The effects of a virtual literacy-tutoring program

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Schools across America continue struggling to help their students catch up following unprecedented learning losses resulting from pandemic school closures beginning in March 2020. It is vital—both to address current needs and to stash away for future use—to determine which methods work to boost student achievement. To that end, a group of researchers, led by Stanford University’s Susanna Loeb, recently examined a high-dosage tutoring effort called OnYourMark, a fully virtual model designed to solidify foundational literacy skills for students in kindergarten through second grade.

The program features a high-quality curriculum informed by the science of reading with a focus on phonics, phonological awareness, and fluency. It includes four twenty-minute sessions per week in either one-on-one or two-on-one formats, regular progress monitoring, and two-week “lesson sprints” that use student data to target specific early literacy skills.

Although OnYourMark currently serves more than 1,400 students across multiple states, the study focuses on how a single charter management organization used the program in twelve Texas schools during the 2022–23 school year. In each school, building-level staff first selected the students who were most in need of academic help (approximately ten per building), and these were given guaranteed access to limited tutoring slots. These 121 students are thus excluded from the study sample, as their enrollment in tutoring was not determined by random assignment. The remaining students in grades K–2 were randomly assigned to available slots in one-on-one tutoring (N=510), two-on-one tutoring (N=570), or a control group (N=1,005) that generally received only regular classroom instruction. Participating students received tutoring in their classrooms from online tutors. A small number of control group students did cycle into tutoring during the year if a slot became available, but they remained in the control group for purposes of the study.


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