Mechanicville City School District integrates the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ educational software programs into its Response to Intervention (RTI) framework to accelerate learning for struggling learners and students with disabilities. From 2010 to 2011, elementary students improved their reading skills and achieved gains on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). In addition, middle and high school students achieved an average grade equivalent gain of 1.4 years on Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) reading comprehension assessment.
Located at the southern tip of Saratoga County, Mechanicville City School District (CSD)
includes the city of Mechanicville, and part of the towns of Stillwater, Schaghticoke and Halfmoon in New York. The small suburban district includes two schools that enroll 1,357 students.
“Back in 2007, when we were launching our RTI program, we didn’t have a variety of interventions to choose from when students went before our Instructional Support Team,” said Rose Ann Bradley, director of special education for Mechanicville CSD.
“We wanted to have an arsenal of weapons to help our students, particularly in reading, because it’s one skill students need across the curriculum,” said John Taglione, the district’s RTI chairperson and Fast ForWord coordinator.
Toward that end, Mechanicville CSD launched the Fast ForWord program in 2007-08 and added Reading Assistant software the following year.
Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by applying proven research on how the brain learns. Through individualized, adaptive exercises, students build memory, attention, processing, and sequencing skills in the areas of English language and reading. The program supports struggling students, as well as those working at or above grade level, by improving their ability to learn and retain knowledge.
Mechanicville CSD uses the Fast ForWord program with selected students in kindergarten through high school as a Tier 2 or Tier 3 (special education) intervention in its RTI program.
“The Fast ForWord program is primarily used with students in grades K-8 who are struggling with reading or language, or who have problems with cognitive skills such as memory, attention, processing or sequencing,” said Taglione. “Students may be referred to the program by their classroom teachers, reading teachers, speech teachers, or our RTI committee.”
“With many of these students, we know something is wrong but we might not be able to pinpoint the exact issue,” said Bradley. “The Fast ForWord program is very intensive, so it allows us to effectively address a variety of needs.”
Students work on the Fast ForWord software five days a week for 30 minutes a day at the elementary level and 40 minutes a day at the secondary level. While most students work in school computer labs, some teachers also make the software available to students in their classrooms and in grade-level “pods.” Located just outside the classrooms, the pods are central meeting rooms which are sealed off from hallways by doors to allow students uninterrupted time for learning.
“We work closely with all our teachers to try to find the best intervention for each student. The Fast ForWord program is an intervention that’s been extremely successful in helping kids who have been missing a piece of the puzzle,” said Taglione. “A key benefit is that it builds foundational language skills, in addition to reading skills. For example, a student who is struggling with reading might actually have problems processing sounds. So this program could help this student before he or she participates in a remedial reading program. It’s been proven through Scientific Learning’s research that we can change the brain. It’s amazing when it finally clicks for students — when their brain lights up. They actually shout out, ‘I got it!’ That’s really rewarding.”
As students advance, at their own pace, through the Fast ForWord products — including the Fast ForWord Language Series or Literacy Series, and the Fast ForWord Reading Series — Taglione monitors their progress with Progress Tracker.
“For any program to be successful, it’s critical to be committed and to have someone who can coordinate the program,” said Taglione. “I make sure our classroom teachers and teacher assistants know where their students are and how they’re progressing in the Fast ForWord program. I meet with teachers face to face, and email them copies of students’ progress reports. We also have the Fast ForWord software automatically email parents a progress report each Saturday. It keeps everyone in tune with what’s going on with each child.”
“Even students are excited to see their data,” added Bradley. “They line up at John’s desk to see their results. Having this information is very motivating. It boosts students’ confidence and self-esteem. If we want to make kids participants in their own education, this is a great way to do it.”
According to Bradley, both parents and teachers have noticed positive changes after children work on the Fast ForWord software. “We’ve gotten feedback from parents who say, ‘I don’t know what’s different but things are coming easier to my child now.’ Or they tell us their child isn’t resisting doing homework anymore, or their child has more confidence or seems to like school more. We hear similar things from teachers. They say, ‘This is a different kid. He’s paying attention, he’s working hard, he’s more confident.’ Those are all great things,” she said.
“We hear from many teachers who tell us that students who used to have attention problems can now focus on information and tasks,” Taglione added.
Mechanicville CSD also implements the Fast ForWord program in before- and after-school programs to provide interventions outside the school day for targeted students. “If for some reason it would be too difficult to pull students out of class to use the Fast ForWord program, we make it available before and after school five days a week. Parents and students understand the benefits of the program so they make the commitment to make this happen,” said Taglione.
After completing selected Fast ForWord products, targeted students work on Reading Assistant software 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Reading Assistant software combines advanced speech recognition technology with research-based reading instruction to help students strengthen their reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
“The Reading Assistant program provides us with another way to help our students,” said Taglione. “By giving students the opportunity to read out loud, listen to their reading, and receive immediate feedback and support, it fits right in with where they leave off with the Fast ForWord products. It’s another way to attack those deficits kids might have.”
Reading Assistant software acts as a personal, interactive tutor, allowing teachers to easily provide individualized, guided oral reading practice for each student. The program “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.
“When students use Reading Assistant software, their comprehension increases and their fluency increases. Students love it. They think it’s fun, so it’s highly motivating. And they love to hear their own recordings,” said Taglione. “What’s nice about Reading Assistant for me is that once students leave, I can pull up the software on my computer and listen to their recordings. It’s a great program.”
Since implementing the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs, the district has seen improvements in the performance of both regular education and special education students.
In grades 1-5, students who participated in the Fast ForWord program have achieved gains on the DIBELS. “Any gain is positive, but an individual who gains more than 10 points is doing extremely well,” said Taglione. “Most of our students made double-digit gains from fall 2010 to the spring 2011. We’re very pleased with the results.”
Average Gains from Fall 2010 to Spring 2011
|Grade||Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PSF)||Nonsense Word Fluency (NSF)|
|1||24 points||30 points|
|Grade||Oral Reading Fluency (ORF)||Retell Fluency (RTF)|
|2||45 points||6 points|
|3||27 points||9 points|
|4||15 points||16 points|
|5||30 points||14 points|
At the middle and high school levels, students achieved an average grade equivalent gain of 1.4 years from fall 2010 to spring 2011 on the WIAT reading comprehension assessment.
“We have so many success stories,” said Bradley. “We’ve even had parents go to board meetings to say how much they support the program. One parent told the school board about how his teenage daughter couldn’t go into a restaurant and read the full menu. Her friends were honors students and she had so much going for her, but she always felt bad about herself. That all changed after she worked on the Fast ForWord program. He cried as he told the board, ‘You can’t imagine what it’s like to have my daughter read.’”
“Both the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs have great benefits, particularly in a small district like ours. When you have a variety of interventions, you can better meet students’ individual needs. One reason students feel successful is because they’re working at their own level, so they’re able to see their success,” said Taglione.
“A key benefit of these programs is that they’re technology based,” he continued. “Years ago, all our interventions involved assigning a math or reading teacher to sit down with students and work with them one-on-one. As we studied our system, however, we found this approach didn’t work for every student and we sometimes duplicated services. The Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs give us alternatives that are individualized and intensive.”
“We’ve found the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs to be affordable solutions for our district,” said Bradley. “We’ve used a variety of grants to fund these programs, from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to special education grants to different Title grants. And our superintendent and the board of education have been very supportive and have done whatever they can to make sure we have what we need to implement these programs.”