Learning software developed by Rutgers-Newark scientist helps 450,000 students with reading

April 18, 2005

(NEWARK) - About 450,000 children spread among 2,700 public school districts in 25 states all have something in common: They've used educational Fast ForWord software products developed from research that began in the lab of Rutgers-Newark professor of neuroscience Paula Tallal.

Working at Rutgers-Newark's Center for Molecular and Biological Neuroscience, she has brought a neuroscientist's perspective to the concept of learning, convinced that developing brains are much more plastic than has been generally believed by educators. Independent tests at Stanford University have demonstrated that developmental skills in language and reading can be dramatically improved through the intensive use of these six- to eight-week programs involving computer-based suites of exercises.

And educators have responded.

Currently, public school districts in areas ranging from Juneau, Alaska, to Palm Beach, from St. Louis to Connecticut, and from Milwaukee to New York City are all employing Fast ForWord software as a daily 50- or 90-minute part of their curriculum. There are various Fast ForWord products that address language and reading from pre-school though high school. Additional studies in the PALS program (Program in American Language Studies) at Rutgers are currently underway to assess the potential of using Fast ForWord with adults engaged in learning English as a second language.

Perhaps the most impressive success story has been in Philadelphia, the seventh-largest school district in the United States, with more than 214,000 students in 276 schools. The Fast ForWord line of products has been licensed for use in 235 schools there. A recent study of Fast ForWord conducted by Philadelphia school officials showed students who used the program made significantly greater reading gains than those who had not.

"This study supports our decision to expand the use of Fast ForWord," says Paul Vallas, CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, "and we are looking forward to continued success as more students are able to take advantage of the products."

Tallal is actively involved in developing and expanding the line of Fast ForWord learning products as a member of the board of directors at the Oakland, Calif., company she co-founded, Scientific Learning Corporation.

"There's no essential difference between children who are struggling with reading and children who are dyslexic other than perhaps in terms of severity," Tallal observes.

Data from early testing that compared dyslexic children with children who had normal reading capabilities showed, via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans taken in real time, that the brains of the dyslexic children "rewired" themselves during the training, and areas that previously had been inert "lit up" as they were accessed. The brains of the dyslexic children more closely resembled the brains of the normal readers by the end of the program.

But Tallal saw much more far-reaching potential for Fast ForWord, convinced that non-dyslexic students could benefit as well. And the fMRI test results continue to intrigue more and more educators and public school systems across America.

For Tallal and her colleagues, the kudos just seem to keep coming. In addition to winning the Thomas A. Edison Patent Award, in 2004 the Congressional Black Caucus's Education Braintrust awarded Scientific Learning an ET3 (Education Technology Think Tank) TEC (Technology to Empower Community) Champion Partnership Award. The award, which recognizes innovative public-private partnerships that empower communities, resulted from the company's role in a project entitled "Building Brain Power and Developing Literacy via Fast ForWord," which served 200 summer school students at several sites across New York City. Tallal also was recently invited to participate in the prestigious Presidential Symposium at the 2005 meeting of the Society of Neuroscience.
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For further information, contact Paula Tallal at 619/543-0006 or tallal@axon.rutgers.edu.

Rutgers University

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