Virtual tutoring can benefit young readers, too

Fordham Institute

As excitement grows around tutoring as a strategy to combat learning loss, advocates have rightly been encouraged by the growing body of evidence demonstrating the efficacy of tutoring interventions. To date, however, little research has examined the impact of fully virtual tutoring on very young students. Hardly a technicality, this distinction matters because younger children are less likely to have the technical and self-regulation skills upon which virtual learning depends. Now, a new study by researchers from Stanford, Vanderbilt, and UnboundED analyzes the benefits of virtual tutoring specifically for early elementary students.

The authors conducted a randomized controlled trial with 2,085 K–2 students at twelve Texas schools within the same charter network. Those in the sample were randomly assigned to participate either in 1:1 tutoring, 2:1 tutoring, or a control group; the tutoring provider, OnYourMark Education (OYM), is a partner of the unnamed charter network and a science-of-reading-based virtual tutoring program. Students in the 1:1 and 2:1 groups participated in in-school, virtual tutoring for twenty-minute periods, four days a week, from September 2022 until May 2023. For their main measure, the researchers compared students’ beginning-of-the-year performance on a widely used exam, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS), to their end-of-the-year performance on the same assessment. The analysis controlled for demographic factors like gender, race and ethnicity, and economic disadvantage, and the authors also broke down their findings to understand OYM’s effects on students with differing baseline performance and in different grade levels.

Overall, the results show that OYM produced statistically significant reading gains for participants. On average, the students who received the OYM treatment improved their scores by 0.05–0.08 standard deviations. Gains were slightly larger for those in the 1:1 group, a finding in line with other research on 1:1 tutoring. 


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Mentioned Publication

The Effects of Virtual Tutoring on Young Readers: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial

In-person tutoring has been shown to improve academic achievement. Though less well-researched, virtual tutoring has also shown a positive effect on achievement but has only been studied in grade five or above. We present findings from the first randomized controlled trial of virtual tutoring for young children (grades K-2). Students were assigned to 1:1 tutoring, 2:1 tutoring, or a control group. Assignment to any virtual tutoring increased early literacy skills by 0.05-0.08 SD with the largest effects for 1:1 tutoring (0.07-0.12 SD). Students initially scoring well below benchmark and first graders experienced the largest gains from 1:1 tutoring (0.15 and 0.20 SD, respectively). Effects are smaller than typically seen from in-person early literacy tutoring programs but still positive and statistically significant, suggesting promise particularly in communities with in-person staffing challenges.

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