J-PAL North America, a research center focused on reducing poverty, recently released a meta-analysis of close to 100 studies of tutoring in literacy and mathematics and found that tutoring programs consistently produced large improvements in learning outcomes for students — with effects that eclipse those of most other educational programs. More importantly, this study synthesizes much of what we know about what makes tutoring effective:
- Programs led by teacher or paraprofessional tutors are generally more effective than those that used nonprofessional (volunteer) or parent tutors.
- The effects tend to be strongest in the early grades.
- Tutoring in reading tends to be relatively more effective for students in preschool through first grade, while math tutoring tends to be more effective for students in later grades.
- Tutoring programs conducted during school tend to have larger impacts than those held after school.
With this information in mind, Kimberly Dadisman, senior policy and research manager for J-PAL North America, and Mark Schneider, director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, recently summarized six principles for doing tutoring right. They include:
- Organize around subjects and grade level combinations.
- Use diagnostic assessments.
- Adopt strategies that serve students from diverse backgrounds, including students with disabilities, English learners and children facing other challenges.
- Avoid reinventing the wheel by identifying tutoring programs that already have evidence of success and focus on scaling them up — always keeping in mind that some programs will fit better with some subject/grade combinations than others.
- Use digital learning platforms by focusing on tutoring programs that already have demonstrated they can be successfully delivered online.
- Treat any rapid expansion of tutoring as an experiment and monitor and rigorously evaluate how different programs perform.