One year of pandemic and various months of school closures later, ascertaining the losses in learning takes on particular relevance. This also begins a debate on the potential programs for recovering this lost learning, particularly among those already registering difficulties prior to the pandemic or that are integrated into more disadvantaged household contexts.
Tutoring programs, thus periods, either individualised or in small groups, of complementary support to students, are among the policies most frequently placed on the table as the means for such recovery. In various pre-pandemic studies, tutoring sessions consistently emerged as one of the programs, if not the program, with the greatest impact and frequently leading to a level of progress equivalent to at least 3 months of learning and this data continues to accumulate.
Characteristics of tutoring programs
A recent article reviewed around 96 studies that evaluated diverse tutorship programs run in various OECD member states. All of these programs were subject to evaluation by random control testing in which the students were allocated to the programs randomly. This ensures that such allocation has not been influenced by any other factor or characteristic of the students or the schools that might bring about bias in the respective evaluation.
Among the studies analysed in the meta-analysis, some are large in scale, spanning between 500 and 7,000 students, and thus evaluations that enable us to arrive at the more specific characteristics that require taking into consideration when expanding this type of program.
Results of more recent tutoring programs
Very recently, the results of the Saga Education program were published detailing this mathematics tutoring program in Chicago that, over two years, reached more than 5,000 9th and 10th year students. The evaluation of this program was also made based on a controlled random test enabling the robust identification of the cause-effect relationship of this type of program. The program took place between 2013 and 2015 with the analysis spanning two groups of students: one that received the program for one year and another that received tutoring for two years.
The students registered were divided up into groups of two students allocated to a tutor for one hour of tutoring per day with 40 minutes of contents specifically designed for the students participating. In total, the students each received an annual total of 140 hours of tutoring.
The tutors recruited were recent-graduates, with their knowledge of mathematics subject to prior testing in conjunction with their interpersonal relationship capacities and who received around 100 hours of training in the summer before the academic year when they began working as tutors.
The impacts of this program are truly impressive. Considering the results for standardised mathematics tests, student participants in the SAGA Education program for a one year period saw their progress double in relation to the average student, reflecting in a rise in their percentile ranking of around 6 points. Students who continued with a second year of tutoring saw their results advance by around 14 percentile points.
The mathematics results of the tutored students rose substantially, by 0.56 points (on a scale of 1-4) with the rate of failure in mathematics dropping by 49%. These impacts were furthermore lasting through time and extended to other subjects not covered by the tutoring. These same students were again observed at the end of the 11th year with the participants in the tutoring program attaining a higher global average in all subjects of 0.18 points (on a scale of 1-4).
Given the scale of these results, the authors sought to identify the mechanism responsible for this impact. One of the hypotheses presented highlights how tutoring complements the learning in a calmer environment than the classroom, where students are more easily able to get distracted. However, analysing the variability in the results across schools with different levels of behaviour, the conclusion reached was that this facet did not explain the impacts of the tutoring programs. Alternatively, the authors propose that these strong positive impacts derive from the more individualised teaching that tutoring provides.
The authors complement their study with cost-benefit analysis of the program. Considering the potential progress in student learning drives a greater likelihood of their attaining school success and therefore higher levels of future income, it is estimated that for each dollar invested in this tutoring program, the return stands at between 2.6 and 6 dollars, levels substantially above those normally encountered for educational programs.
Other programs have focused not on mathematics but on literacy and for younger student ages, in the 1st year, equally returning strong impacts on the learning of students. One example is Reading Recovery, with its tutoring provided by school teachers and that reached over 6,800 students in 1,200 schools across the United States between 2011 and 2015. The impacts on learning reading skills were extremely high and seeing students progress by around 18 percentile points.
Tutoring in the context of the pandemic
These impacts were all measured in a pre-pandemic context, with it feasible that these results would be still more significant after a prolonged period of remote learning, causing delays and inequalities both at the cognitive and the non-cognitive levels. Already during the pandemic, there were tutorship programs launched, for example in Italy for students in primary education. One interesting dimension of this program is that it not only measured academic impacts, returning results similar to those of other tutoring programs, but also measured the impacts on other dimensions such as psychological wellbeing, aspirations and socio-emotional development with all registering significant improvement among students receiving these tutorials.
Apart but connected: Online tutoring and student outcomes during the covid-19 pandemic. (sem data). Acedido a 27 de abril de 2021, em https://www.hks.harvard.edu/publications/apart-connected-online-tutoring-and-student-outcomes-during-covid-19-pandemic
Guryan, J., Ludwig, J., Bhatt, M. P., Cook, P. J., Davis, J. M. V., Dodge, K., Farkas, G., Jr, R. G. F., Mayer, S., Pollack, H., & Steinberg, L. (2021). Not too late: Improving academic outcomes among adolescents (N. w28531). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://doi.org/10.3386/w28531
Nickow, A., Oreopoulos, P., & Quan, V. (2020). The impressive effects of tutoring on prek-12 learning: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the experimental evidence (N. w27476). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://doi.org/10.3386/w27476
One to one tuition | Toolkit Strand. (sem data). Acedido a 27 de abril de 2021, em https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/one-to-one-tuition
Sirinides, P., Gray, A., & May, H. (2018). The impacts of reading recovery at scale: Results from the 4-year i3 external evaluation. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(3), 316–335. https://doi.org/10.3102/0162373718764828