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'We want to be better so our students can be better': St. Louis school uses new teaching method, rises above literacy rates in Missouri

KIPP Victory Academy led Missouri in English Language Arts Growth in 2022.

ST. LOUIS — KIPP Victory Academy is leading Missouri in reading scores. According to St. Louis University’s PRiME researchers, it held Missouri’s highest English Language Arts Growth in 2022.

But reading scores across Missouri have been decreasing since 2015.

So how is KIPP rising to the top? The answer is a method known as "the science of reading."

It’s a shift away from old teaching methods to new ones, like using sounds, claps, taps and other forms of body language to learn foundational language arts skills.

“With guided reading, we were doing some things that weren’t quite up to par," Literacy Curriculum Manager Angela Jackson said.

The school is breaking the norm by using the science of reading practice.

“It’s a philosophy that ensures we’re teaching based on the way the brain works," school leader Cetera Altepeter said.

KIPP teachers go through intensive research-based training to bring this method to their classrooms. The charter school system has been using this kind of training for years, but they quickly jumped on a new statewide program announced earlier this year.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced the opportunity for schools to take part in the LETRS program, an intense course teachers can take on the science of reading. At KIPP, nearly 70% of teachers have gone through LETRS training.

“We try to have a lot of visuals in the classroom, a lot of different movements, things that just make learning more fun as well and it helps them remember," Altepeter said.

She said they constantly analyze test scores and how to improve them.

“We now know with guided reading, we were telling kids to guess. But skilled readers don’t guess," Jackson said.

Jackson said current research shows old methods used to teach reading, like guess what word describes the picture, are not as effective as this program.

“When we put books in front of them to say look at this word, tap it out, segment it, blend it back together, what word do you have? That’s what good readers do," she said.

The program has three key steps. Phonemic awareness is all about sounds, phonics is seeing the sounds on paper, and white and wisdom is comprehending it all.

It’s an effort to help the whole school do their best, and be the best.

“We want to be better so our students can be better," Jackson said.

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