Minnesota Reading Corps & Minnesota Math Corps Blog

A Conversation with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

On December 3, Reading Corps was invited to participate in a panel hosted by Results for America at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law in Concord, New Hampshire. The event, “A Conversation with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar on National Service and Strengthening Our Democracy” focused on how evidence-based approaches, public policy and national service intersect to amplify progress and social change.

Reading Corps Managing Director, Sadie O’Conner was featured on a panel of experts including U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Dan Bromberg (Academic Programs Director, University of New Hampshire Casey School of Public Policy), Jed Herrmann (Vice President, Results for America) and David Medina (COO and Co-Founder of Results for America).

“Reading Corps is a leader in national service,” explains O’Connor. “Using evidence-based methods and putting research to practice has allowed us to scale the program first statewide, then nationally.” She continued, “With 15 years of experience and a wealth of data, it’s exciting to be able to highlight the incredible impact our members make possible in communities across the country.”

Beginning in 2014, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) began prioritizing evidence of effectiveness when allocating AmeriCorps funds. As a result, increased funding was funneled into programs like Reading Corps and more students began to succeed. The shift has helped support evidence-based learning interventions for 6,000 additional students in Minnesota – proving that small changes in federal grant-making can bring about improved results across the country. To learn more about how Reading Corps and results-driven leaders are improving outcomes, read the latest policy brief by Results for America.

View video from the event online.

Suzanne PagelA Conversation with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
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Legislative Testimony from Ariana Wright, Principal at Kasson-Mantorville

Editor’s Note: In the 2019 Minnesota Legislative Session, principal Ariana Wright testified on behalf of Minnesota Math Corps in order to help secure funding for the future. Read how Math Corps has impacted her students at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School

Madame Chairperson, members of the committee. My name is Ariana Wright and I am the principal at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary school.  We are a K-4 building with 840 students. We are located near Rochester in a rural setting with a growing population of newcomers and English learners – some that have not been in schools for years.

Districts are continuously searching for high quality math intervention resources that aren’t just rote practice – but offer a true understanding of numbers and number concepts.

Math Corps is the key –the intensity of the interventions and the partnership between students lead to tremendous gains in student growth. We know early intervention makes all the difference.

Because we are one of the lowest districts in the funding formula and we don’t have additional funding – we do a great deal of instruction with very little resources. Programs like this are so critical to us.

When we look at our lowest 10% of students and how they are growing compared to the highest 10%, our students who need more intervention are not growing as quickly – so our gap isn’t closing. Math Corps is an excellent strategy to support that group.

We’ve also seen an uptick in our special education population, and know that programs like Math Corps and Reading Corps will help reduce the number of referrals to those programs.

Individuals who choose to serve in AmeriCorps programs such as Math Corps and Reading Corps are a gift to our schools – they are our heroes.  In particular – I’m thinking of one member named Shirley who came to us in her retirement, knowing that she wanted to give back. Her AmeriCorps service provides the opportunity for deep relationships with our staff, families and our communities, which in turn provides a rich learning experience for our students. Relationships matter to students now more than ever – and providing that through an AmeriCorps member like Shirley has been tremendous to our student success.

Math Corps is a critical component to be sure we are serving all our students. Students need immediate feedback to check their thinking and that extra dose of adult support will help them bust the myth that math is something they can’t do. When we do that, we’ll have a community filled with confident learners, who will one day become our workforce, our taxpayers and our voters.


shayla@serveminnesota.orgLegislative Testimony from Ariana Wright, Principal at Kasson-Mantorville
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PreK Math Pilot Shows Significant Results

Minnesota students’ declining math scores are a worry for so many reasons: The math courses that students take in high school are strongly related to students’ earnings around 10 years later, even after taking account of demographic, family and school characteristics, as well as the student’s highest educational degree attained, college major and occupation. And more complex courses are associated with a larger influence on wages and post-secondary enrollment.

Declining scores have direct effects academic and career success, but down the line, on securing individual career success and labor market productivity. The stakes are high. Given the importance of helping Minnesota students learn and achieve better math fluency, researchers working with Math Corps embarked on a year-long pilot to test whether math interventions should be offered to younger students – PreK, ages 3 to 5 – in order to better prepare them for math fluency in the future. Past research has shown that preschool math skills strongly predict elementary math skills

preschool mathElementary math skills not only predict middle and high school success in math but also other achievement in high school, including literacy skills.

high school achievement in mathAs you can see in the next graphic, the Minnesota Comprehensive Achievement (MCA) proficiency rates have declined over time, and the outcomes for lower-income students (the second line below) is especially troubling:

declining math numbers

According to Peter Nelson, Ph.D., the Director of Research and Innovation at ServeMinnesota (a Reading Corps and Math Corps partner), the dispersion of achievement in math coincides with dispersion of opportunity and need. In the graphic below, you can see that even by the time kids get to preschool, they are spread along this continuum pretty widely. And unfortunately – that spread is predictable by things that we should not be able to use as predictors — things like students race and income, Nelson says.

dispersion of achievementWhat’s not pictured here but also relevant is a dispersion of need – kids simply do not require the same amount or type of instruction.

