Gautier Middle School uses the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ programs to accelerate learning for struggling learners and students with disabilities. Thanks to the work of students, teachers and administrators, the Title I school has achieved gains in language arts and mathematics on the Mississippi Curriculum Test, 2nd Edition (MCT2). From 2010 to 2011, the percentage of proficient students in a grade increased by up to 11 percentage points in language arts and up to 16 percentage points in math. The school also raised its state accountability status from “Successful” to “High Performing.”
Gautier Middle School is one of 19 schools in the Pascagoula School District, located in the southeast corner of Mississippi and between the cities of Gulfport/Biloxi, Miss. and Mobile, Ala. In 2008-09, the Title I school did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements for the special education student subgroup and began searching for a solution to improve learning for students with disabilities as well as struggling learners.
“In middle school, an English teacher who has a seven-period day and only 53 minutes of instruction per period does not have the time to meet the needs of students who could really use an additional language arts class,” said Christy Reimsnyder, principal of Gautier Middle School. “In addition, by the time students enter eighth grade, it’s been more than two years since they’ve had a reading class. As a result, we’ve seen a decline in some students’ abilities to develop the skills they need to read and comprehend the more difficult text they encounter in middle school.”
To help struggling learners improve their reading proficiency, Gautier Middle School launched the Fast ForWord program in 2010-11 and added Reading Assistant the following year.
The school began using the Fast ForWord program with selected special education and general education students who scored at the Minimal or Basic proficiency levels on the MCT2. In place of an elective, these students worked on the software 50 minutes a day in the computer lab. In addition, the school also selected “bubble” students, who scored at the Proficient level but just missed the Advanced level, to work on the software as space permitted.
Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by applying proven research on how the brain learns. The Fast ForWord program improves brain fitness by building memory, attention, processing, and sequencing in the areas of English language and reading. Through individualized, adaptive computer exercises, physical changes occur in the brain. These exercises strengthen the brain’s ability to process information quickly and accurately; pay attention despite distractions; recall information; and retain knowledge.
“Other programs are limited in that they may target this skill or that skill, but they’re not focusing on the brain. Unlike a drill-and-practice program that may target decoding, for example, Fast ForWord exercises the brain so students are building the skills they need not only for reading but for learning as well, “ said Reimsnyder.
As students advance through the Fast ForWord products — including the Fast ForWord Literacy Series and the Fast ForWord Reading Series — at their own pace, teachers monitor their progress with Progress Tracker.
“The teachers who work with students in the lab are very good at holding students accountable for their growth. They sit down with students and explain what the bar charts mean, which helps students take responsibility for their learning. I also review the reports each grading period to see how students are performing,” said Reimsnyder.
“Last week, I had one young man, who’s an eighth grader in his second year of the Fast ForWord program, come in and ask to take an elective instead. I pulled up his data and said, ‘Do you know that when you started in this program you were reading at the first grade-six month level and now you’re reading at the fifth grade-six month level? That’s four years growth!’ I told him if he kept it up, he could possibly be reading close to grade level by the end of the year. He hasn’t brought up the elective since. When you take the time to explain to students why they’re in the program, they understand how important it is. I think it’s helped students across the board in all their classes to become more accountable for their growth and their education,” said Reimsnyder.
In addition, selected students work on the Reading Assistant software 50 minutes a day, four days a week in computer labs and classrooms.
“We take a look at students’ performance in the classroom, their reading levels, and their MCT2 scores. Like the Fast ForWord program, Reading Assistant is primarily used with students who have a significant deficit in their reading level,” said Reimsnyder.
Reading Assistant software combines advanced speech recognition technology with research-based reading instruction to help students strengthen their reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The software acts as a personal, interactive tutor, allowing teachers to easily provide individualized, guided oral reading practice for each student. Reading Assistant “listens” to each student as he or she reads out loud, intervenes when the student falters, and allows for self-correction. Clickable glossary words with definitions available in English or Spanish build vocabulary, and “Think About It” questions and quizzes at the end of each selection ensure comprehension. Teachers receive assessment reports and can listen to audio samples of their students as if they had been sitting next to them while they read.
“Reading Assistant helps students get the one-on-one practice they need. It provides individualized reading coaching with real-time corrective feedback, which is helping to address some of the reading issues we see in the classroom,” said Reimsnyder.
“For example, when one young man, who has Asperger’s syndrome, reads into the microphone he believes he is pronouncing correctly and enunciating correctly, but that’s not always the case. We see this with many students who may be unaware that they’re cutting off the end of a word or not putting the plural at the end of a word. Reading Assistant corrects them in real time so they can catch those mistakes. Plus, when they can play back what they’ve read into the microphone, it improves their ability to listen to and assess what they’re reading out loud. We don’t do enough of that in secondary education. When you move away from the focus on guided one-on-one reading instruction that we have in the primary grades, students don’t realize what they sound like unless they can record their voice and play it back. Reading Assistant has been a very important tool to help students understand that they need to slow down and look at each word. This has also helped with their ability to comprehend what they’re reading,” she continued.
Since implementing the Fast ForWord program, Reimsnyder has seen student performance improve on state assessments in language arts as well as math.
“One of the things that amazed me when I looked at the data from 2011 was the growth of our eighth graders,” said Reimsnyder. “When I took over leadership of this building a few years ago, only one-third of our eighth graders scored Proficient or Advanced on our state test in math. This is important to note because there is a great deal of reading on the math portion of the MCT2. In 2011, 75 percent of our eighth grade students scored Proficient or Advanced. That’s a big increase.”
Mississippi Curriculum Test, 2nd Edition
Percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced
Under Reimsnyder’s leadership, Gautier Middle School also raised its state accountability status from “Academic Watch” in 2007-08, to “Successful” in 2008-09, and to “High Performing” in 2010-11.
In addition to improved academic achievement, Reimsnyder has noticed other changes in students as well. “As a result of using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs, students’ listening skills have definitely improved. We’ve also seen an increase in students’ ability to follow directions,” she said. “Another really neat thing we’ve noticed is that our seventh graders who are now in their second year of using the Fast ForWord program have had a drastic drop in discipline referrals. These referrals involved work ethic issues and insubordination issues that could’ve been a result of the students not understanding the material, and they masked that with negative behaviors.
“When I look at each child holistically, especially those students that have had the benefit of being in the Fast ForWord program both last year and this year, I’ve seen their maturity levels increase,” she continued. “I’ve seen their ability to process and understand information increase. And they’re becoming better students in every class as a result of it.”