Let’s make COVID the catalyst for closing long-standing achievement gaps

Here are three key requirements for success
By: | March 28, 2022
Ryan Patenaude is the co-founder and senior vice president of FEV Tutor.

Ryan Patenaude is the co-founder and senior vice president of FEV Tutor.

The impact the global pandemic has had on academic achievement is well-documented, with one analysis suggesting that students had fallen five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, on average, by the end of last year.

This unfinished learning has affected historically disadvantaged students the hardest, such as those who come from low-income families. In providing more than $190 billion in pandemic relief aid to K-12 schools, federal lawmakers specifically cited “addressing learning loss” as one of many eligible uses for the money.

While COVID’s impact on student learning is real, the truth is that learning gaps have always existed between students living in poverty and their peers from more affluent households. The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing achievement gaps among students facing different economic circumstances, and it’s finally time to address these gaps.

The $190 billion in emergency funding for K-12 education marks a pivotal opportunity to find long-term solutions that work in closing these achievement gaps. To be effective, a solution needs to meet these three criteria:

  • Extended learning. Students who have fallen behind where they should be in terms of grade-level achievement aren’t going to be able to catch up with the same amount of instruction. They need opportunities for additional learning time, whether this instruction takes place during the regular school day or after school hours.
  • Individual support. Through one-on-one interaction with a teacher, students can avoid distractions, feel safe in asking questions, and receive the personalized attention that will allow them to succeed. As a result, students can accelerate their learning and achieve grade-level proficiency much more quickly.
  • Targeted, data-driven instruction. When a teacher knows which knowledge and skills students have mastered and which they have yet to learn, that teacher can develop highly personalized learning plans that hone in on each student’s precise needs. Students are working on just what they need to accelerate their learning, with no time wasted—and they’re able to catch up faster.

A high-impact tutoring program is one of the most cost-efficient ways to accelerate learning and close widening achievement gaps, according to research. However, not all tutoring programs offer the same quality of experience.

A report from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University identified key design principles for effective, high-impact tutoring. These research-based principles include one-on-one tutoring that is delivered in high dosages by consistent tutors over time, as well as instruction that is highly personalized using student achievement data.

The most effective programs will meet all of these criteria. For instance, as school systems work to close achievement gaps, they should look for one-on-one tutoring solutions that use a collaborative, data-driven approach to drive real learning outcomes. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, tutoring sessions should be customized based on each student’s specific needs. “Tutoring programs that support data use … allow tutors to more effectively tailor their instruction to individual students,” the Annenberg report observes.

Students should receive targeted, highly engaging instruction from live tutors who are certified teachers in their respective subject area. Students should be able to access this instruction online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using any internet-connected device. This extends learning beyond the traditional school hours and makes instruction available to students anytime, anywhere, so they can take advantage when it’s most convenient for them.

The pandemic has given schools a unique opportunity to do something we should have done a long time ago. The timing is right, and the factors are in alignment to close long-standing achievement gaps once and for all. The technology now exists to scale high-impact, one-on-one tutoring across entire school systems, and COVID has provided schools with the funding to implement an evidence-based solution. Let’s not let this critical opportunity go to waste.

Ryan Patenaude is the co-founder and senior vice president of FEV Tutor, which partners with K-12 school systems to provide personalized, evidence-based one-to-one online tutoring that operates as a natural extension of each student’s core learning environment.

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