Oakland, Calif. — May 31, 2011 — According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average per pupil expenditure in U.S. schools today is just over $10,000. The Center for Special Education Finance calculates that for students with disabilities, the cost is 1.9 times more expensive. Even with some state and federal aid, this equates to, on average, nearly $19,000 a year to educate each student with special needs — a significant financial responsibility for school districts especially in these times of severe budget cuts.

However, innovative districts such as Westfield-Washington Schools in central Indiana and St. Mary Parish Public Schools in Louisiana have found a way to reduce special education expenses by effectively addressing foundational reading and learning issues, thereby reducing unnecessary referrals to special education.

In 2006, both school districts implemented a brain fitness program called Fast ForWord®. The software program consists of intensive, adaptive exercises that build brain fitness in the areas of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing — cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success. Fast ForWord supports special education students, as well as those working at or above grade level, by improving their ability to learn and retain knowledge. This results in increased reading proficiency, improved comprehension of other subject areas, increased self-confidence, and reduced costs for intervention services.

Westfield-Washington Schools
In Westfield-Washington Schools, located just north of Indianapolis, schools have realized savings in the reduction of inaccurate referrals to special education. Through the use of the Fast ForWord program, schools have prevented the misidentification of struggling students as special needs students, so doctors and psychologists are conducting fewer unnecessary, and expensive, evaluative tests. The district has found the Fast ForWord program to be cost-effective in other ways as well. For example, in previous years, schools implemented a one-on-one tutoring program to help struggling readers, but the program was so labor-intensive they could serve only a fraction of the pupils who needed intervention. In contrast, using the Fast ForWord software, the district can easily provide intervention to all students who need it. The district also includes the Fast ForWord program as an integral part of Tier I and Tier 2 interventions in its Response to Intervention (RtI) process.

“The Fast ForWord program directly addresses a cognitive challenge faced by many learners — the inability to process information as quickly as it’s being presented,” said Dr. Mark Keen, superintendent. “With Fast ForWord, students have improved their language and reading comprehension skills, so our instruction is more effective for both general education and special education students. The end result is increased student achievement.”

St. Mary Parish Public Schools
In St. Mary Parish Public Schools in Centerville, La., the number of special education students being served by its Exceptional Children program dropped nearly 13 percent since the implementation of Fast ForWord. In the case of interventions, the percentage of students identified as struggling readers in St. Mary Parish also dropped from 60 percent to 32 percent, according to the district’s 2009 data. In addition, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders and eighth graders performing at or above the proficient level on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) increased, with gains for both regular education and special education students in English language arts, math, science, and social studies. The district attributes this in large part to the use of the Fast ForWord program.

“Brain plasticity research has shown that the brain can be exercised to improve its function and to take advantage of whatever content is presented to the learner,” said Dr. Donald Aguillard, superintendent. “By building brain fitness, we have enabled students of diverse ability levels to make substantial gains. This school year, far fewer students are struggling below grade level than ever before. Because we are creating an optimal learning environment, coupled with a focus on cognitive and early reading skills, we are addressing reading challenges before they become serious issues. In addition, since fewer students now require special education services through our Exceptional Children program, the district is saving thousands of dollars per year.”

About Scientific Learning Corp.
We accelerate learning by applying proven research on how the brain learns. Scientific Learning’s results are demonstrated in over 200 research studies and protected by over 55 patents. Learners can realize achievement gains of one to two years in as little as eight to 12 weeks and maintain an accelerated rate of learning even after the programs end.

Today, learners have used nearly 3 million Scientific Learning software products, which apply “Brain Fitness” principles to the areas of English language and reading. We provide our offerings directly to parents, K–12 schools and learning centers, and in more than 40 countries around the world. For more information, visit www.scientificlearning.com or call toll-free 888-358-0212.

About the Author:

Leslie Eicher