“Getting Garrett to read used to be like pulling teeth. Now he reads for his own enjoyment. He’s also more confident and it’s no longer stressful doing homework in the evenings.”

--Ken Marlowe, Garrett's father

As the son of an elementary school principal and a registered nurse, Garrett had the benefit of a strong preschool education and dedicated parents who read with him every day. Yet, Garrett struggled with reading in first and second grades, and scored below grade level on the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI).

Then, in the third grade, everything changed. Garrett gained 3.7 years of growth, jumping from a second-grade to nearly a sixth-grade reading level. For the first time, he also scored at the proficient level in reading on his state test, the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). What changed? From September to April, Garrett participated in a brain fitness program called Fast ForWord® that exercised his cognitive muscles and improved his brain function. This allowed Garrett to better take advantage of the content presented to him in school and at home, and maintain an accelerated rate of learning even after the program ended.

Early struggles in elementary school

During Garrett’s early childhood, his parents, Ken and Shelly Marlowe, provided a rich learning environment, both inside and outside their home. “We read to Garrett all the time. He was also exposed to many other learning opportunities, such as visits to the museum and the library. Three times a week, he attended preschool. He had an outstanding teacher and he did great,” said Ken.

While Garrett continued to perform well in kindergarten, he began to struggle a bit in first grade. He scored below grade level on the IRI, a benchmark reading test administered three times a year, in first grade and again in second grade.

“That’s when I became alarmed,” said Ken. “I began meeting with the principal and teachers at Garrett’s school on a regular basis. They put Garrett in an after-school reading program for students who don’t meet benchmarks on the IRI. They tried a number of different interventions and strategies, but we were not seeing results.”

Thinking Garrett might have a learning disability, Ken and Shelly had him tested in second grade. “Although Garrett had always been strong in math, I had concerns about his performance in language and reading,” said Ken. “When the testing came back, it indicated that Garrett was comprehending at the 86th percentile, which is very strong. But he still was not decoding well and his reading was not fluent.”

At the end of second grade, Garrett began to struggle with math as well. “We couldn’t put our finger on it until we realized it was when the story problems appeared,” said Ken. “When Shelly would sit down and go over the problems with Garrett, it wasn’t that he didn’t understand the math. It was that he didn’t understand the stories and what was being asked of him.”

As a result, homework time became difficult. “As a school principal, seeing my child struggling, I wanted to do everything I could to help. But I probably put more pressure on Garrett than I should have, which produced anxiety for our whole family,” said Ken. “I’d sit down to help Garrett with his homework but I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t getting it. We’d read the same word over and over, but he’d still have to sound it out, which was frustrating for both of us. My wife, Shelly, is much more patient than I am so she ended up doing a vast majority of the homework with Garrett because I wasn’t patient enough.”

Garrett’s struggles with reading in school and at home took a toll on his self-confidence. “He didn’t want to read in front of anybody. He just didn’t like to read, period,” said Ken.

The Fast ForWord program

Around this time, Ken left his position as principal of Tiebreaker Elementary to take the helm of a new school, Discovery Elementary, opening in Bonneville Joint School District No. 93. The district selected Discovery Elementary to pilot the Fast ForWord program during the 2008-09 school year.

Shortly after launching the program in fall 2008, Ken began to bring Garrett to Discovery Elementary to work on the Fast ForWord program after school. From September to April, he worked on the software 40 minutes a day.

That year, in the third grade, Garrett gained 3.7 years of growth, jumping from a 2.2 to a 5.9 reading level.

Achieving state test score gains

The third grade also marked the first time Garrett scored at or above the proficient level in reading on his state assessment. When Garrett took the ISAT that spring, he scored at the proficient level in reading, and at the advanced level in language usage and in math.

“Now, of course, I wondered if these skills would carry forward or not after Garrett stopped using the Fast ForWord program. At the end of fourth grade, he scored at the advanced level on the ISAT in all three areas — reading, language, and math,” said Ken. “The Fast ForWord program really turned things around for him, and his reading skills have continued to increase and become even stronger. 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. And that’s just one story. I’ve got a school full of them.”

Discovering a love of reading

In school and at home, reading is now fun for Garrett. “Getting Garrett to read used to be like pulling teeth. Now he reads for his own enjoyment. It’s not something I have to ask him to do anymore because he looks forward to it,” said Ken. “He’s also more confident and it’s no longer stressful doing homework in the evenings.”

Two years after participating the Fast ForWord program, Garrett continues to thrive. “He’s in fifth grade now and it’s been a really strong year for him,” said Ken. “I believe brain fitness is as essential to learning as exercise is to an athlete. It has made all the difference in the world.”