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District Statistics

  • School District: Vanguard School
  • Number of Students: 140
  • Grades: 5-12
  • School Structure: independent school

Students at Vanguard School Achieve Gains and Enjoy Reading with Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant Software

The Vanguard School implements Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord® and Reading AssistantTM software products to help struggling readers strengthen their brain processing and literacy skills. Since introducing the programs, students have learned to enjoy reading and have achieved significant gains, improving their reading levels by an average of two-and-a-half to three years. As a result, the school’s graduation rate has more than tripled since 2006.


  • Students with learning disabilities
  • Students with academic gaps in reading

The Vanguard School of Lake Wales is a nonprofit, clinical school offering an individualized program for students with learning difficulties and/or attention deficits. The school’s goal is to help each student develop the skills to achieve their fullest potential.

“Our students were graduating with low reading scores. Many only reached the second or third grade level in reading,” said Debbie Gilbert, a teacher and Fast ForWord coach at Vanguard School. “We also noticed that many students had difficulty adequately processing information. We needed a program to help students develop their brain processing skills, close the reading gap, and perform at grade level.”


In fall 2006, Dr. Cathy Wooley-Brown, president of Vanguard School, introduced the Fast ForWord program to students. In spring 2007, Vanguard added another technology solution to its reading instruction: Reading Assistant.

The school’s goals with the programs are to address the needs of students with below average reading scores, to have all students working at grade level, to strengthen students’ brain processing skills, and to have seniors ready for college.

Fast ForWord

Students in grades 5-12 work on the Fast ForWord software 30 to 40 minutes a day in the school computer lab. Fast ForWord is a series of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently. The software’s intensive, adaptive exercises build brain fitness in the areas of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing — cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.

“Some students may have problems in one area that can cause frustration as they learn how to read,” said Gilbert. “By building students’ cognitive skills and reading skills, Fast ForWord opens pathways in the brain and makes it stronger overall.”

Gilbert regularly monitors each student’s progress with Scientific Learning’s Progress Tracker, an online data analysis and reporting tool. “Progress Tracker tells me if a student is excelling or having trouble in a particular area. I can then share this information with students’ teachers and suggest ways they can help in the classroom,” she said.

To motivate student achievement, Gilbert offers students rewards for their accomplishments. “Students receive a certificate when they finish a Fast ForWord product, and they’re awarded the President of Vanguard trophy when they finish Fast ForWord Reading Level 5,” she said. “We also have contests and prizes students can earn throughout the year while they work on the different programs.” 

For example, students who achieve completion rates of 90 percent or higher during a specific time period or who beat their previous scores may earn snack treats or entries into drawings for gift cards and other prizes. “Students like the rewards,” said Gilbert. “They track their progress and try really hard to reach their goals. Some students even come into the lab twice a day.”

The real reward, however, is not the prizes. “The main benefit of the Fast ForWord program is that students learn to enjoy reading,” said Gilbert. “I’ve had several students who, when they first come in, say, ‘I hate reading. I’m not going to like this program. I’m not going to do well.’ And then they find they do like the program and start to enjoy reading. Soon, they’re reading all the time.”

Gilbert remembered one girl who discovered the joy of reading after participating in the Fast ForWord program. “This girl was very outgoing but turned negative as soon as she walked into the lab. She’d say, ‘I hate reading. I’ve always hated reading.’ She got started on Fast ForWord and saw her scores go up. Seeing her success motivated her to keep going. Soon, she was reading book after book after book. The following year, she was so excited to show me the books she’d read over the summer. That was so rewarding!”

Gilbert recalled another student, who was from Africa, who had problems with comprehension and vocabulary. “We did pre-tests with the Woodcock-Johnson and then post-tests after he’d used the Fast ForWord program. He was amazed with his results. He had improved his reading level by five years after using Fast ForWord for a year-and-a-half. He’s now going to college and having no problems reading his textbooks.”

According to Gilbert, the Fast ForWord program “builds a strong foundation for success.” By adding Reading Assistant to their instruction, the school is now “building a house on that foundation.”

Reading Assistant

Selected students work on Reading Assistant 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Reading Assistant combines advanced speech verification technology with scientifically-based interventions to help students strengthen reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The software uses research-validated speech verification technology to “listen” to each child as he or she reads aloud. Readers are helped with interactive resources, immediate feedback on errors, and private playback. The software also maintains performance records and the corresponding audio of each reading session for review by the student and teacher.

“Students like having the computer read to them and they like reading to the computer,” said Gilbert. “Students can read something as many times they need to in order to make sure they master it.”

Gilbert provides data from both the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs to parents to keep them apprised of their child’s progress. “I’ve received several emails and letters from parents who say they’ve noticed differences at home. They can’t believe their child is reading and enjoying it,” she said. “One parent recently wrote about her son, ‘You have no idea how thrilled I am. He tells me just about everyday about his reading. He has come such a long way and I attribute this to your challenging him, as well as believing in him.’ Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant are the keys to students’ success.”


  • Improved reading skills
  • Improved scores on Woodcock-Johnson tests
  • Increased graduation rate

With the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs, Vanguard School is helping students close reading gaps and increase their confidence.

“Since we’ve had Fast ForWord, we’ve seen an increase in students’ reading skills and self-esteem, and students’ scores have gone up. There’s no doubt in my mind that without Fast ForWord we would not see these gains. I have not seen a program out there that can do what this program does,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert reports that the average reading gain for students is two-and-a-half to three years. “For some students, this may take six months and for others it may take a year or more.”

Each year, students are pre- and post-tested using the Woodcock-Johnson tests. Gilbert analyzes each student’s scores to assess their individual growth. “Last year, we did very well. Every student improved in one or more areas in comprehension and vocabulary. All our students made gains,” she said.

The school’s graduation rate has improved as well. From 2006 to 2007, the number of students graduating jumped from 12 to 40 students. “By the second year of implementing the Fast ForWord program, we could really see a difference,” said Gilbert. “We’ve maintained that rate ever since.

“A lot of people choose our school because of the Fast ForWord program and our results,” she said. “We have had great success with Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant. We believe these programs are the answer to help all students with reading, memory, and processing problems.”

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