The private management team that runs the St. Louis public school system has grabbed headlines in the last few months for closing schools, laying off employees, and outsourcing many district operations. Meanwhile, a group of 93 literacy coaches in St. Louis, one for each school, has quietly helped seventh-graders make dramatic improvements on the state reading tests.
The literacy coach program has been in place in some schools for the past two years, this is the first year it is expected to be in place district-wide. According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Jake Wagman, the “push for literacy is what the management team is offering as a scholastic blueprint for better test scores and capable graduates.” Emphasizing literacy across the curriculum, literacy coaches observe and work with teachers in all subject areas, from math and science to English, music, and chemistry. “The same practices that make you good readers are the same practices that will make you a successful math student,” Pat Burton, one of the district’s literacy coaches, told the Post-Dispatch on Oct. 12.
Teachers and literacy coaches sometimes go on “learning walks” to sit in on a fellow teacher and observe how he or she weaves literacy instruction into the lesson. Coaches also find time to work with students individually. When sitting in on a class, a literacy coach often keeps the results of students’ reading test scores in front of him or her in order to pay special attention to students who need additional help.
The Literacy Initiative underway in St. Louis includes reading tests every 10 weeks and encourages students to read 25 books during the school year. Although the program is beginning its first year in many schools, students in some schools where the program is already in place are beginning to show improvement. At Langston Middle School, 30 percent of the seventh-graders scored proficient or advanced on the state’s communication arts test this year, an increase of 26 percent from 1999.