Do this, not that: Using ESSER funds for tutoring

When it comes to high-dosage tutoring programs, here are five things your district or school should be providing.
Dr. Lynn Kepp is the Vice President of Learning Products, Programs, and Services at AVID.
Dr. Lynn Kepp is the Vice President of Learning Products, Programs, and Services at AVID.

There is no doubt that disruptions in instruction and remote learning during the COVID crisis have had detrimental effects on students, especially those in low-income and underserved populations. In fact, the latest studies found that as of June 2021, many students experienced five to nine months of “unfinished learning” as a result of the pandemic.

The good news is that the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was passed into law and includes an unprecedented $122 billion for the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. These funds were allocated to state education agencies and school districts to reopen safely and address the impact the pandemic has had on students.

Of course, it’s up to individual states and districts to determine how to disperse ESSER funds, but many are investing in tutoring programs to help bridge the instruction gap. New data reveals that nearly two-thirds of states are leveraging ESSER funds to expand tutoring programs and accelerate learning. Strategic tutoring programs can offset lost educational opportunities, but there are a few things to consider before going down this road.

What to look for in a tutoring program

To help guide the implementation of tutoring throughout the country, The National Student Support Accelerator, a provider of educational research and resources, shared characteristics that should be included in all high-impact tutoring programs. These are programs that consist of tutoring more than three days per week or at a rate of at least 50 hours over 36 weeks. The characteristics include:

  • Substantial time each week of required tutoring
  • Sustained and strong relationships between students and their tutors
  • Close monitoring of student knowledge and skills
  • Alignment with school curriculum
  • Oversight of tutors to assure quality interaction

This framework for high-dosage tutoring sets the stage, but even schools that follow these recommendations may not get the anticipated results that truly meet students’ social-emotional and academic needs. That’s why it’s important to look at the Accelerator’s recommended characteristics and expand on them to achieve new benchmarks for tutoring success.

Tutoring programs aren’t all equal

AVID Center has engaged more than 3 million students in over 112 million hours of tutoring — and the organization is warning districts to proceed with caution when going all-in with tutoring programs. That’s because not all tutoring programs are created equal. The most successful programs feature a scaffolded and supportive approach that helps students before, during, and after the tutorial. This form of high-impact tutoring puts the student at the heart of the experience, supports their academic routines, and provides them with tutors trained in inquiry and social-emotional learning best practices. With these elements incorporated, tutoring programs create the strongest educational impact and prove a worthy investment.

When it comes to high-dosage tutoring programs, here are five things your district or school should be providing:

  • More Time – Make sure students spend a substantial time each week engaging in tutoring, with time allotted for before the tutoring session, during the session, and after the session. Don’t purchase or implement tutoring models where time is measured in seat hours focused solely on learning from someone with a significant amount of content knowledge or expertise.
  • Strong Relationships – Look for tutoring programs and models that prioritize sustained and strong relationships between students and tutors. Don’t settle for a tutoring model where these relationships develop by happenstance. Tutors need to be trained in the importance of building relational capacity and should be provided with strategies and resources to use for this purpose.
  • Progress Monitoring – Monitoring the development of student knowledge and skills is essential. Don’t adopt a tutoring program or model emphasizing test preparation and excessive repetition. Tutoring should provide students with the opportunity to develop critical thinking while they are learning content knowledge. This can happen at the same time.
  • Curriculum Alignment – Ensure the tutoring aligns with your school curriculum. Don’t let this be more time spent doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results. Ask students to identify gaps in knowledge so that they come prepared for tutoring sessions and learn how to advocate for their learning needs.
  • Quality Engagement – Develop an oversight process that ensures students have quality interactions with tutors and are actively engaged throughout the process. Don’t waste resources on tutoring sessions where students aren’t actively engaged. Investing resources in training tutors to ask questions that encourage students to own the cognitive lift during the session increases student engagement and accelerates learning.

It’s clear we have our work cut out to accelerate learning and prepare students for whatever the future holds. Tutoring programs can be a solution. However, we must know how to implement and advocate for sustainable programs that deliver the best results for students and educators alike.

Dr. Lynn Kepp is the Vice President of Learning Products, Programs, and Services at AVID, a nonprofit training 85,000 educators annually to close the opportunity gap and prepare students for college, careers, and life. She has a Doctorate in Education from UC Riverside with a research focus on Teacher Development and has a Master’s in Science Education from Cal State Fullerton.

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