Introduction to High-Impact Tutoring

What is High-Impact Tutoring?

This Playbook describes how to implement a High-Impact Tutoring program in your district or school and why it is worthwhile to do so. First, though, it is important to define what High-Impact Tutoring is and how it differs from other less effective types of tutoring.

High-Impact Tutoring is tutoring that has directly demonstrated significant gains in student learning through state-of-the-art research studies or tutoring that has characteristics proven to accelerate student learning. High-Impact Tutoring responds to students' individual needs and complements their classroom curriculum.

Most High-Impact Tutoring programs share certain key model elements:

  • Tutors use High-Quality Instructional Materials in high-frequency sessions (a minimum of 3x per week for 30 – 60 minutes per session, for a minimum of a semester and preferably a full school year), with three or fewer students in each session;
  • Tutors are engaging and reliable, receive ongoing coaching, and are well-trained, including on issues around equity and safety;
  • Tutoring is built into the school day and engages teachers and caregivers;
  • Data is used to individualize instruction and continuously improve program design.

You can read more about these key elements — which the National Student Support Accelerator identified after an extensive review of existing research and best practices. The graphic below provides a high-level overview of the four model-specific elements of High-Impact Tutoring.

Elements of High-Impact Tutoring

Why adopt High-Impact Tutoring?

Rigorous research shows that High-Impact Tutoring is unusually effective for accelerating student learning. In fact it is more effective than other interventions that have been tested and is effective across grade and content levels. Below are four additional benefits of High-Impact Tutoring.

Ensuring Educational Equity

High-quality tutoring has long been available to well-resourced students. But low income students and students of color have rarely had access to the kind of intensive tutoring that works. By expanding access to tutoring to students with greater need and fewer resources, High-Impact Tutoring programs can improve academic outcomes for low-income students. High-Impact Tutoring also has a track record of closing the achievement gaps between racial groups: in Chicago, for example, a High-Impact Tutoring program narrowed the Black-White Math test score gap by almost a third in a single year.

Providing Individualized Instruction

Through tutoring, struggling students can receive individualized instruction and personalized social-emotional support. High-Impact Tutoring improves students’ sense of self-efficacy and growth mindset and fosters a love of learning, which research has demonstrated increases scores in the tutored subject, and even across other classes.

Boosting Graduation Rates

Early literacy and secondary math are critical predictors of students’ academic and postsecondary outcomes. Students who are on track to read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade and who are able to pass their 9th grade courses (of which math is often the most challenging) are four times more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who do not hit these benchmarks. Either one of these measures is a stronger predictor of high school graduation than race, family income, or standardized test scores; High-Impact Tutoring can boost them both.

Career Development and Teacher Pipeline

Many High-Impact Tutoring programs employ current college students and recent college graduates, for whom being a tutor may be their first “real” job. This arrangement is mutually beneficial: the tutors provide support to younger students while gaining early career development for themselves. Tutoring jobs also give tutors insights into educational careers and may help to build pipelines into teaching, strengthening community’s schools for decades to come.

How do you design tutoring programs for COVID-19 recovery and long-term sustainability?

Significant federal COVID-19 relief and recovery funding is available to address student needs caused by COVID-19-disrupted education. With school schedules already disrupted and funds available, education leaders seeking innovative solutions have an opportunity now to invest in High-Impact Tutoring — a proven, cost-effective intervention that accelerates student learning more effectively than other tested interventions. Districts should invest strategically, to tackle both COVID-19-related learning issues and the substantial inequities in learning outcomes that pre-date the pandemic.

By embedding High-Impact Tutoring programs in long-term district strategy, districts can ensure that these programs can be sustained after COVID relief and recovery funds are gone. High-Impact Tutoring could replace existing tutoring programs or other programs that do not use evidence-based best practices; existing programs can be modified to incorporate the elements of High-Impact Tutoring. A well-designed tutoring program increases instructional time for students and provides instructional support for teachers. Building a plan to implement and sustain High-Impact Tutoring can serve students well in the long run.

In this Playbook, learn more about funding sources available to districts and how districts can ensure alignment with other district priorities when designing and implementing a new High-Impact Tutoring program.

Key Principles for Implementing High-Impact Tutoring

Keep the following key principles in mind when implementing High-Impact Tutoring in your District:

Implement proven practices that support High-Quality Tier I instruction.
High-Impact Tutoring is a critical layer of support, not a replacement for High-Quality Tier I instruction.

Align tutoring with your district’s priorities and existing initiatives.
All students can benefit from the individualized instruction in High-Impact Tutoring. Your district can build this tutoring into their long-term strategy by reassessing existing interventions and initiatives, then finding ways to incorporate tutoring into them to boost their effectiveness.

Ground tutoring initiatives in district needs.
To identify and address district needs, your district should engage stakeholders including school administrators, teachers, students’ caregivers, and (above all) students themselves. Your district should assess not only students’ knowledge and skills, but also their social-emotional wellbeing, so that they can design tutoring to support both.

Develop a scaffolded plan for continuously improving and scaling up.
Identifying an initial focus area and conducting a small-scale pilot program for a subset of schools or students, then gathering data on the pilot’s effectiveness can build stakeholder investment by demonstrating impact, as well as provide data for continuous improvement. Once you know your program works, you can scale it up to more students at more schools, reassessing effectiveness at each step. As you scale up tutoring to serve more students and support more content areas, be prepared to adapt your program model to suit these new contexts.

Set aside time and capacity for planning logistics, building stakeholder investment, and supporting school-level implementation.
Implementing tutoring across a district requires strong project management, with frequent touchpoints to communicate and build investment with stakeholders. Prepare to dedicate significant time and staff capacity to these efforts.