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Teacher standing at front of the classroom.

Devon Palmer demonstrates how to solve linear equations with variables on both sides.

Eighteen seventh graders at KIPP Inspire Academy took their seats as their math teacher, Devon Palmer, announced they’d spend the hour on an eighth grade unit. Around the room, there were expressions of disbelief.

“Eighth grade?  You’re ready!” Palmer told them. “For those of you who just said, ‘I don’t know how to do this,’ you ABSOLUTELY do! Check the board.”

She motioned to the side of the room. Written on a white board were names of eleven students in the class who had demonstrated above average growth on the NWEA exam in math – meaning they learned more than to be expected in a typical year. Seven had demonstrated typical growth – the amount to be expected. The four not listed had grown, but not enough for either of the two categories. The NWEA is an adaptive achievement and growth test.

“That’s an awesome thing about this class,” Palmer told them. “All of you grew!”

Gains in math result of stronger coaching

A teacher looks at student work and coaches the student.

Seventh graders getting a taste of eighth grade math

Across all grade levels, students at KIPP Inspire demonstrated more growth this year on the NWEA exam than in the past, and the progress is linked to the coaching the math team has received from John Armstead, an assistant school leader of instruction. Armstead is participating in The Opportunity Trust’s Instructional Leadership Fellowship, where he’s developed understanding and skills to evaluate curriculum and improve his coaching of teachers.

As a result, he returns from fellowship experiences with a better understanding of what excellent teaching looks like and how to help teachers elevate their performance. He’s learned by visiting and observing classrooms throughout St. Louis. He attends monthly fellowship convenings led by TNTP, an organization that helps school systems achieve goals for students.

“I know exactly how curriculum needs to look, sound, and feel,” Armstead said. “As a coach, that is transformational.”

Armstead has begun using a rubric from the fellowship to provide math teachers with better feedback.

“Once he started using the rubric, I have more specifics on what the data and what math instruction needs to be,” Palmer said.

High concentration of fellowship participants

An instructional coach using his hands as he explains.

John Armstead discusses how the Instructional Leadership Fellowship has led to improved math outcomes.

KIPP Inspire, a middle school with approximately 410 students,  has a high concentration of school administrators who have completed or are participating in Opportunity Trust fellowships. The fellowships are designed to help educators develop innovative solutions to problems and give leaders the skills needed to transform their buildings into world class schools.

Half of the leadership team at KIPP Inspire have participated in an Opportunity Trust fellowship, leaving them better equipped toscale a vision of instructional excellence and provide students with strong instructional practices.

Head of School Jessica Pachak was a Catalyst fellow in 2021. She finished more focused engaging families and community partners when thinking about implementing new strategies as a result.

Marian Fukayama, the assistant school leader of instruction for ELA and social studies, is completing her second year as an Instructional Leadership Fellow.

For both Fukayama and Armstead, the experience has been “powerful,” Pachak said.

“Our math results will be the best we’ve seen in a long time,” Pachak said. “That is a direct result of John’s coaching, and the fellowship is the mechanism. The better he is at coaching them, the more effective they are at executing their lesson plans.”

Inside Palmer’s classroom, she demonstrated how to solve linear equations with variables on both sides, striking the balance between what needs to be said and what needs to be asked to get kids to solve problems on their own.

“If they come up with it they’re more likely to remember it,” she said.

“She has mastered that,” Armstead said.