- School District: Westerly Public Schools
- Number of Schools: 6
- Number of Students: 3082
- Grades: K-12
- Population: African-American 2%; Asian 5%; Caucasian 89%; Hispanic 2%; free/reduced lunch 32%; special education 20%
- School Structure: Suburban
Westerly Public Schools Builds Brain Fitness and Reduces Number of Personal Literacy Plans
Westerly Public Schools implements the Fast ForWord® program to help struggling readers strengthen their brain processing and literacy skills, and improve their reading proficiency.
From 2009 to 2010, after using the Fast ForWord program as an intervention at the kindergarten level, the district experienced a dramatic drop in the number of students who required Personal Literacy Plans (PLPs) as they entered first grade.
- Students with academic gaps in reading
- Lack of interventions addressing cognitive skills
As part of its commitment to reading achievement for all students, the state of Rhode Island requires schools to develop PLPs for all students in grades K-5 who are not reading at grade level. A PLP is a plan of action used to accelerate a student’s learning to move toward grade level reading proficiency.
In Westerly Public Schools in southern Rhode Island, PLPs are developed for all K-5 students who score in the deficient or very deficient ranges on AIMSweb benchmarks, which are administered in the fall, winter, and spring. Looking for new ways to help students with PLPs, the district decided to pilot a brain fitness program called Fast ForWord, and introduced the program to second graders at Tower Street Elementary School in spring 2008.
“At the time, our benchmarks showed there was a large percentage of students struggling with letter name fluency, letter sound fluency, and reading fluency,” said Kristen Federico, who was a classroom teacher at the time and now serves as the district’s Fast ForWord coordinator.
After seeing positive results with the pilot, the district expanded the Fast ForWord educational software program to State Street and Springbrook elementary schools when Tower Street Elementary closed.
Today, both State Street and Springbrook elementary schools implement the Fast ForWord program as part of their three-tier Response to Intervention (RtI) program.
Based on more than 30 years of neuroscience research, the Fast ForWord program accelerates learning by building memory, attention, processing, and sequencing in the areas of English language and reading. The software’s intensive, adaptive exercises develop the brain to better capture, process, and retain information, which improves a student’s capacity to learn.
At each school, selected students with PLPs in grades K-4 work on the Fast ForWord software 30 minutes a day in computer labs. In addition, students who have difficulty with memory, attention, processing or sequencing also work on the software as part of the RtI process.
“Our goals are to help students with language or reading difficulties improve their pre-reading and reading skills,” said Federico. “The Fast ForWord program helps students develop the necessary cognitive skills so their brains are ready to learn. This way, students are better able to take advantage of the instruction and interventions that are provided to them.”
Federico closely monitors each student’s progress with Progress Tracker, an online data analysis and reporting tool, and often uses the reports in weekly RtI meetings she attends at each school.
“During the meetings, I can share the Progress Tracker reports to demonstrate students’ progress and identify areas for intervention,” she said. “Plus, if we’re discussing a student who sounds like he or she might be a good candidate for the Fast ForWord program, I can suggest that we add it as an intervention. That’s been really helpful.”
In addition, the literacy assistants who run the Fast ForWord labs at each school regularly review the Progress Tracker reports to monitor student progress over time, and in specific reading and cognitive skills areas. “If a student is not successfully mastering an exercise and a red flag appears, the literacy assistant can quickly respond and provide additional intervention as needed,” said Federico. “They also motivate students by posting progress charts, which are updated each week, and challenging students to beat their scores. Students like to see how much they excel and get really excited about their progress.”
- Significant reduction in PLPs
- Increased reading proficiency
- Improved focus and concentration
- Increased confidence and motivation
During the 2009-10 school year, Westerly Public Schools set out to see how much of a difference the Fast ForWord program would make when it was the only intervention used.
“We started with kindergarten students who scored at the deficient or very deficient levels in letter sound fluency and letter naming fluency on the October AIMSweb benchmark, and displayed memory, attention, processing and/or sequencing issues,” said Federico. “We put these students in Fast ForWord only; they had no other interventions.”
What was the result? “Students’ test scores went up and many students were exited from their PLPs by the end of the year,” said Federico.
According to Federico, each year approximately 15 to 20 students enter first grade with PLPs at each school. However, in fall 2010, only five students at each school began first grade with PLPs.
“Since Fast ForWord was the only intervention used at the kindergarten level, we know that’s what helped students, in addition to their regular classroom instruction,” she said. “And, since fewer students will need interventions, it will certainly save resources this year.”
Federico also reports that the district has seen a rise in the test scores of Fast ForWord students in grades K-4. “It really benefits students to address the cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing and sequencing, which is something we’ve never been able to do before,” she said.
At both elementary schools, teachers tell Federico they have noticed positive results in the classroom as well. “They say students are more focused, and feel more confident and motivated,” she said. “Teachers also say that, for some students, Fast ForWord is the best part of their day because it’s the part of their day where they feel successful. When students feel confident and look forward to a program, it makes a big difference in their success.”