The study took place in four elementary schools in one urban school district in the northeast. The district has roughly 20,000 students with the majority of students being ethnic minorities: 40% African American and 50% Hispanic. Nearly 70% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch program and 56% speak a language other than English at home. Since Fast ForWord is a type of pull-out instructional program, participants in intervention and comparison groups were not from intact classrooms.
There were 49% female participants in the intervention group, and 55% of the comparison group were female. 27% of the intervention and comparison groups were African-American. 64% of the intervention group was Latino, and 67% of the comparison group was Latino. In the district, almost 70% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, but this information was not provided for the intervention and comparison groups. In the intervention group, 15% of students were identified as being in special education, and 16% of the students in the comparison group were identified as special education.
The FFW is a computer software program distributed by the Scientific Learning Corporation (SLC). The program uses computer games to try and retrain the brain. The games work by slowing and magnifying the acoustic changes within normal speech. The program is comprised of three programs, including FFW language, FFW language-to-reading, and FFW reading. FFW language helps to develop oral language skills that are foundational skills for reading. The FFW language-to-reading helps students make the connection between spoken and written language. FFW Reading helps build readings skills, such as word recognition and fluency. The program goes 6 - 8 weeks and students work between 90-100 minutes per day, five days a week. Students start at a basic level and progress through proficiency as they acquire skills. A student is said to have completed the program after at least 20 days and has completed at least 80% of the 5 - 7 program games.
Intervention group participants had regular reading instruction offered by the school, and received an additional 90-100 minutes per day with the Fast ForWord reading computer games (p. 324). Students in the intervention group missed a variety of activities during the Fast ForWord intervention time, specified in Table 1 (p. 327). These missed activities included homeroom, math, science, language arts, specials (art, music, gym). All students were in Success for All, a whole school reform adopted by most schools in the district at the time of the study (p. 327).
Study participation was broken into two ""flights"" as illustrated in Table 3 (p. 332). Students had a potential for 37 training days in Flight 1, and about 30 training days in Flight 2. In Table A2, the authors reported that 268 students were in Flight 1, and 244 students were in Flight 2 among the randomized sample size.
Comparison group participants had regular reading instruction offered by the school, and participated in a variety of activities that the intervention group students missed while doing Fast ForWord. Table 1 (p. 327) detailed the types of activities in which the comparison group participated, and the proportion of the students in the comparison group who were affected. These missed activities included homeroom, math, science, language arts, specials (art, music, gym).
Support for implementation
The school district supported implementation of Fast ForWard in the four schools by licensing 30 computers per school for 1 year at a cost of $30,000. In two schools, the intervention took place in computers in the library, and in two other schools, the intervention took place in a computer lab (p. 326, note 3). The training package cost $100 per site, and any adult who completed the training could supervise the students (did not have to be a certified teacher). The schools were equipped with sufficient power to run the software, color printers, head phones, Y-connectors, a quiet space for students to work, and an adult supervisor trained in the program (p. 326). Study researchers conducted site visits to ensure that computer labs were set up properly and the instructors were adequately trained (p. 327). The Scientific Learning Corporation provided support at the beginning of the evaluation, conducted site visits, and provided telephone support (p. 327).