Oakland schools boost scores with learning software

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has partnered with Oakland-based Scientific Learning Corp. to implement two educational software programs designed to help students accelerate their acquisition of cognitive, language, and reading skills.

Based on more than 30 years of research, the Fast ForWord™ program from Scientific Learning aims to accelerate learning for students across a wide spectrum of ages and abilities, including those working at, above or below grade level, by applying research on how the brain learns. The Reading Assistant program combines speech recognition technology with research-based reading instruction to help students strengthen their reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

This school year, the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs will be implemented in 15 OUSD schools, up from six schools in 2011.

At Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy in East Oakland, the Fast ForWord program was launched in fall 2010 and Reading Assistant was added this year. The Title I school has achieved double-digit gains on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in English-language arts and mathematics, and is a nominee for a National Blue Ribbon School. From 2009 to 2011, the percentage of students in grades 2-5 performing at the Proficient and Advanced levels on the CSTs increased from 17 percent to 41 percent in English-language arts, and from 39 percent to 67 percent in mathematics. Likewise, the school's API score increased, rising from 641 points in 2009 to 788 points in 2011.

"The Fast ForWord program increases students' abilities to take on a heightened cognitive load. When they're in class, they're better able to focus, sustain their attention, and follow directions. Their reading ability has improved, and they're able to retain information and make connections faster," said Charles Wilson, principal of Korematsu Discovery Academy. "I believe the huge reduction in the failure rate on the CSTs and the 103-point gain we made in our API in one year is related to this."

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