Policymakers must take action to support states and districts in implementing high-dosage tutoring to ensure opportunities for student success

Scaling-up high-dosage tutoring is crucial to students’ academic success


Policymakers must take action to support states and districts in implementing high-dosage tutoring to ensure opportunities for student success

This article was originally published by the Center for American Progress.

Key points:

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have faced unprecedented levels of learning loss because of school closures and interrupted learning. In fact, recent national testing shows a decline in math scores in 43 states1 and reading scores in 30 states,2 while no states saw an improvement in scores for either subject. Nationwide, 64 percent of fourth graders are below proficient in math3 and 66 percent are below proficient in reading.4 The scores remain grim for older students, with 73 percent of eighth graders below proficient in math5 and 69 percent below proficient in reading.6 Public school leaders estimate that 49 percent of students began the 2022-23 school year behind grade level in at least one subject.7 As students across the country continue to struggle academically and as educators work to catch students up, policymakers must ensure that they are properly scaling academic recovery strategies to reach as many students as possible before it is too late.

The pandemic left students, on average, five months behind in math and four months behind in reading by the end of the 2021-22 school year, with even more significant losses for students in majority-Black or low-income schools.8 This gap shows an increased inequality in educational outcomes across racial and socioeconomic lines.9 As educators work to catch students up academically, analyses reinforce the importance of supporting this generation, predicting that students affected by the pandemic may earn up to $61,000 less over their lifetime, with a resulting impact on the U.S. economy that could amount to $188 billion every year as this cohort enters the workforce.10

Thankfully, extensive research points toward one incredibly effective option in recovering learning loss: high-dosage tutoring.11 As states, districts, and even the federal government begin to implement tutoring initiatives to address learning loss, it is important that they consider the type of tutoring being offered. Not all forms of tutoring reap the same benefits, and districts may need help in determining how to select and implement the best programs.

High-dosage tutoring

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.12 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

High-dosage tutoring is most effective when the program supports data use and when tutors use ongoing informal assessment to tailor individual student instruction. As a bonus, these sessions can allow educators more opportunities to measure student achievement through informal assessments, potentially providing new holistic accountability measures.

Studies continuously show the benefits of high-dosage tutoring: It increases students’ learning by an additional three to 15 months across grade levels;13 moves an average student from the 50th percentile to the 66th percentile;14 and is, overall, 20 times more effective than standard tutoring models for math and 15 times more effective for reading.15 These increases in achievement show great potential for using high-dosage tutoring as a school improvement strategy. As schools continue to focus on long-term improvement of their education, implementing a high-dosage tutoring program can provide them with the tools necessary to ensure students’ academic achievement by catching knowledge gaps early, meeting students where they are, and providing evidence-based intensive recovery. Indeed, implementing these programs with fidelity allows schools to recover current learning loss while also gaining the long-term knowledge and skill to scale programming as needed moving forward.

Unfortunately, there are many challenges districts and schools face in implementing high-dosage tutoring programs. Amid a teacher shortage, labor challenges persist in hiring tutors.16 Moreover, schools often face complex logistical issues when it comes to training tutors properly,17 rescheduling the school day to fit in a tutoring block, and vetting tutoring services run by outside companies.18 In addition to these challenges, funding concerns are often at the top of school leaders’ minds. While COVID-19 relief funds provided targeted funding for high-quality tutoring, those funds are set to expire at the end of 2024. And unfortunately, many schools lack long-term investments that can be directed toward effective tutoring programs.

Current implementation efforts

While more than 80 percent of schools offer at least one type of tutoring in the 2022-23 school year, the modes and student participation levels vary.19 The School Pulse Panel collected data from a representative sample of more than 1,000 public K-12 schools in December 2022, providing insight into what tutoring services they offer.20 The survey estimated that only 37 percent of schools offer high-dosage tutoring and, nationwide, only 11 percent of public school students participate in high-dosage tutoring—despite recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores showing that a vast majority of students are below proficient in reading and math. Schools were found to be most likely to offer standard tutoring, a less intensive method of tutoring provided by educators, with 59 percent of schools reportedly offering this method.

Despite the evidence-based benefits of high-dosage tutoring, only a small share of students receive this service. To adequately recover learning loss and ensure a brighter future for this generation, high-dosage tutoring programs must be properly scaled to reach more students.

Policy recommendations

Despite strong evidence pointing to the effectiveness of high-dosage tutoring, logistical challenges have prevented many schools from providing this valuable service to their students. The federal government can further assist districts in the following ways as they work to support students.