PreK Numeracy Pilot Research Project

The basic ideas of the PreK numeracy research, Nelson explained, were outlined:

  1. Use research to determine “what works” for getting kids the skills they need in math before kindergarten.
  2. Translate that research into a replicable, feasible, and effective program.
  3. Recruit, train, and place full-time AmeriCorps members in classrooms to serve kids who need extra support.
  4. Improve and validate
  5. Scale using a built-in infrastructure of school partnerships.

To begin, 29 classroom sites in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that included 506 students were offered PreK math.  The research also included 124 suburban “comparison” students.

The Results

The results of the 2018-19 pilot were strong: Data showed a marked improvement in the study population of PreK children who received Math Corps interventions.

Pilot data showed a significant closure of the gap between the young Minneapolis-St. Paul students who received PreK math instruction and their suburban counterparts.

Additionally, participant satisfaction was high: Our organization retained 100% of the AmeriCorps members involved in PreK MathCorps last year, and many returned for a second year.

Moving Forward

The PreK math research continues this school year as the pilot program has expanded to 50 classrooms at 23 sites in the Twin Cities metro. We are working to further embed the math pilot into the existing PreK Reading Corps program, including embedding math into the existing training schedule so that there are no additional training dates required.

Finally, plans are in the works to continue to scale this program.

Do you have questions about the PreK math pilot? Please contact us at Julie@serveminnesota.org

shayla@serveminnesota.orgPreK Math Pilot Shows Significant Results
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5 Take-Aways from the 2018-19 Program Evaluation

By Sadie O’Connor, Managing Director

  1. Over 18 million minutes of interventions in reading and math. We placed tutors in more than 600 schools across the state of Minnesota who collectively provided over 18 million minutes of interventions to students who needed extra support. 18 million minutes — this is pretty spectacular!  We believe that every instructional minute counts, and we are so grateful to be welcomed into your buildings to provide this additional support to your students.
  2. Students making academic progress. Students participating in Reading Corps and Math Corps made incredible progress and growth last school year.
  • In PreK Reading Corps, 61% of students met the spring target on the PELI Composite. The PELI measures vocabulary and oral language, comprehension, phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge.
  • In K-3 Reading Corps, 75% of students exceeded target growth. The average growth per week for each grade level was higher than the expected growth. Kindergarten students had the most growth – growing 2.86 letter sounds per week compared to the target of 1.21.
  • In Math Corps, 82% of student increased their performance on fact fluency. The average student percentile rank on the STAR Math Assessment increased in all five grades, demonstrating improved math performance compared to peers across the country.
  1. High fidelity to implementation. We measure fidelity of implementation throughout the year, and see really high fidelity in all of our programs. Our fidelity of intervention implementation is 93%+ and our fidelity of assessment 97%.  This means that we can have confidence that the data we are looking at is accurate, and we know our tutors are delivering the interventions as they are designed to maximize the impact for students.
  2. Principals agree that our programs provide a systematic implementation of intervention and assessment. 95% of principals agreed that our programs help their school implement a system of literacy or math interventions and assessments. This is exactly what we hope to do for schools! From the early developmental stages of our program, this component of our model was important to us.  We want to be an effective resource to your school’s RtI or MTSS model.
  3. And finally …… how are your students doing? We love data, and we are pretty sure you do too! That is why we are making improvements to our reporting systems to allow us to easily produce for you real-time summaries of how students in your school and/or district are doing in the current year. We don’t have to wait until the end of the year for the final evaluation report to see outcome data!  If you’re interested in seeing how your students are doing, just contact us and our team will be happy to get you the information. You can reach me directly at sadie.oconnor@servetogrow.org.

Do you want to see more about last year’s outcomes? View this PDF. 


shayla@serveminnesota.org5 Take-Aways from the 2018-19 Program Evaluation
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Mother Inspired by Son’s Success in Reading Corps

Brianna Mielke has always been drawn to mission-driven work. Whether working to support domestic violence and sexual assault survivors or those experiencing a mental health crisis, she loved making a difference. After ten years in social services, it was her son who inspired her to become a tutor.

As a first-grader, Brianna’s son received Reading Corps services. During that one school year, she witnessed his reading abilities improve and his confidence soar. “I knew I wanted to try it out,” Brianna shared. “I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life the way that my son’s tutor did for him.”

During Brianna’s first year of service at Zimmerman Elementary, she encountered challenging days and rewarding ones, too. She recalls that one student in particular was determined to avoid Reading Corps. Every day there was a new excuse for why he didn’t need to participate. It was a challenge to engage him, but in the end, he was the first of Brianna’s students to graduate from the program.

