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District Statistics

  • School District: Bonneville Joint School District No. 93
  • Number of Schools: 23
  • Number of Students: 10,285
  • Grades: preK-12
  • Population: 1% African-American; 1% Asian/Pacific Islander; 83% Caucasian; 12% Hispanic; 3% Other; 45% free/reduced lunch; 13% special education; 28% limited English proficient
  • Assessment tool: Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI), Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT)
  • School Structure: Rural/suburban

Discovery Elementary Students Improve IRI and ISAT Scores with Fast ForWord

Discovery Elementary launched the Fast ForWord® program to help students exercise and train their brains to process more efficiently, and build critical reading skills. Since 2008, students have achieved significant gains on the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) and Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). In 2010, the Title I school ranked as the top performing school in Bonneville Joint School District No. 93, which now implements the Fast ForWord program in every school.


  • Rapidly growing student enrollment
  • Diverse district population, ranging from low to high socioeconomic status

With 10,285 students, Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 is Idaho’s seventh largest district. Enrollment has increased by approximately 500 students a year for the past five years, and the district is projected to reach 14,000 students by 2014.

The district’s vision statement, “Achieving Each Individual’s Highest Potential,” symbolizes its commitment to provide the finest educational opportunities for every student. But with a rapidly growing population, the district was looking for new ways to accelerate learning for students of all ages and abilities.

In early 2008, Superintendent Charles Shackett attended a Brain Summit presented by Scientific Learning. There, he learned about the concept of brain plasticity — the brain’s ability to reorganize itself in response to new experiences — and a brain fitness program called Fast ForWord.

“It was fascinating. The adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ simply isn’t true, no matter what your age,” said Dr. Shackett. “I was also impressed by the extensive neuroscience research that led to the development of the Fast ForWord program. I like the fact that Fast ForWord is not just a reading program; it exercises the brain. I knew if we could get it in our district, it would benefit all students.”


Fast ForWord is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the brain to process more efficiently. The software’s intensive, adaptive exercises build brain fitness in the areas of memory, attention, processing rate, and sequencing — cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.

Year 1 – Pilot at Discovery Elementary

Before launching the Fast ForWord program district-wide, Shackett decided to pilot the program in one elementary school to see if it made a difference in students’ learning. The district selected Discovery Elementary, a new school scheduled to open in fall 2008.

“We chose Discovery because it is one of our most diverse schools,” said Dr. Shackett. “But we had no money to purchase Fast ForWord so we went to our director of federal programs and Title I. She was reluctant to allocate funds because she already had products in place. So, I asked her to show me how much success she’d had with those products over the years. There was no increase in student achievement or growth. I suggested we try the Fast ForWord program. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t pursue it any further. If it did, we’d roll it out district-wide.”

The new principal of Discovery Elementary, Ken Marlowe, was excited about the prospect of launching the brain fitness program in his school. Discovery Elementary is a Title I school. It also houses two district special education programs, a program for students with autism and an Extended Resource Room (ERR) for students requiring a more restrictive placement.

“Looking at students’ test scores, we saw reading would be a high priority. So, when the district proposed the Fast ForWord program for our school, it was music to my ears,” said Marlowe. “We made sure that every teacher we hired was completely supportive and excited about the program. Today, there’s not a single teacher who’d be willing to teach without it.”

In fall 2008, after holding trainings for teachers and parents, Discovery Elementary began using the Fast ForWord program with all students in grades 1-6 who were reading below grade level. Students worked on the software 40 minutes a day, five days a week, in a computer lab dedicated solely to Fast ForWord. To further assist struggling learners, the school also launched an After School Extended Reading Program, where students could spend an additional 40 minutes a day working on the Fast ForWord program.

“We knew Fast ForWord worked almost instantly,” said Shackett. “Once we saw the results, we knew we had to find the money to take the program district-wide. The timing was good because we were planning to run a school bond. The $24 million bond included a brand new elementary school and other projects and technologies, as well as $1.3 million for the Fast ForWord program. The bond passed — and the item that probably got us the most votes was Fast ForWord.”