Designate long-term funding for high-dosage tutoring

While COVID-19 relief funds have played a vital role in district and state efforts to recover learning loss, these funds are due to expire in September 2024. However, reports estimate that it will take three to five years to recover learning loss at the current rate of recovery—time that, unfortunately, older students may not have.21 Without continued funding, districts will likely face disruptions in their recent efforts, reducing the long-term benefits these evidence-based practices can provide.22

To prevent this, Congress must consider providing additional funding to public schools to implement high-dosage tutoring on a long-term basis, with particular emphasis on schools serving low-income students. Without increased federal and state funding, districts will be much slower to recover learning loss as they face more barriers to success. Most importantly, districts must, at a minimum, maintain all funding in upcoming federal budget discussions.

While funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is available to districts for tutoring purposes, it is challenging and unsustainable for districts to reroute how they have historically used these funds.23 Estimates suggest districts must spend between $1,200 and $2,500 per student each year to provide high-dosage tutoring effectively.24 Without additional funding, they have few options and may need to diminish other vital programs to shift funds toward high-dosage tutoring.

To adequately invest in high-dosage tutoring, policymakers should allocate additional funding through a new grant program accessible to all populations, specifically to implement high-dosage tutoring programs. As Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds wind down, new funding avenues are vital to continue this work and successfully recover learning loss to set this generation on a better path.

Continue to grow awareness and reach of the National Partnership for Student Success

Recognizing student learning loss, the White House, in coordination with AmeriCorps and the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center, launched the National Partnership for Student Success (NPSS) in July 2022 to supply 250,000 tutors and mentors in K-12 public schools over the next three years.25 NPSS estimates that in its first year, 78,000 additional adults have provided high-intensity tutoring.26 The partnership has also developed the NPSS support hub, which provides technical assistance and resources at no cost,27 and has formed a network of organizations doing similar work that can support one another and share information. In addition, NPSS established a higher education coalition focused on placing more college students in school support roles, such as high-dosage tutors.

The work NPSS is doing plays an essential role in the initiative to increase the number of students receiving high-dosage tutoring. The NPSS support hub is crucial in providing guidance and technical support to districts, states, and organizations. This includes one-on-one support and published resources accessible to the public. These resources include guides on creating a state partnership for student success, a district partnership toolkit, and voluntary quality standards.28 As education leaders focus efforts on addressing learning loss, they must have access to NPSS as a valuable network with expertise in high-dosage tutoring and implementation.

For its efforts to be most effective, the White House must work to increase awareness of these resources by marketing the work of NPSS to states. NPSS can market its services through its hub and networks of organizations. States should, likewise, spread awareness of NPSS and the organization’s resources to local school districts.

Expand the federal work-study program

College students are one population education leaders are trying to tap to support the staffing issues schools face when implementing high-dosage tutoring programs. While high-dosage tutoring requires professionally trained tutors, many examples exist of colleges, school districts, and even third-party entities providing professional training before and during college students’ service to meet this requirement.

Recognizing this population’s value, NPSS formed a higher education coalition focused on placing college students in school support roles.29 Additionally, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a letter encouraging colleges, universities, and school districts to collaborate to use federal work-study (FWS) and other federal resources to increase the number of college students in these roles.30 FWS, a program that provides paid part-time jobs for college students with financial need, is an existing resource colleges and universities can use to partner with their local school districts and provide additional tutors. However, limitations regarding FWS’ funding formula and regulations related to where students can work prohibit the program from more effectively benefiting communities. To provide more tutors, Congress should consider amending FWS, including by allowing college students to serve as tutors in all academic subject areas for grades pre-K-12, rather than current regulations that restrict this to reading tutors for pre-K-6.

Universities and colleges must market these school support roles as a type of FWS employment to increase the number of college students serving in these roles. Doing so will allow universities and colleges to build stronger connections with their local school districts and better serve their communities. At the same time, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of providing quality training for college students who will serve as tutors to ensure they meet the high-dosage tutoring criteria. These partnerships must ensure that the college or university, local school district, or a third-party provider offers free, high-quality training before and throughout the college student’s service for continued support. For example, in partnership with Annenberg Learner and Step Up Tutoring, Arizona State University is building a program with stackable microcredentials accessible for free to anyone interested in becoming a high-dosage tutor.31 This is just one resource that partnerships can utilize to ensure tutors are professionally trained and prepared to support students.

