Why we support Fast ForWord

Opinion: Columns

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Al Roberts, D97 superintendent

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During the past few weeks, there has been increased debate and discussion within our community about District 97’s potential purchase of the Fast ForWord program. While the viewpoints expressed have varied, the underlying goal has been the same — to do what is in the best interest of kids. This goal is the driving force behind every decision I make as the lead educator of our district. It is also the reason I am strongly recommending that we implement this program in our schools.

Our extensive study of Fast ForWord during the past year has already produced positive results for a number of the children we serve. For example, of the 86 students who participated in the pilot program we conducted last summer, approximately 71 percent showed gains. This statistic, while impressive, only scratches the surface of what I believe we can accomplish through the development and execution of a comprehensive implementation plan that supports our robust curriculum and complements the extraordinary work being done by our expert staff.

Some critics of Fast ForWord have stated that there is no “magic bullet” for effectively dealing with some of the serious issues our schools face. I could not agree more. This program is not intended to serve that purpose, nor is it “another reading program” as some have suggested. Instead, it is a family of research-based, intervention software products designed to strengthen attention, memory, processing and language development, and also enhance cognitive skills that enable users to process information with greater speed and accuracy. For our struggling students, Fast ForWord will serve as a valuable resource that will aid their efforts to overcome the academic hurdles they encounter on a daily basis. For our more successful students, this program will be an important tool that will enable them to process information faster and more accurately to maximize learning.

I realize, especially in this economy, that spending $477,550 on any initiative will raise questions and concerns. First, while this program aligns with our mission and my vision for the district, it is in no way tied to the recent passage of the referendum. Second, the District 97 Board of Education and the administration remain committed to exercising the same sound fiscal management we have for the past decade, which included making $1.3 million in reductions this year to improve the efficiency of the district’s operations and enhance the educational experience for our students. Lastly, I subscribe to the same philosophy as our local business leaders regarding making decisions that will generate a significant return on investment. From what I have witnessed firsthand in our district and elsewhere, I believe purchasing a program that will help our children reach their full potential is worth the investment of dollars.  

One of the things I said at the start of my tenure here is that we cannot simply be satisfied with maintaining the status quo. That is the basis for my recommendation regarding Fast ForWord. It is also why I plan to commission a thorough audit of our curriculum so we can measure the effectiveness of our programs. The findings of the audit will be made available once it is completed.

I want to thank everyone who has shared their insight and feedback regarding the Fast ForWord program. It is through this kind of productive dialogue that we can help our children continue to excel both in and out the classroom. For those individuals who are interested in learning more about the Fast ForWord program, we have created a page on our website (www.op97.org) that features all of the reports we have produced and data we have collected to date.

Thank you for your continued commitment to education and support of our schools.

Dr. Al Roberts is the superintendent of District 97.

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Reader Comments

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Reading Teacher  

Posted: January 24th, 2012 3:56 PM

I haven't used this program, so I can't compare it to other software packages. I can say, though, that I've never known any software to teach a struggling student to read and comprehend text. The real way to make gains is to hire additional qualified reading specialists, not to buy things. If the district can't afford to hire the people our students need, reexamine how our money is being spent. We are not an underfunded district by state standards.

Raising the Bar  

Posted: January 22nd, 2012 2:59 PM

Has any other software/application been piloted side by side fast forward? Only 71% of students showed gains. And how much? Teachers took the time to voice their concerns and point to deficiencies of the program but you will select it anyway? There are software companies that guarantee results and have proven track records. Another software should be piloted to compare results before this is purchased.


Posted: January 21st, 2012 8:56 PM

If it's not tied to the referendum, why is it being used to show that it's one of the "promises made/promises kept" of the referendum? You can't have it both ways: http://www.op97.org/referendum/Student-Achievement.cfm

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2012 2:32 PM

And will the district still be using the Lexia program? I'd also be curiuos as to how much that program cost and will it be scrapped? Dr. Roberts?

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2012 2:30 PM

I'd be curious to know when this contract was signed and the purchase made.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2012 2:28 PM

Dr. Roberts: "While the viewpoints expressed have varied, the underlying goal has been the same %u2014 to do what is in the best interest of kids." And nice how he added "...it is in no way tied to the recent passage of the referendum." If the referendum hadn't passed and the district laid off the dozens of teachers and stifled dozens of programs they said would have happened, would the district stiil have had $477,550 on this initiative? I'm going to say not.

Sally Hetzel  

Posted: January 20th, 2012 11:27 AM

Dr. Roberts needs to look at this link. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3061204/?tool=pmcentrez

86 Students?  

Posted: January 18th, 2012 10:58 AM

wow 86 students out of over 5,000! and 71% of those showed improvement but don't bother us with the numbers of how much they improved, that may cloud things up with silly little things like facts and figures. And no mention of the fact that the students were likely doing a reading only intensive program in summer school with no math, science, social studies or other everyday learning that happens in the regular school year and there is an expectation of improvement with intensive programs.


Posted: January 17th, 2012 10:29 PM

This letter fails to address most of the concerns raised by Fast ForWord. What does Dr. Roberts think about the published, peer-reviewed studies of this software that show that it is ineffective? He also underestimates the cost by failing to note the $45000 annual fee ($4500 X 10 schools). Will more computers need to be purchased? What does he mean by this program not being tied to the referendum? That ref dollars won't be used to fund it? What money will be used?

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