Research Studies

Research Notes: “Short Bursts” of High-Impact Tutoring Led to Big Reading Gains

Students continue to struggle academically after the pandemic, yet federal relief funds to support their recovery are set to expire soon. As a result, state and school district leaders are searching for the most cost-effective strategies to help students recoup learning. A recent working paper presents the results of a randomized controlled trial of an early reading tutoring program designed to be affordable at scale.

Researchers Kalena Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb, and Carly Robinson of the National Student Support Accelerator randomly assigned 800 Florida kindergartners to receive or not receive tutoring in early reading. Tutoring provider Chapter One specialized in embedding part-time tutors into classrooms for “short bursts” of individual tutoring. Tutors met one-to-one with the assigned kindergartners for five-to-10 minute tutoring sessions over the course of the year. Kindergartners receiving tutoring also took part in 15-minute daily independent practice sessions using a Chapter One tablet. The tutors tracked student progress and met frequently with teachers to review the data they collected digitally. Chapter One used that data to tailor its tutoring to students’ evolving needs over time, adjusting session length and frequency based on each student’s progress over the year.

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FutureEd Study Identifies 6 Factors of Successful High-Dosage Tutoring

The study identifies "high-dosage" tutoring as "programs with four or fewer students working with the same tutor for at least 30 minutes during the school day, three times a week for at least several months."

The study report, "Learning Curve: Lessons from the Tutoring Revolution in Public Education," examines three school systems that met the challenge successfully. It also discusses the role of AI in tutoring and how to fund successful tutoring programs.

The study was researched and written by FutureEd policy director Liz Cohen, in partnership with Stanford University's National Student Support Accelerator.

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WEBINAR: Scaling and Sustaining High-Quality Tutoring

As many as 80 percent of school districts and charter school organizations have launched tutoring programs to help students rebound from the pandemic. The challenge now is to scale evidence-based tutoring that gets results and sustain it beyond the fast-approaching deadline to spend federal pandemic-relief funds.

To learn more about how districts are doing this, FutureEd Policy Director Liz Cohen will moderate a discussion featuring:

  • Zenovia Crier, principal of Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in Odessa, Texas
  • Michael Duffy, president of the Great Oaks Foundation
  • Katie Hooten, executive director of Teach for America’s Ignite tutoring program
  • Susanna Loeb, executive director of the National Student Support Accelerator at Stanford University

Short ‘Bursts’ of Tutoring Can Boost Reading Skills

Students who participated in Chapter One—a nonprofit tutoring program that serves elementary children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom—in their first two grades had higher oral-reading fluency and better performance on district reading tests than untutored students, finds a study released this month by the National Student Support Accelerator, which studies ways to scale up effective models for high-intensity tutoring.
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Academic Recovery’s a Long-Term Challenge. Tutoring Must Be Part of the Solution

Second, a policy framework that supports the growth of genuinely effective high-dosage tutoring. This means direct funding and flexibility to pay for tutoring, which can cost anywhere from under $1,000 to more than $3,000 per student. Policymakers must also require reporting from school districts on tutoring delivery at the student level. The “dosage” piece of high-dosage tutoring is non-negotiable for getting results, so It is unacceptable to pay for services without knowing and reporting which students received exactly how many tutoring sessions. Additionally, policymakers can put guardrails on which types of tutoring and which specific programs are eligible for public funding. Our partners at the National Student Support Accelerator have created excellent guides correlating research-backed principles with student success. And individual programs continue to produce research showing their own efficacy.

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Learning Curve: Lessons from the Tutoring Revolution in Public Education

How often does it happen that a national policy priority, robust research, and the aspirations of classroom teachers converge? On an issue with bipartisan support, no less? Not very often.

But tutoring is an exception. As many as 80 percent of school districts and charter school organizations have launched tutoring programs to help students rebound from the pandemic.

Scaling-Up High-Dosage Tutoring Is Crucial to Students’ Academic Success

High-dosage tutoring, sometimes called “high-impact” or “high-intensity” tutoring, is one of the few school-based interventions with demonstrated significant positive effects on math and reading achievement. Yet high-dosage tutoring is a very specific form of tutoring that must meet specific criteria:

  • One-on-one or small-group sessions with no more than four students per tutor
  • Use of high-quality materials that align with classroom content
  • Three tutoring sessions per week—at minimum—each lasting at least 30 minutes
  • Sessions held during school hours
  • Students meeting with the same tutor each session
  • Professionally trained tutors who receive ongoing support and coaching
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Study: ‘Short Burst’ Tutoring in Literacy Shows Promise for Young Readers

Small, regular interactions with a reading tutor — about 5 to 7 minutes — are making a big impact on young students’ reading skills, new Stanford University research shows.

First graders in Florida’s Broward County schools who participated in the program, called Chapter One, saw more substantial gains in reading fluency than those who didn’t receive the support, according to the study. They were also 9 percentage points less likely to be considered at risk on a district literacy test.

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PROOF POINTS: Four lessons from post-pandemic tutoring research

The first randomized controlled trial of a virtual tutoring program for reading was conducted during the 2022-23 school year at a large charter school network in Texas. Kindergarten, first and second graders received 20 minutes of video tutoring four times a week, from September through May, with an early reading tutoring organization called OnYourMark. Despite the logistical challenges of setting up little children on computers with headphones, the tutored children ended the year with higher DIBELS scores, a measure of reading proficiency for young children, than students who didn’t receive the tutoring. One-to-one video tutoring sometimes produced double the reading gains as video tutoring in pairs, demonstrating a difference between online and in-person tutoring, where larger groups of two and three students can be very effective too. That study was published in October 2023. 

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