High-dosage tutoring is the best known strategy for learning loss recovery. Is it actually happening?

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Tutoring is an expensive catch-up strategy and not every student in each school gets it. Even among the 37 percent of schools that said they were delivering high-dosage tutoring, only 30 percent of their students were receiving it. This translates into an estimate of 10 percent of public school students nationwide who are receiving high-dosage tutoring.  Most schools said they were relying on diagnostic assessments and teacher referrals to determine which students were the most behind and should be assigned high-dosage tutoring, but some were also giving it to children whose parents had requested it.

Greater numbers of students nationwide were estimated to be receiving standard tutoring (14 percent) and self-paced tutoring (19 percent), both of which are much less costly to implement, but do not have as strong an evidence base. 

It remains unclear how much of the tutoring takes place in person and how much is delivered online. Self-paced tutoring is conducted through online software that mixes instruction with practice questions. But both standard and high-dosage tutoring can be done in-person or virtually. And both can be conducted during the school day or after school. 

Many schools have purchased unlimited online tutoring from for-profit companies, such as Paper, and Varsity Tutors, where students can login anytime for homework help. Companies have marketed this voluntary 24/7 tutoring as high-dosage because, in theory, students could use it frequently. Rachel Hansen, a statistician at the National Center for Education Statistics who oversees the survey, said it’s possible that some schools believed their unlimited online tutoring services were a version of high-dosage tutoring and checked that box on the survey, even though it does not meet the Department of Education’s definition of high dosage. I wonder if far fewer than 10 percent of students are actually getting high-quality tutoring three times or more per week.

Another reason to be cautious about this data is that 13 percent of the schools that were offering high-dosage tutoring also said that their students were receiving it only once or twice a week. That is below the survey’s definition of high-dosage tutoring, which is supposed to take place at least three times a week.

The Institute of Education Sciences, the research and data unit inside the Department of Education, launched the School Pulse Panel during the pandemic to track how teaching and learning is changing. Each month, the survey focuses on a different topic, from remote instruction and quarantines to learning lags. This December survey focused on tutoring and it is the final survey for this group of 2,400 schools during the 2022-23 school year. The department plans to begin surveying a new cohort of schools in the fall of 2023. 

One thing from the current survey that’s clear is that principals believe half of the students in their schools – 49 percent – were behind grade level, far higher than before the pandemic, when 36 percent were behind. Even if effective tutoring really is reaching 10 percent of students (which I doubt), it doesn’t come close to reaching all students who need help.

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