High-Dose’ Tutoring Boosts Student Scores. Will It Also Work Online?

The pandemic left plummeting test scores in its wake, especially in math. 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results from last year returned historically big declines in scores for fourth and eighth graders in math, leading to fears that catching students up would prove difficult. 

The good news is that this particular malady has a prescription for treatment: “high-dose” tutoring — a concentrated form of small-group study that meets multiple times per week.

The trials showed that for low-income ninth and 10th graders, high-dose tutoring led to a “sizeable” improvement (0.18 to 0.40 standard deviations) in math scores but also an improvement in scores for other subjects. What’s better, the improvements lasted: One-to-two years after tutoring, the bump was still there. 

That high-dose tutoring can be effective was already known, but a study suggests that the improvements are replicable using state metrics, says Jon Baron, a former chair of the National Board for Education Sciences and former vice president of evidence-based policy for Arnold Ventures. The larger lesson of the literature around high-dose tutoring, he says, is that it’s highly sensitive to the details like who’s giving the tutoring and what the curriculum is.

Watered Down?

So far, the rush to provide quality tutoring to K-12 students across the country has snagged.

Thirty-seven percent of schools say that they offer high-dose tutoring, according to a federal survey from last December. But it’s not clear that the billions in federal funding spent to procure tutoring in schools was enough to effectively counter learning declines. 

It’s led to a situation where outsourced, on-demand tutoring options proliferate. These programs often rely on optional tutoring for students that often occurs outside of the normal school day.

Paper CEO Philip Cutler, have said that on-demand options — which, in theory, make it easier to reach more students — are the only way to provide tutoring at the scale necessary to get students back on track academically.

And that’s a challenge facing the tutoring industry.

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