By Terry Dean
The families of 18 District 97 students decided to opt out of the district's Fast ForWord program, a computer-based curriculum designed to help struggling students.
The program is available at every school, but parents have the option of removing their students from it. FastForWord was piloted in 2011 and implemented district-wide during the 2012-13 school year. Of the 666 kids in the program, 18 have opted out for various reasons, ranging from dissatisfaction with the program to wanting their child in a different at-risk program in the district.
According to the district's data, students who have remained in Fast ForWord have showed progress.
The district-wide launch was slated for third-graders only, with plans to expand to other grades. Of those 666 third-graders, 67 percent made gains in reading and language, according to the district. The program addresses students' cognitive and language skills.
Though initially focused on academically struggling students, the program was expanded to include higher-achieving students this year. While mostly every student who participated showed improvement, gains among the high-achieving students were not as strong as for those on the lower end, according to the district's data.
Still, D97 administrators and school board members are generally pleased with the overall results, which were presented to the board on March 19. Fast ForWord has its share of supporters and critics, D97 officials acknowledged. But Supt. Albert Roberts stressed that the program is working for most of the students who are participating.
"When you look at the youngsters who were struggling … I'm still convinced it was a good investment," Roberts said of the nearly $500,000 purchase of Fast ForWord in early 2012.