Build equity into the framework of your tutoring program.
Anything worth doing is worth doing right.
And the stakes are high for schools to get it right with tutoring.
Given the relative newness of most schoolwide tutoring programs, data is just starting to roll in on what works and what doesn’t. Unsurprisingly, given its quality and frequency, studies suggest that high-dosage tutoring leads to the best student outcomes.
What Is High-Dosage Tutoring?
Happens at least three times a week.
Occurs in either one-on-one sessions or small groups (no larger than four students to one tutor).
Consistently pairs the same student(s) with the same tutor.
Aligns with a school's curriculum, pacing, scope, and sequence. It goes beyond homework help and complements the content and skills students learn in the classroom.
Uses high-quality instructional materials and highly-qualified instructors with ongoing training and support.
Collects usable student progress data so tutors and teachers can track growth and adjust lessons to meet student needs.
Who Needs High-Dosage Tutoring?
Our most vulnerable learners–low-income students, students of color, those receiving special education services, and English learners—were disproportionately impacted by pandemic-related learning disruptions. And they stand to gain the most from effective and sustainable high-dosage tutoring programs.
These students also have the most at risk if tutoring isn’t designed with them in mind.
Build equity into your district’s tutoring program at the systemic level with these three tutoring best practices.
Best Practice #1: Embed Tutoring Into the School Day
Scheduling can be a bear at the best of times, and teaching all state-mandated standards in the available time is a constant challenge for teachers. So, it’s no surprise that tutoring often gets added to the end of the school day, before the morning bell rings, or during the weekend.
Consider this. Embedding tutoring into the school day ensures that all students have equal access to support. Students won’t worry about potential conflicts outside the school day, such as afterschool jobs or caring for younger siblings or relatives, which lower-income students are more likely to do.
Economically disadvantaged children, who are disproportionately students of color, are also more likely to benefit from tutoring during the school day when they might have easier access to devices, a reliable internet connection, and a quiet and stable learning environment.
Best Practice #2: Make Tutoring Available to All Students
For high-dosage tutoring to have the greatest impact on underserved students, we have to get as many of them as possible working with tutors. Some districts implement tutoring programs to remediate or provide targeted intervention, only serving the students who are most behind.
We can do better. And it starts with universal tutoring.
A 2021 research brief by EdResearch for Recovery (a partnership of researchers at Brown University, Georgetown University, and Harvard University) describes universal tutoring as tutoring “where all students in a grade or school receive tutoring.”
The brief explains that not only does universal tutoring remove the stigma that tutoring is punishment for underperforming, it also “addresses the needs of the mid-performing students, and may provide a vehicle for high-performing students in underserved communities to excel.”
But let’s be honest. It’s often not feasible or affordable for many districts to provide high-dosage, high-quality tutoring to every student. You might need a system to determine who will and won’t get tutoring. How can you do it equitably?
Consider these options for district-wide tutoring that is open to all students, even if not all are required to participate:
Enrolling students in tutoring as the default and requiring them to opt out will keep enrollment high. Behavioral research shows that people are more likely to move forward with pre-selected options. By automatically enrolling every student in tutoring, underserved students might be more willing to try it, although some may opt out.
Involving students’ families will not only get more students involved in tutoring, but the additional level of buy-in and support will make tutoring that much more effective.
Best Practice #3: Hire Tutors Who Are Experienced, Certified Educators
It might feel like common sense to say that teachers make the best tutors. But have you considered that they are also best-positioned to support students facing the largest opportunity gaps?
Many underserved students show up to tutoring sessions unable to recognize their own needs, let alone advocate for themselves. Tutors who are experienced teachers know what students need because they know curricular content–and student behavior–like the back of their hand. And this knowledge matters. Recent research shows that when tutors work to develop rapport with students, attendance improves and gains are more likely to stick.
For this reason, Mathematics Instructional Supervisor Dr. Michelle Dyson of Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland, made it a priority to have tutors with teacher certification when implementing our High-Dosage Tutoring services.
“A lot of times, kids will act like they don’t know why they need tutoring,” says Dr. Dyson. “Or they’ll just say, ‘My parents are making me do this,’ so it’s important to have teachers who understand precisely what students should be learning at their grade level and present those concepts clearly while monitoring for understanding.”
Our virtual tutor team goes a step further and partners with districts to understand their scope and sequence so that students engage with content connected to what they’re learning in the classroom. This accelerates learning for students who just need the right, efficient support to catch up. What’s more, our tutors can administer regular formative assessments via data-driven software, which helps them deliver even more effective tutoring.
Tutors also promote equity by applying a trauma-informed, strength-based approach to the students who often need it most. Effective tutors understand that what may appear like bad behavior, apathy, or resistance on the surface may be a natural response to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Students may be covering for low confidence from years of underachievement and be slow to realize their true academic potential.
Certified, trained teachers are more likely to understand all of this. This is not to say that tutors without classroom experience can’t be trained with this knowledge. But a veteran educator is more likely to show up on day one with the experience and compassion to provide the trauma-informed instruction that all students need and deserve.
If you’re seeking a partner to deliver tutoring services (rather than directly vetting, hiring, and training tutors yourself), make sure to check the qualifications of the vendors’ tutors. For example, the reading and math tutors on the Carnegie Learning Virtual Tutor Team undergo a rigorous vetting process that includes an active state teaching certification and a lesson demonstration, and they receive ongoing training in trauma-informed pedagogy and other teaching best practices.
A Rising Tide
High-dosage tutoring will only accelerate learning for our marginalized students if we make sure to implement best practices that intentionally and systemically promote equity. And as your school district implements tutoring programs with equity in mind, all students will benefit–academically, socially, and emotionally. You’ll notice the difference in the classroom, in the hallways, and on assessments. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s raise the tide for all students by raising the bar for tutoring!
Amy is passionate about researching and writing about urgent topics in education to help educators stay up-to-date on the best practices. As a former teacher of English writing, EFL, and ESL, she is dedicated to supporting educators and students.Explore more related to this author
Our most vulnerable learners–low-income students, students of color, those receiving special education services, and English learners—were disproportionately impacted by pandemic-related learning disruptions. And they stand to gain the most from effective high-dosage tutoring programs.