A Strategy to Solve Unfinished Learning

As the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and at-home learning continues, there will be a need to help students, especially the nation’s most vulnerable students, complete unfinished learning for weeks, months, and even years to come. Research shows targeted intensive tutoring can help historically underserved students to catch-up to meet high standards. District leaders should follow the research and invest in evidence-based methods to support students to get back on track.

Targeted intensive tutoring, often referred to as high-dosage tutoring, consists of having the same tutor to work over an extended period of time (e.g., all year, every school day) on academic skills, such as math or reading. In the most effective versions, an individual tutor works with one or two students at a time, using a skill-building curriculum closely aligned with the math or reading curriculum used throughout the school and targeted to the student’s academic needs.

What Do We Know About What Works?

District and school leaders considering implementing targeted intensive tutoring as a strategy to help students catch-up will have to make important decisions about hiring, staffing, and training. They also will need to make decisions around grouping, scheduling, and the curriculum. With each decision, district and school leaders will have to balance what the evidence says is most effective with what is most feasible given resource constraints and local context.

How Effective is Intensive Tutoring?

We looked at the research to help leaders navigate complicated decisions. The chart below shows how implementing various features of intensive tutoring impact its effectiveness.

Critical Questions for Leaders

Which students benefit most?

Targeted intensive tutoring is effective for all students, but research shows that younger students benefit the most.

Below are critical questions to ask, based on available research, as schools and districts are building plans to completed unfinished learning.

Who should take on tutoring responsibilities?

The most effective tutors are teachers or those with the most experience and training.

How many students should be placed with a tutor at a time?

Research shows that two students per tutor is the most efficient and effective way to accelerate learning. Also, it shows no more than four students should be placed with a tutor at a time.

What kind of training and materials should schools provide?

The curriculum used during intensive targeted tutoring should be aligned to the curriculum used throughout the school. Tutors who are less familiar with the curriculum should receive ongoing training and support from more experienced educators.

When should educators tutor students?

Intensive targeted tutoring may require adjusting the school day schedule. Educators should tutor students during block of times when students do not have core classes like math or reading. But it is important for students to engage in elective courses and have an adequate break or lunch period – students who perceive tutoring as a punishment may disengage.

How often should students have tutoring sessions?

Students should receive tutoring frequently and regularly throughout the school year. All students who have not yet mastered math and reading standards should receive intensive targeted tutoring.

Resources are limited. Which subject should tutors prioritize?

All students who have not yet mastered math and reading standards should receive intensive targeted tutoring. But schools without the resources to provide tutoring in math and reading should consider prioritizing providing intensive targeted tutoring in math. This is because students are more likely to experience more unfinished learning in math. It is also worth noting that successful completion of high school math courses increases earnings for students of color.