Year 2 – District-wide Implementation

In fall 2009, Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 launched the Fast ForWord program district-wide. In each elementary school, all second graders work on the software 30 to 40 minutes a day. In addition, the program was added to all middle and high schools for at-risk and special education students.

“Our goal is that all students will be reading at grade level within five years,” said Shackett.

Meanwhile, Discovery Elementary expanded the Fast ForWord program from intervention groups to all students in grades 1-3. Marlowe also made the program available to students in grades 4-6 who scored “below basic” or “basic” on the ISAT in reading or language usage.

“My goal is that all students will be reading at grade level within three years. We’re going to make it if we continue to see the growth we’ve seen over the past two years,” said Marlowe.

In each school, classroom teachers and lab coaches regularly monitor each student’s progress with Progress Tracker, an online data analysis and reporting tool. “If we see a student is struggling, we can immediately jump in and address the issue,” said Marlowe. “It also helps teachers identify weak areas or holes in students’ learning, and then target those areas during classroom instruction.”


  • Increased IRI scores
  • Increased ISAT scores
  • Improved student focus
  • Improved school performance

First Year (Pilot) Results

During 2008-09, Fast ForWord participants at Discovery Elementary saw remarkable growth after using one or more Fast ForWord products.

In grades 4-6, the students selected to use the Fast ForWord software were those who did not achieve proficiency in reading or language usage on the ISAT in 2008. These students were identified as needing improvement and not likely to meet proficiency on the next ISAT. Yet in 2009, after using the Fast ForWord software, 73 percent of fourth graders, 82 percent of fifth graders, and 75 percent of sixth graders achieved proficiency in reading on the ISAT. Similarly, 71 percent of fourth graders, 63 percent of fifth graders, and 63 percent of sixth graders achieved proficiency in language usage in 2009.

ISAT 2009 - Reading Percentage of students achieving proficiency
Grade 2008 (before Fast ForWord use) 2009 (after Fast ForWord use)
4 0 73
5 0 82
6 0 75

ISAT 2009 - Language Usage Percentage of students achieving proficiency
Grade 2008 (before Fast ForWord use) 2009 (after Fast ForWord use)
4 0 71
5 0 63
6 0 63

Struggling third graders saw similar gains on the 2009 ISAT, with 94 percent of students achieving proficiency in reading and 88 percent reaching proficiency in language usage.

Second Year Results

At Discovery Elementary, students in grades 1-3 also achieved significant gains on the IRI, a benchmark reading test administered three times per school year. From fall 2008 to winter 2010, Fast ForWord participants achieved significantly larger gains from one test to the next in “average words read correct per minute,” than students not participating in the program.

IRI - Average Words Read Correct Per Minute Percent Increase Fall 2008 to Winter 2010
Grade/Test Administrations Fast ForWord Participants Non-participants
2 - Fall 2008 to Winter 2009 97% 38%
2 - Winter 2009 to Spring 2009 70% 22%
3 - Fall 2009 to Winter 2010 35% 21%

IRI - Average Words Read Correct Per Minute Percent Increase Winter 2009 to Winter 2010
Grade/Test Administrations Fast ForWord Participants Non-participants
1 - Winter 2009 to Spring 2009 230% 65%
2 - Fall 2009 to Winter 2010 115% 43%

In addition, from fall 2009 to spring 2010, third grade Fast ForWord participants had the largest average increase in “words read correct per minute” on the IRI. Of all 12 elementary schools, Discovery students had an increase of 58.58 words, representing an increase of 69 percent. The other 11 elementary schools showed average gains ranging from 67 to 36 percent.

On the 2010 ISAT, Discovery Elementary students in grades 3-6 also made significant gains in reading, language usage, and math, surpassing district averages across all subjects.