“He burst into tears the day I told him he met his reading goals and we wouldn’t be working together anymore,” Brianna remembers. “At that moment it hit me how much one-on-one time can mean to a student.”

Now in her third year of service at Zimmerman Elementary, it is clear Brianna is still making an impact. When she goes to pick up kids from class for their reading lesson, others will even ask if they can go next. “It’s important to build their confidence and spend that one-on-one time with the students,” she says. “It is so fun to see them make progress with their fluency – but it’s even more special to watch their confidence grow.”

Brianna is already planning on serving again next year and she thinks others should too. “Just try it out – you will not regret it,” she insists. “After just one month of service, I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere. You get so much more from it than you give.”

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Suzanne PagelMother Inspired by Son’s Success in Reading Corps
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A New Direction through Service

Lindsay Bass-Sessions had been working in retail for several years when she decided she was ready for a change of pace. Turns out service was exactly what she was looking for.

Originally from North Dakota, Lindsay moved to Minnesota with her husband in 2016. With over 15 years of retail experience under her belt, Lindsay had steadily worked her way up and held upper management roles at several stores over the years. Despite her success, she felt that something was missing. “I was started to feel the need to pivot out of the retail world,” Lindsay explains. “I felt this drive to give back to my community.”

When Lindsay happened across an online posting for Reading Corps, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. “You don’t have to come from a specific work or education background to serve with Reading Corps,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you are at in your life, they give you what you need to know. You just need to have the desire to make a difference.”

While Lindsay still works part-time in retail, her 35 hours a week as a tutor have brought the change of pace she was hoping for. She enjoys building relationships with her students and likes how every day is different – you never know what a child will say or how much progress they will make. She says they keep her on her toes, but she loves every minute.

Through Reading Corps, Lindsay has also found a way to give back to her community. “As soon as I started working with the kids, I felt instant fulfillment,” Lindsay shares. “My students are making progress and becoming more confident. I know I am making a difference already.”

As for what’s up next, Lindsay is still figuring it out. “I would love to serve again,” she says. For the time being, Lindsay is happy with where she is at and wants others to join her. “If you are considering becoming a tutor, it is worth the leap,” Lindsay insists. “If you are looking for a change in your life, stop hesitating – it is so worth it.”

If you want to learn more about Lindsay’s path to service, check out her recent feature in the Quad Community Press.

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Suzanne PagelA New Direction through Service
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A New Data Management System for Math Corps Offers Increased Data Gathering Power

In 2015, schools were given the chance to begin using a sophisticated data management system (or DMS) to track students in Reading Corps’ progress and outcomes, and now, schools will have the same opportunity to do so with students in Math Corps as a new Math Corps Data Management system (MCDMS) launches across Minnesota this fall.

“Our programs are big enough, and tailored enough, that we needed a custom-built system,” said David Parker, Ph.D., the Vice President of Research & Development at ServeMinnesota, the nonprofit organization that oversees AmeriCorps in the state and works with Reading Corps and Math Corps on innovative solutions. “With our own system we can help everyone do a more effective and accurate job for this critical need in schools.”

Benjamin Swift, an information systems expert who worked on creating MCDMS for Math Corps said the system offers many options for gathering metrics and analyzing data.

“When you’re talking about MCDMS, there are lots of data about interventions and tutoring and the types of interventions and tutoring that is being delivered in Math Corps. There are data on various types of metrics available around – average sessions, minutes per week — and how students are progressing through the lessons and curriculum of Math Corps,” he said. “And then there are data around the benchmark measurements and how students are doing overall on their math skills.”

Parker noted that providing interventions in schools is not “terribly unique,” but “providing an effective intervention – and tracking student outcomes in a rigorous continual manner – across hundreds/thousands of locations is fairly unique.”

Principals will be most interested in how the new MCDMS can benefit their staff, Parker said.

“With our systems, their staff can quickly identify students who need and have received additional support,” he said. “Then, they can dig into details about attendance and outcomes to make effective decisions about improving support.”

MCDMS was launched in all of the schools with Minnesota Math Corps in Fall 2019. If you have more questions about MCDMS and its capabilities, please contact your Math Corps program manager or internal coach. 

shayla@serveminnesota.orgA New Data Management System for Math Corps Offers Increased Data Gathering Power
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Math Corps Students Get a New High-Tech Way to Boost Fact Fluency

Remember the commercial, “There’s an app for that”? Math Corps tutors are about to start quoting it quite a bit as a new math app (which will eventually receive a more creative name) rolls out over the next school year.

The app was a natural way to help deliver math interventions, said Benjamin Swift, the information systems expert who has helped develop the new app for Math Corps.

