Overview of the Field

Rigorous research provides evidence that tutoring can produce large learning gains for a wide range of students, including those who have fallen behind academically. In fact, high-impact tutoring is one of the most effective academic interventions, with evidence of greater impact than class-size reduction or technology support. A recent meta-analysis reviewed tutoring interventions that have been evaluated by randomized controlled trials in the past few decades and found that, on average, tutoring increased learning the equivalent of students attending an additional 3-15 months of school.For more information on what we mean by rigorous research of high-impact tutoring programs, see How to Gather Rigorous Evidence of Your Program’s Effectiveness

For students from lower income families, tutoring is one of the most impactful educational approaches. A 2017 study examined interventions that aimed to improve the educational achievement for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in elementary and middle school. Of all the interventions examined, tutoring was both the most common and the most effective.

For decades, families with means have hired tutors when their children fall behind in school. And it makes good sense; tutoring consistently ranks among the most effective evidence-based interventions for students struggling in math and reading. A review of almost 200 studies found that high-dosage tutoring — delivered more than three days per week or at a rate of at least 50 hours over 36 weeks — is one of the few school-based interventions with demonstrated large, positive effects on both math and reading.

While the research evidence shows that tutoring interventions can have positive impacts on student learning, past efforts to scale tutoring programs have not always been successful. For instance, tutoring incentivized through No Child Left Behind supplementary education services had mixed results. However, there is evidence that high-dosage tutoring can be scaled and still retain effectiveness. Fifteen larger-scale tutoring programs increased student learning by an average of 2-10 additional months of learning. As often occurs in interventions, program effect sizes somewhat decreased as programs scaled; however, even the large programs still led to meaningful learning.

Few studies to date have directly tested the importance of different mechanisms or specific characteristics of tutoring programs. Existing studies have, instead, assessed the effects of programs which are an amalgamation of features. Nonetheless, we have identified certain characteristics that tend to be present in effective programs. Based on the current research and best practices, high-impact tutoring programs tend to include the following characteristics:

  • high-dosage delivery (i.e., three or more sessions per week of required tutoring);
  • a stated focus on cultivating tutor-student relationships;
  • use of formative assessments to monitor student learning;
  • alignment with the school curriculum; and
  • formalized tutor training and support.

Our Framework for High-Impact Tutoring delineates these features, and our Research Agenda summarizes the research on which the framework is based. Further considerations and best practices for practitioners who want to implement tutoring can be found in our informational brief, High-Impact Tutoring: Equitable and Effective Learning Acceleration.

We are looking to partner with school districts and tutoring providers across the country to evaluate the efficacy of high-impact tutoring through rigorous research studies. If interested, click here for more information.