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Teach for America at work in St. Louis

St. Louis schools working with Teach for America see a bump in test scores.

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Scott Baier, executive director of Teach For America St. Louis, also emphasized the importance of student investment. He told me about a corps member that has his students track their own progress throughout the year, giving them diagnostic exams three or four times and making sure they aren’t just ready for the tests, but also excited about them.

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So how does TFA turn out so many successful teachers? Besides its meticulous recruitment process, it helps the teachers to form visions of success and to work toward those visions.

“Because of Teach For America, I thought it would be possible for students to grow that much,” said Leach. “Without the focus from TFA that this kind of growth is what is expected, I don't know that I would have pushed my kids to reach for such big growth.”

Kopp said the corps members with the greatest impact are aiming far beyond test scores. “They are stepping back and doing what great leaders do. They are motivating kids to work hard and reach their vision, and they are working purposefully and relentlessly to get there.”

Baier said that TFA staff works with and mentors the corps members throughout their whole teaching experience, and that great teachers are really born out of hard work.

“In order to have a transformational impact, they must be operating from a vision that is absolutely clear on what they want their children to achieve,” said Baier. “They must invest students and families, work relentlessly, stop and monitor where they are going, and possibly adjust their course. You will not find a classroom where you will see a transformational teacher without seeing at least those elements. We manage our teachers toward being proficient in all of those, so they can be so purposeful in all of the work they are doing, and never waste a minute.”

At Gateway Middle School, all of this hard work is paying off. Last year, its Scholastic Reading Inventory scores grew more than those of any other school in the Saint Louis Public Schools system. In 2008, only 12.6 percent of the sixth graders scored proficient in communication arts, and none scored advanced. But in 2010, 27.4 percent of the same students scored proficient and advanced, with less than 10 percent scoring below basic.

But a score of "proficient" in reading doesn’t necessarily mean that TFA teachers and their students have met their principal goal. “The ultimate test is whether our kids learn," says Kopp. "Are we setting our kids up to graduate college? You can’t measure that on an annual basis, you need to be aiming toward that.”

Leslie Rieder, a former Monitor intern, will be a Teach for America corps member next year.

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