Collect more robust data on tutoring

Currently, the availability of federal data on tutoring initiatives is limited. While the School Pulse Panel provides some insight into the tutoring students receive, there are limitations. To better understand recovering learning loss efforts nationwide, the Department of Education must collect more in-depth data from districts across the country.

In developing a more robust data collection tool, the department should first consider providing precise definitions of high-dosage tutoring, standard tutoring, and self-paced tutoring. While the most recently administered survey defines high-dosage tutoring, it fails to state that this form of tutoring must occur during the school day. Additionally, despite the Education Department providing its definition, 13 percent of schools who say that they offer high-dosage tutoring also note that their students only receive it once to twice weekly.32 Given high-dosage tutoring’s requirement of at least three sessions per week, these responses are contradictory. The department should therefore consider providing a more precise definition, emphasizing that programs must meet all criteria to be regarded as high-dosage tutoring. Moreover, it must give that precise definition multiple times throughout the survey to reduce confusion.

New data collection should also include information on student progress through high-dosage tutoring programs. As previously mentioned, high-dosage tutoring is most effective when it supports ongoing data collection and when tutors use ongoing informal assessments to measure student achievement. Offering insight into students’ grade-level achievement will provide more transparency on the success of programs. In addition to this quantitative data, these efforts should include a collection of best practices and innovations that are easily shared across the country for educators to utilize in their implementation efforts.

To increase school participation, the Education Department may consider clarifying the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) required accountability indicators to include student participation in high-dosage tutoring programs as an opportunity dashboard indicator.33 ESSA requires state-designed accountability systems to include several indicators, including math and reading assessments, graduation rates, and English language proficiency.34 The law also requires at least one indicator of school quality and student support, known as the “opportunity dashboard” indicator. This allows for greater flexibility, including the use of student engagement and any other state-chosen indicator that allows for meaningful differentiation of school performance. Issuing guidance that clarifies that this component could include reporting student engagement in high-dosage tutoring programs, as well as guidance on how to best collect this data, may lead to more states and schools using high-dosage tutoring participation as a school-based indicator in their accountability systems. With this increased transparency, more research can be conducted on the success of high-dosage tutoring by comparing student participation rates and statewide or national assessments.

It is essential that this data collection is robust, public, and easily accessible. Having access to such data would allow education leaders and policymakers at all levels to make evidence-based decisions. When robust data are not collected and made public, policymakers are more likely to draw conclusions that are not evidence-based and have the potential of further harming students. For example, some policymakers—based on low-quality data—may be led to believe that high-dosage tutoring has been properly implemented and yet has made little impact on testing results. However, with robust data, policymakers can better visualize the lack of proper implementation and the barriers to successfully scaling high-dosage tutoring programs. Developing a stronger understanding of the programming occurring in schools is necessary for policy to be effective in supporting students.

Conclusion

As students struggle to catch up, the federal government must step up to support states and districts in implementing effective high-dosage tutoring programs. With dedicated long-term funding for high-dosage tutoring, continued support through the National Partnership for Student Success, expanded federal work-study regulations, and more robust data collection, districts will be better equipped to support students in learning loss recovery. This work is vital to ensuring the success of a generation and the U.S. economy’s future.

