A new reading program being used by more than 3,000 students in the Lafayette Parish school system is producing notable results, the school district’s superintendent told the School Board Wednesday.

Schools Superintendent Donald Aguillard said the Fast ForWord reading program has been in place for half of the school year.

The computer-based reading program is used between 30 and 100 minutes per day, five days per week, for four to 16 weeks. Aguillard said 1,703 students have taken pre- and post-program tests since the program started.

Of those, 723 students, or 42 percent, have gained a half-year of reading ability. Twenty-one percent, or 367 students, gained 0.6 to 1 year of reading ability. Fifteen percent, or 267 students, gained 1.1 to 1.5 years of reading ability, and 346 students, or 20 percent, gained more than 1.5 years of reading ability, Aguillard said.

Students who tested before the program started were in the 17th percentile. Post-testing placed those same students in the 29th percentile, Aguillard noted.

Students using the new program have completed only one component of Fast ForWord. They will use the program for at least another semester and likely for an additional year or two after this year.

“The future is bright for these students,” Aguillard said.

School Board members got a less rosy report on the system’s sales tax receipts.

A report from the school systems sales tax office highlighted the continuing decrease in sales tax collections as compared with last year.

Sales tax collections for September were down $1.8 million, an 8.2 percent decrease over last year and a year-to-date decline of $7.4 million, or 8.4 percent.

Collections for October are down $2.3 million, or 10.7 percent, as compared with last year.

Year-to-date collections for October are down $9.7 million, an 8.9 percent drop over last year.

Also Wednesday, the board heard from a handful of teachers, students and arts professionals who benefit from a decadeslong partnership the school system has with the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

The school system will give $6,762 to fund eight grants for arts education at various schools, such as a middle school “Motown” music education course at Edgar Martin Middle School; a living art and art history museum that Lafayette High students will share with elementary school students at S.J. Montgomery Elementary; and, among others, a project for preschoolers to take and develop pictures of their school using disposable cameras.

“You see the extraordinary work that these youngsters can produce,” said Acadiana Center for the Arts Executive Director Gerd Wuestemann. “(Arts education) gets our kids ready for creative work that’s becoming more and more the key to success in our workforce. It creates a sense of place for the youngsters.”