“Math Corps provides additional support to students in math, which is a STEM subject, and so there’s a sense that Math Corps can continue to be innovative and having a technological element to the way it is delivered, rather than just paper and pencil,” Swift said. “The app is a value add. We’ll continue to deliver Math Corps in the same way, but now students will have an additional, fun way to practice fact fluency – a foundational skill.”

Currently in pilot testing with several select schools, the app is intended to be used in the school with tutor oversight and can be accessed by desktop, laptop or tablet. The team hopes to make it available to all schools that have Math Corps in the coming year, said David Parker, Ph.D., the Vice President of Research & Development at ServeMinnesota, the nonprofit organization that oversees AmeriCorps in the state and works with Reading Corps and Math Corps.

“Our main hope is that students and school staff will find in the Math App an effective, engaging and efficient approach to ensure math facts facilitate math learning rather than inhibit it,” said Parker. “Students must have efficient math fact skills (even moderately complicated division and multiplication involves/subsumes math fact skills) to fully maximize other math skill development.”

Swift said the app interface is still quite basic, but the delivery is intended to be a fun way to learn math facts and engage students.

Parker noted the math app’s system “rests on multiple evidence-based approaches to learning, and also includes an engaging way to motivate student performance.”

“As a result, it should make the process of solidifying math fact skills, quick, easy, fun and effective,” he said.

Do you want to learn more about implementing Math Corps and the new math app at your school? Visit Minnesota Math Corps for more information.





shayla@serveminnesota.orgMath Corps Students Get a New High-Tech Way to Boost Fact Fluency
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On a Path from Tutor to Teacher

Teaching was always a part of Bridget Neurohr’s plan. She was passionate about the work and had gotten into an early childhood education program. But eventually life got in the way and she put her educational goals on the back burner. Fortunately, Reading Corps has allowed her to make them a priority once again.

Prior to Reading Corps, Bridget was working as a home health aide. She was passionate about the mission and enjoyed her clients, but was ready for a change. It was time to look for something new.

At that time, her husband was working for the Minnesota Literacy Council. “He thought I’d be a great fit for that kind of work,” Bridget says. “We started looking for similar education-based programs and that’s when we found Reading Corps!”

After beginning her service, it didn’t take long for Bridget to realize that Reading Corps was exactly what she had been looking for. “I never have had a job where they value you as much as Reading Corps does,” she shares. “The organization builds you up to succeed through multiple levels of support. It’s just great to be a part of.”

As a tutor at Granada Huntley East Chain, Bridget conducts literacy-based interventions with her students every day. While it can be difficult work at times, she finds the end result so rewarding. For instance, last year she worked with a student who made it clear that he did not want to be in Reading Corps. She tried everything – new strategies, extra encouragement and incentives. Eventually, she made a breakthrough and he started to successfully complete the interventions. “At the start of our time together, he didn’t think reading was important,” Bridget says. “In the end, he just wanted more. Seeing that change in a student’s mindset is the best part about tutoring.”

While service allowed Bridget to make a difference in the lives of students, it opened doors for her as well. “Tutoring reminded me of where I wanted to be,” Bridget explains. “It reaffirmed my education goals and made it clear that I am meant to be a teacher.”

The education award allowed her to go back to school and she will complete her associate’s degree this fall. Bridget already has her sights on getting her teaching degree in the near future. We can’t wait to see what’s in store!

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Suzanne PagelOn a Path from Tutor to Teacher
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A Gap Year of Service

Alyssa Tulloch wasn’t quite ready to head to college after graduating from Creative Arts Secondary School last fall. Instead, she decided to take a gap year. Lucky for us, she has chosen to spend that time with Minnesota Math Corps.

“My teacher told me about this opportunity,” Alyssa says. “He knew I love math and love working with kids.”

For Alyssa, it seems like the perfect fit. She can gain experience and save money for college while figuring out what she wants to do next. But for now, Alyssa is happily working with students at the very school she graduated from.

“I just love this school,” Alyssa shares. “It is truly an amazing community that gives students so many opportunities to be themselves. It’s great to be able to be here now, helping others.”

One of her favorite parts of service? The appreciation she receives.

“I think a lot of teachers appreciate me and what I do,” Alyssa explains. “When they don’t have enough time or resources, I can be the person who individually gives students extra support.”

Alyssa strives to make all of her students feel comfortable and confident while learning. She works hard to be seen as an authority figure, but also someone who students can relate to and trust. She says the trust and relationships she builds help her be a better tutor.  “Not every student learns the same way,” she says. “I love being able to cater to their needs and make learning more accessible.”

At the end of the day, the most important thing to Alyssa is helping students succeed. “You use basic math everywhere,” she states. “It’s important that these students are confident in their math skills so they can excel in school and succeed in life.”

If you want to learn more about Alyssa’s story, check out her recent feature on KARE 11’s Breaking the News.

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Suzanne PagelA Gap Year of Service
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