“High-dosage tutoring” drastically improves learning after COVID

As state and local educational agencies seek out impactful ways to address the learning loss many children experienced this past year as a result of the pandemic, researchers at the University of Chicago Education Lab report promising results from “high-dosage tutoring.”

In a study of more than 5,000 ninth and 10th graders in Chicago Public Schools, researchers found that pupils who participated in a high-dosage tutoring program learned up to an additional 2.5 years’ worth of math instruction within one academic year. The study also shows improvements in math test scores, grade-point averages and graduation rates continued for one to two years following tutoring.

High-dosage tutoring is a model that is personalized, with specific student-to-tutor ratios of less than three-to-one. The findings in this study — Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes Among Adolescents” — are the result of an intervention developed by the non-profit organization Saga Education. Their tutoring model consisted of daily 45–50 minute, two-on-one instruction to complement in-classroom learning.

The report, which involved two separate randomized control trials, found that students continued to see persistent gains in math test scores and GPA up to two years after tutoring, and that the intensive math tutoring was found to have spillover effects across subjects, as student grades increased in math and non-math courses.

“By providing personalized instruction and coordinating closely with teachers, students, and families, tutors were able to complement in-classroom learning and help students progress two to three times faster than their peers,” authors of the report said in a press release. “The results are particularly encouraging given conventional wisdom and claims by some in the research community that it is too difficult or costly to substantially improve the academic skills of children who are behind once they reach high school.”

Costs could add up, but be covered by influx of new funds

A January cost estimate conducted by Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting firm that works with districts on financial issues, projected that the kind of high-dosage tutoring needed for students who have fallen the furthest behind and hiring more staff devoted to schoolwide social-emotional learning efforts could cost approximately $2,500 per year, per student.

Many districts have already begun to invest in or plan for academic interventions. Ravenswood City School District has redirected 10 percent of its budget — about $45 million — toward additional academic support, while Los Angeles Unified School District began paying teachers earlier this year to tutor students outside of school.

The University of Chicago study defined Saga Education’s program as “low cost,” or between $3,500 and $4,300 per student per year. The tutoring model can be replicated by using recent college graduates, retirees or others to provide personalized tutoring, which could save schools money researchers said.

Additionally, new state and federal funds will be available to support schools in efforts to expand learning recovery programs such as high-dosage tutoring, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan on March 11 — a $1.9 trillion relief package that includes $128 billion for K-12 education and $350 billion for state governments to fill their budget gaps. Nearly $122 billion will be distributed nationwide to school districts through the Title I formula, thereby targeting more funds to the country’s highest-poverty areas.

Districts must use at least 20 percent of the federal funding to “address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs, and ensure that such interventions respond to students’ academic, social and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus” on underserved student groups. The remaining funds can also be used to address learning loss, as well as for a variety of purposes related to supporting pupil education and well-being.

California’s share of education funding is just over $15 billion in federal K-12 aid, with LEAs receiving about $13.5 billion directly. Of the remaining money, at least $753.4 million must be spent on addressing learning loss; $150.6 million each must be spent on summer enrichment and after-school programs; $376.7 million must be spent on other state activities as determined by state officials to “address issues responding to coronavirus.”

On top of that, the school reopening plan signed March 5 by Gov. Gavin Newsom includes $4.6 billion for extended learning and intervention, with funding to be allocated according to a proportional share of LCFF funding, with an additional $1,000 in per-pupil funding for each homeless student. The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence will receive $5 million in additional funding to support LEAs in extended learning.