High-dosage tutoring best practices covered at webinar

Long recognized as a tool to help accelerate learning, tutoring has emerged as a precedented solution to the unprecedented disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic has had on students’ academic lives. 

During the webinar, “Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs,” hosted by Education Week on Jan. 13, experts and district leaders discussed the elements of high-dosage tutoring, shared evidence-based characteristics of high-quality programs and gave a glimpse at ways local educational agencies from across the U.S. are implementing them. 

K-12 learners are struggling across the board, according to Carly Robinson, postdoctoral research associate at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University and a member of National Student Support Accelerator. The ongoing public health crisis has been especially harmful, however, for those from low-income and marginalized backgrounds. For that reason, “figuring out how to accelerate learning is really a matter of equity at this point.” 

Research has shown that, on average, tutoring can result in three to 10 months in additional learning in subjects like math and reading. “When we look at the tutoring programs that are proven to work, they tend to deliver what we call high-dosage or high-impact tutoring,” Robinson said. This kind of tutoring consists of three or more sessions per week for at least one semester. 

Tutoring groups can include up to four students or be conducted one-on-one depending on individual needs and school resources.  

“When you’re thinking about the ideal student-to-tutor ratio, it’s important to consider who the tutors are,” Robinson said. “Trained teachers may be able to handle up to four students at a time whereas volunteers or new tutors might be better off with fewer students in a session.”  

With LEAs facing staffing shortages nationwide, Robinson pointed out that research shows a wide range of people — including professional tutors, paraprofessionals and paid volunteers — can be effective given the right training and ongoing support.  The content of a session should focus on a specific subject and be in alignment with curriculum and/or state standards. Additionally, the most successful programs make developing strong student–tutor relationships a priority.  

Matthew Kraft, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University, said tutoring isn’t merely about improving test scores. It can offer students a chance to have a mentor and a caring relationship. Emerging evidence suggests that tutoring “can move the needle on things like student social-emotional development and their overall well-being and confidence,” he added. 

Robinson clarified that tutors aren’t a substitute for other services students may need, like mental health supports. They may, however, be able to identify issues a student is having and refer them for the appropriate supports.   

In the field 

Spending the last 18 months working with districts around the country to launch tutoring programs, Robinson said a question that often comes up is whether to incorporate tutoring into the school day. 

Robinson has found that implementing tutoring during the school day instead of before- or after-school can make a big difference for students, some of whom cannot attend sessions given outside of school time.  Even with free tutoring available, districts are having a hard time getting families to sign up — embedding it in the school day allows more participation. 

If that isn’t an option, removing as many barriers as possible is key. Have tutoring available on-site as well as during convenient times like breakfast service or directly after school and providing transportation can help boost participation. 

Matthew Pariseau, assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Work Force Development in Texas’ Spring Independent School District, said tutoring was bring integrated into the day even prior to the pandemic — especially for elementary students. After-school help was also available. The greatest gains — both academic and social-emotional — happened during the day, according to data from the district. Pariseau said this may be because students are less tired than they are after school and because they’re able to immediately apply newfound skills in the classroom. 

“This is a defining moment as educators because we know we can’t lose a generation,” Pariseau said. “We have these large achievement gaps and we’re working fast to try and close those gaps and what we’re seeing with our students is that we have discipline or absence issues but it’s not students saying, ‘We don’t want to learn.’ They’re really holding up a sign saying, ‘help me.’”  

While existing programs like Reading Rescue, Reading and Math Corps and Saga Education have had their methods studied and proven, LEAs shouldn’t be afraid to design their own programs — incorporating as many as the previously stated principles as possible. Robinson said that she is also optimistic about online tutoring and its ability to have meaningful impact.  

A recording of the webinar is available to view here: https://bit.ly/3tvdpFI