Informational Briefs

The evidence is clear that tutoring can help students learn. Researchers have studied many tutoring programs and, over and over, have found strong benefits for students. In fact, we know of few other options for helping individual students catch up to grade level. Tutoring is the best known approach for acceleration and it can simultaneously improve student well-being and engagement in school. However “tutoring” can bring to mind many different types of educational support, and tutoring programs can vary both in their characteristics and in their effectiveness.
In this brief, we present results from a randomized controlled trial of an early elementary reading tutoring program that has been designed to be affordable at scale. During the 2021-22 school year, over eight hundred kindergarten students in a large Southeastern school district were randomly assigned to receive supplementary tutoring with the Chapter One program. The program embeds part-time tutors into the classroom to provide short bursts of instruction to individual students each week over the course of the school year. The consistent presence of the tutors allows them to build strong relationships with students and meet students’ individual needs at the moment they might most benefit from personalized instruction. 

High-Impact tutoring – one-to-one or small group instruction in which a human tutor supports students in an academic subject area – has emerged as the primary strategy for addressing Covid19-induced learning interruptions. As tutoring expands nationally, what can we learn from existing research to inform effective planning and implementation?

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, tutoring has increasingly become a popular tool for learning recovery. By the end of the 2021-22 school year, 23 states (including the District of Columbia) initiated or passed legislation mandating or encouraging tutoring initiatives, and federal pandemic relief funds were made available for school districts to spend directly on tutoring programs. This is all for good reason: over 100 randomized controlled trials show that high-impact tutoring is one of the most effective ways to accelerate student learning.

Researchers, across multiple studies, find that tutoring can dramatically accelerate student achievement in both math and reading.1 However, previous efforts to expand access to tutoring through federally-mandated Supplemental Education Services (SES) under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 show little to no effect on student outcomes.2 Now with over a billion dollars in federal covid-relief funding slated for tutoring, what can we learn from districts’ experiences with SES to do better this time, so that this new tutoring lives up to its promise for students?

Substantial new federal funds, such as those from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), are allowing districts to provide students with services such as tutoring that were not financially feasible in the past.

Are these new programs cost-effective enough to merit allocating other funds to sustain them, such as Title I and Title IV funding, after ARPA funding runs out in 2024?

Many education leaders are turning to high-impact tutoring to accelerate student learning and compensate for interrupted instruction due to COVID-19. As federal, state, and local tutoring policies and practices develop, understanding the key barriers and challenges that have the potential to limit program reach and hinder efficacy and then developing targeted approaches to overcoming these barriers can improve the likelihood of success and the ultimate benefits for students.

Ideally every tutoring initiative leads to positive student outcomes. The evidence is very strong that tutoring can benefit students. However, some programs are likely to be more effective than others. How can we be sure that an investment in tutoring is paying off? Well-designed evaluations can provide definitive evidence about how much a tutoring initiative is driving student learning and other valued outcomes.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and schools reopen their doors to in-person learning, we are faced with the challenge of reengaging students — many of whom have been chronically absent from school and have experienced severe social stresses. With students having faced an extraordinary range of experiences during the past year, a “business as usual” approach is unlikely to rebuild students’ well-being and accelerate their learning. Schools need new approaches, targeted to students’ needs. With funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), schools will have the resources they need to implement these approaches, including high-impact tutoring.

Rigorous research provides evidence that tutoring, with specific characteristics, produces large learning gains for a wide range of students, including those who have fallen behind academically. A recent meta-analysis reviewed studies of tutoring interventions that have been evaluated by randomized controlled trials in the past few decades and found that, on average, tutoring increased achievement by an additional three to 15 months of learning across grade levels. Tutoring also offers significant spillover effects including greater school engagement, higher grades in other courses, and benefits to the tutor including exposure to teaching as a career.

High-Impact Tutoring: An Equitable, Proven Approach to Addressing Pandemic Learning Loss and Accelerating Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schooling across the country, leading to substantial learning loss for students, especially for students living in poverty and from communities of color. In fact, 70% of parents are worried that reduction in learning during the pandemic will have a lasting effect, with 68% concerned about their child staying on track in school.