Will The Board Authorize Another $39,000 They Don't Have?...Tune in Tomorrow

The administration is asking the board to commit another $39,000 to the Fast ForWord program. We still don't know what the cost will be next year and as a concerned parent pointed in a comment on my earlier post:

"Public needs to know that Adult Ed money can be utilized for any purpose with Tier III flexibility. Board seems to not know this.. think Adult Ed money is on its own.. Right now, all the money coming to adult Ed from state is flexible and can be allocated elsewhere (ie, GATE programming... etc.)"

I know it's likely some of the board members will not do the research to find out more about this program so I am providing the complete section from the Wikipedia article I linked to in the earlier post.

Randomized controlled trials


Drawing inferences about the effectiveness of an intervention is done most accurately with randomized controlled trials<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randomized_controlled_trials> with appropriate outcome measurements. In this kind of study, individuals are either randomly assigned to receive an intervention or to receive whatever would be the conventional treatment. The outcome measure must be a set of pre-defined measures that assess the severity of the complaints for which treatment is being administered. This is the basis of the FDA's evaluation of new drugs, and is generally viewed as the "gold standard" for any kind of intervention research. Optimally, such a trial should be run with the so-called intention to treat<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intention_to_treat> procedure, which helps to prevent drop-outs from obscuring the results of the study.

Several studies have been published that have evaluated Fast ForWord Language using randomized controlled trial designs. In 2004, Cecelia Rouse and Alan Krueger from Princeton University published a study of Fast ForWord in a large urban school in the Northeast. Their sample consisted of 374 students who scored in the bottom 20% on the state's reading test. They found that although certain aspects of the children's language skills were slightly improved, "it does not appear that these gains translate ... into actual reading skills" (Rouse & Krueger, 2004, p. 2). A potential confound in the Rouse and Kruger study is the fraction of the children who may have had reading difficulties because English was not their primary language. The Fast ForWord program was conceived to ameliorate language difficulties related to temporal processing as measured with the Tallal Repetition task. The control and experimental groups in the Rouse and Kruger study were sampled from schools in which 56% of the children spoke a language other than English at home, and over 65% of the control and experimental group came from Hispanic families.[7]<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_ForWord#cite_note-6> A second, and larger, randomized study was carried out by Geoffrey D. Borman<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_D._Borman>, now at the University of Wisconsin School of Education, and colleagues[8]<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_ForWord#cite_note-7> These investigators studied 415 second and seventh graders performing far below national reading standards. Students randomly assigned to receive Fast ForWord treatment did not show statistically significant improvement in most of the reading measures examined, although there were a few small gains for certain subgroups, and a significant fraction of students with the lowest language test scores dropped out. The study authors concluded that "the Fast Forword Language program did not, in general, help students in these eight schools improve their language and reading comprehension outcomes" (Borman 2009, p. 100). However, in their discussion they noted that the "supplementary analyses, which examined the causal effects of participaton, revealed that when the middle school teachers and students remained committed and more faithfully achieved the completion standards set by Scientific Learning Corporation, the students exhibited statistically significant improvements in reading comprehension. Although evidence from this study and from the study conducted by Rouse and Krueger (2004) suggests that the demanding Fast ForWord training regimen can be difficult to schedule and implement in school-based settings, our results provide some evidence for seventh graders to suggest that when it is successfully carried out, students' literacy outcomes may improve rather dramatically" (Borman 2009, p. 99).

Scientific Learning Corporation's website reports one study that used a randomized design involving 208 elementary school students. This study found that Fast ForWord treatment enhanced performance on the Test of Phonological Awareness (TOPA).[9]<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_ForWord#cite_note-8> The study included subjects at all reading levels, not just those deemed impaired, and used both first and second graders. The average improvement on the TOPA was half a standard deviation across the board. When the student year was entered into their statistical model, only the first graders showed an improvement. However, the study does not report whether these early reading skill improvements translate into changes in reading or other language-related functions.

Non-randomized studies

The Scientific Learning Corporation website [1]<http://www.scilearn.com> lists many dozens of studies with positive results that do not use the "gold standard" randomized designs, but instead compare children's performance before and after treatment. For example, in a study on Australian children age 6-13, the average improvement was from the 14th to the 32nd percentile. These kinds of studies are difficult to interpret because children with reading problems may show some degree of improvement over time. Such improvements could result both from maturation and from other experiences in and out of the classroom (which might even include other treatments or tutoring provided on top of the therapy being evaluated). An untreated control group is the best way to isolate the impact of the treatment.

In early studies that pre-dated the commercial development of Fast ForWord, Merzenich et al. (1996) and Tallal et al. (1996) reported that 8-16 hours of training using Fast ForWord produced "1.5 to two years of progress in reading skills", according to Tallal, quoted in Newsweek (Begley & Check, 2000). These age-equivalent improvements are based on their published data expressed in the same format (Science. 1996 Jan 5;271(5245):81-4). In other words, these early studies tried to compare how much these people improved compared to what they were expected to improve had they not used this program.