximately 75 fewer fourth graders were required to attend mandatory summer remediation in 2008, as compared to 2007.
“This translates into enormous success in these schools,” said Aguillard. “It builds tremendous momentum for the new school year because there are so many more kids reaching the proficiency bars set in high stakes testing. It’s like a firestorm in the district — the enthusiasm knowing that we have started the school year academically well ahead of where we were two years ago.”
St. Mary Parish has also made progress closing the achievement gap between Caucasian students and African-American students who, respectively, comprise 48 percent and 47 percent of the student population. “The achievement gap between white and black students in the elementary grades dropped from 22 points in 2006-07 to 14 points in 2007-08, so we’ve seen a significant reduction in a two-year period of time,” said Aguillard.
In March 2008, when District Performance Scores were released for 2007, St. Mary Parish was ranked 13th out of 59 districts statewide in 2007 for magnitude of one-year growth. In addition, for the first time in years, the district had no schools labeled Academically Unacceptable.
Thanks to the initial implementation’s success, the district expanded the Fast ForWord software to nine additional elementary schools and six middle schools in 2008-09. It also plans to open the Fast ForWord labs to the community after hours.
“We absolutely see the Fast ForWord program as a tool that can eliminate the concept of low performing schools,” said Aguillard. “It has proven to be a very effective and very affordable way to eliminate the idea that some schools can’t reach proficiency — even among schools that have been in School Improvement since 1999. As a professional educator, I am convinced this reading intervention program delivers what it promises.”