Young children learning to read made significant progress after participating in a high-dosage virtual tutoring program, according to new research released Wednesday — results that seem to defy conventional wisdom about effective ways to improve performance.
Not only is the program — called OnYourMark — targeted to students who especially struggled to learn remotely during the pandemic, but the study was conducted by experts who typically advocate for in-person tutoring.
“I was nicely surprised,” said Susanna Loeb, a Stanford University education researcher and leader of the National Student Support Accelerator, which has been tracking efforts to expand high-dosage tutoring. “The trick is to get [tutoring] to as many students as we possibly can. Being able to do it virtually could really help in the scaling and expansion of this kind of intensive, individualized attention that many students need.”
The evaluation, conducted in 12 Texas elementary schools as part of the Uplift Education charter network, found that over 1,000 K-2 students in the program scored higher on literacy tests than students without the extra support. The results translated into 26 extra days of learning in letter sounds for kindergartners and 55 extra days on decoding for first graders with a one-on-one tutor. Second graders did not benefit as much from the intervention.
While the virtual program was still less effective than in-person tutoring, the model could be a breakthrough for schools in rural areas and those that have struggled to recruit tutors, Loeb said. Districts’ pandemic recovery efforts have sometimes fallen short because they can’t find trained educators or volunteers to do the job. And research by Loeb and others has found that only a fraction of students who need extra help take advantage of on-demand virtual tutoring programs.