Endnotes

  1. The Nation’s Report Card, “NAEP Report Card: 2022 NAEP Mathematics Assessment,” available at https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/mathematics/2022/ (last accessed January 2024).
  2. The Nation’s Report Card, “NAEP Report Card: 2022 NAEP Reading Assessment,” available at https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/reading/2022/ (last accessed January 2024).
  3. The Nation’s Report Card, “NAEP Report Card: 2022 NAEP Mathematics Assessment.”
  4. The Nation’s Report Card, “NAEP Report Card: 2022 NAEP Reading Assessment.”
  5. The Nation’s Report Card, “NAEP Report Card: 2022 NAEP Mathematics Assessment.”
  6. The Nation’s Report Card, “NAEP Report Card: 2022 NAEP Reading Assessment.”
  7. National Center for Education Statistics, “Administrators Report Roughly Half of Public School Students Began 2022-23 School Year Behind Grade Level in At Least One Academic Subject,” Press release, February 9, 2022, available at https://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/press_releases/2_09_2023.asp.
  8. Emma Dorn and others, “COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning,” McKinsey & Company, July 27, 2021, available at https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning.
  9. Carly Robinson and others, “Design Principles for Accelerating Student Learning With High-Impact Tutoring” (Providence, RI: EdResearch for Action, 2021), available at https://annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/EdResearch_for_Recovery_Design_Principles_1.pdf.
  10. Dorn and others, “COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning.”
  11. Carly D. Robinson and others, “Accelerating Student Learning with High-Dosage Tutoring” (Providence, RI: EdResearch For Recovery, 2021), available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED613847.pdf.
  12. Robinson and others, “Design Principles for Accelerating Student Learning With High-Impact Tutoring.”
  13. Ibid.
  14. Jill Barshay, “PROOF POINTS: Taking stock of tutoring,” The Hechinger Report, February 27, 2023, available at https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-taking-stock-of-tutoring/.
  15. Roland G. Fryer Jr., “The Production of Human Capital in Developed Countries: Evidence from 196 Randomized Field Experiments” (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016), available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w22130.
  16. Barshay, “PROOF POINTS: Taking stock of tutoring.”
  17. Ibid.
  18. Kalyn Belsha, “Sweeping research effort tackles big question: How to get tutoring that works to more kids,” Chalkbeat, October 27, 2022, available at https://www.chalkbeat.org/2022/10/27/23426952/tutoring-research-pandemic-accelerate/.
  19. Jill Barshay, “PROOF POINTS: New federal survey estimates one out of 10 public school students gets high-dosage tutoring,” The Hechinger Report, February 13, 2023, available at https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-new-federal-survey-estimates-one-out-of-10-public-school-students-get-high-dosage-tutoring/.
  20. Institute of Education Sciences, “School Pulse Panel,” available at https://ies.ed.gov/schoolsurvey/spp/ (last accessed January 2024).
  21. Megan Kuhfeld and Karyn Lewis, “Student achievement in 2021-2022: Cause for hope and continued urgency”(Portland, OR: NWEA, 2022), available at https://www.nwea.org/uploads/2022/07/Student-Achievement-in-2021-22-Cause-for-hope-and-concern.researchbrief-1.pdf.
  22. Marguerite Roza and Katherine Silberstein, “The ESSER fiscal cliff will have serious implications for student equity,” Brookings Institution, September 12, 2023, available at https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-esser-fiscal-cliff-will-have-serious-implications-for-student-equity/.
  23. National Student Support Accelerator, “Funding for High-Impact Tutoring” (Stanford, CA: 2023), available at https://studentsupportaccelerator.org/sites/default/files/Funding%20for%20High-Impact%20Tutoring.pdf.
  24. National Student Support Accelerator, “Developing a Budget,” available at https://studentsupportaccelerator.org/district-playbook/section-2/developing-budget#_ftn1 (last accessed January 2024).
  25. The White House, “Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Launches National Effort to Support Student Success,” Press release, July 5, 2022, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/07/05/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-launches-national-effort-to-support-student-success/.
  26. Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes, “Increasing School Capacity to Meet Students’ Post-Pandemic Needs: Findings from the 2022-23 National Partnership for Student Success Principal Survey” (Baltimore, MD: Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, 2023), available at https://www.partnershipstudentsuccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Increasing-School-Capacity-to-Meet-Students-Post-Pandemic-Needs_ECG_Balfanz-Byrnes-FINAL.pdf.
  27. National Partnership for Student Success, “About Us,” available at https://www.partnershipstudentsuccess.org/about/ (last accessed January 2024).
  28. National Partnership for Student Success, “NPSS Support Hub Resources,” available at https://www.partnershipstudentsuccess.org/resources/ (last accessed January 2024).
  29. National Partnership for Student Success, “Colleges & Universities,” available at https://www.partnershipstudentsuccess.org/colleges/ (last accessed January 2024).
  30. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona, “Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary,” U.S. Department of Education, May 10, 2023, available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/230510.html.
  31. Annenberg Learner, “Current Partnerships & Programs,” available at https://www.learner.org/programs/ (last accessed January 2024).
  32. Barshay, “PROOF POINTS: New federal survey estimates one out of 10 public school students gets high-dosage tutoring.”
  33. Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 95, 114th Cong., 1st sess. (December 10, 2015), available at https://www.congress.gov/114/plaws/publ95/PLAW-114publ95.pdf.
  34. National Education Association, “Opportunity Dashboard Indicators in ESSA” (Washington: 2020), available at https://www.nea.org/resource-library/opportunity-dashboard-indicators-essa.

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