Discovery Elementary ISAT - Percentage of students achieving proficiency in Reading Grades 3-6
  Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5 Grade 6 Grades 3-6 (Avg.)
Discovery 2009 92 89.1 80 83.3 86.1
Discovery 2010 95.1 100 95 90 95.03

Discovery Elementary and Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 ISAT - Percentage of students achieving proficiency Grades 3-6 (Average)
  Reading Language Usage Math
Discovery 2009 86.1 81.25 84.6
Discovery 2010 95.03 84.23 94.73
District 2009 87.23 77.75 87.23
District 2010 87.88 77.4 88.15

In 2010, thanks to fourth graders’ performance in reading, Discovery was one of only two schools in the district to achieve 100 percent proficiency in any core subject area.

Achieving Each Student’s Highest Potential

“In years past, a couple schools were always top performers because they’re more affluent and have a larger percentage of college-educated parents,” said Shackett. “In 2010, Discovery Elementary, a Title I school, became the number one performing school in the district. It’s clear that using Fast ForWord across the entire school made a big difference.”

“It’s amazing how fast we were able to flip the switch that enables students to absorb everything that's being taught,” said Marlowe. “Students can now focus better and understand more. Plus, when you improve a student’s language and reading skills, then science, math and social studies will improve as well.”

Shackett has heard Fast ForWord success stories from other principals as well. “At the end of the 2009-10 school year, one principal said what amazed her the most was how much her gifted and talented students grew,” he said. “Even though these students were reading well above grade level, Fast ForWord made a marked difference in their abilities. It all comes down to the fact that this program’s brain exercises benefit all students, not just those who struggle.”

“I have found the Fast ForWord program to be the difference maker in meeting the ever-growing expectations of student proficiency in reading, language, and math,” said Marlowe. “This is not only true for the students I work with at Discovery Elementary, but for my own son as well. Garrett was a struggling reader in both first and second grade. He participated in the Fast ForWord program in third grade, and as a fourth grader, he scored in the advanced range on all state tests in reading, language, and math.” 

Indeed, in third grade, Garrett gained 3.7 years of growth, jumping from a 2.2 to a 5.9 reading level. The third grade also marked the first time Garrett scored at or above the proficient level in reading.

“Now, of course, I wondered if these skills would carry forward or not after a student stops using the Fast ForWord program,” said Marlowe. “I’m here to tell you that at the end of fourth grade, my son scored in the advanced range again in reading, language, and math. The Fast ForWord program really turned things around for him. He went from dreading to read to loving to read, and you can’t stop him now. It’s a tribute to the Fast ForWord program and what it’s able to do. Students maintain their gains even after the program ends. And that’s just one story. I’ve got a school full of them!”

The program helps older students as well, according to Marlowe. “As a principal, I had a student named Katelyn who struggled her entire elementary career,” he said. “She had never been proficient in reading or worked at grade level. When she was in seventh grade, her mother asked if she could bring Katelyn to our computer lab before and after school to work on Fast ForWord while we were piloting the program. She started the school year at a reading level of 5.6 and ended at 7.5. For the first time in her life, she passed the ISAT. She’s now in high school, is a proficient reader, and loves school because she’s finally achieving success.”

Making A Difference

“All our principals are very concerned about growth and achievement,” said Shackett. “Without exception, every principal feels that Fast For Word has made a huge difference in their student achievement scores. And, it’s not just reading; it’s across the board. Principals and teachers say students are more focused, and when students are more focused, they learn better. We know Fast ForWord makes a difference because nothing else could account for these changes.”

Marlowe agrees. “This year, we had the same teachers, same curriculum, same school day, same environment — everything was the same. The only thing we added was the Fast ForWord program. It’s the only thing we can identify to attribute students’ growth to. It’s phenomenal,” he said.

“I believe brain fitness is as essential to learning as exercise is to an athlete,” Marlowe continued. “If you are an administrator interested in meeting AYP, I encourage you to seriously consider implementing the Fast ForWord program in your school. It has made all the difference in the world.”

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