An AI tutor helped this district with reading scores

How an AI tutor more than tripled my school’s literacy rates during the pandemic

The AI tutor helps teachers by lightening workloads and providing recordings and simple reports to understand students’ reading deficiencies

In pandemic and post-pandemic era education, teachers, school leaders, and parents have been concerned with getting kids back on grade level and closing the achievement gap. In fact, according to the most recent Educator Confidence Report from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 62 percent of teachers say students falling behind is a top concern this school year.

Across the nation, schools and districts have utilized additional funding to hire tutors who can provide additional support to students before, during, and even after school in efforts to help kids learn skills that they need to become proficient. 

At Brewbaker Primary School (BPS) in Montgomery, AL, we decided to leverage an AI tutor–Amira by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–to help our students improve their reading achievement. Amira is a 1:1 virtual reading tutor that uses state of the art AI and voice recognition software. Our Amira implementation efforts have yielded astounding and significant learning outcomes.

When I became the principal of Brewbaker Primary School in July of 2020, the Alabama Literacy Act was already established. This law states that all 3rd graders should be able to read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade or risk failing. Reading proficiency was only 18 percent at BPS in 2019 with no spring 2020 data when I arrived. 

This data was a cause for great concern for me as a new principal – and for our entire team. We needed an evidence-based resource that was aligned to the science of reading to help us close reading gaps that existed amongst our 646 Kindergarten-2nd graders at BPS. Amira helped meet the 1:1 reading intervention needs of our students.

In 20 years as an educator with 12 years of experience as a reading specialist, I have never seen a reading software program that is completely driven by the student’s voice. Amira actually listens to children read and provides micro-interventions at the phonetic level just like a real reading interventionist in real time, one by one, for every child simultaneously. Amira not only teaches children and corrects them, but she also assesses students during each practice session. Amira provides hard evidence for us to use in our reading data dialogue meetings by providing recordings of each child’s reading practice and providing a miscue analysis for each practice session. This type of data empowers our teachers to make more informed decisions during our data dialogues so that students are regrouped and provided with the support they need based on how they read and process text.

The impact of Amira reaches far beyond the benefits of our students. Amira has also been quite beneficial to our teachers by lightening their workloads, providing recordings and simple reports to understand students’ reading deficiencies, and automatically monitoring the progress of each child in real-time to track every error, offering interventions for improvement.

Although Amira does a wonderful job of providing 1:1 science of reading tutoring to our students, she does not replace our teachers… she simply extends them. Having an AI tutor like Amira allows teachers more time to work in small groups and individually with students on specific challenges, while the rest of the students simultaneously get the 1:1 reading intervention and support they need from Amira. Teachers using Amira have reported getting 30 minutes back each week to spend on individual student instruction. Our teachers like Amira so much that we decided to expand our implementation from just 1st and 2nd grade, to include kindergarten beginning mid-year this year and last, even though Kindergarteners are not required to read connected text.  

Using Amira with our kindergarten students has already helped us identify our early readers a year in advance by providing them with developmentally appropriate reading foundations practice earlier than required. For our English Language Learners (ELLs), Amira outperforms traditional tutors, because the risk-taking with an avatar is lessened for them— students aren’t embarrassed over their language barrier when reading to Amira. Amira is patient with our students, thereby helping them build the confidence they need to speak English more fluently and become skillful readers.

In July of 2020, only 18 percent of our students demonstrated proficient reading. By the spring of 2021, our students were at 48 percent reading proficiency. In 2022, our students’ reading proficiency increased even more to 62 percent! Amira has more than proven that we needed her when the pandemic began, but our data gains are proof that she will stick around even beyond the pandemic.

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