Learning loss is one of the most alarming impacts of the pandemic as COVID-19 upended — and continues to disrupt — day-to-day life in communities around the world. Initially, the pandemic led schools to shutter their doors and attempt improvised distance learning. Using curricula designed for in-person classrooms, educators with little to no online teaching experience struggled to adapt to the new stay-at-home model.
Students logged in late or not at all. They grew distracted or tuned out of the lessons being presented. Some 1.1 million students were “lost” from the nation’s public schools, according to education nonprofit The 74. That student dropout crisis has since extended beyond K-12, with dismally low college enrollment figures showing nearly 1 million fewer students signing up for classes, per Inside Higher Ed.
Among the resources being offered by APR ESSER are a myriad of tutoring-related initiatives aimed at helping school districts partner with tutors who can not only help mitigate the learning loss, but perhaps overcome it altogether.
What is APR ESSER?
The American Rescue Plan was signed into law in March 2021, dedicating $1.9 trillion to addressing various Covid-related problems. Out of that jaw-dropping sum, an impressive $122 billion was earmarked for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. Some estimates are as high as $190 billion in total going to schools across the country.
As noted on the ARP ESSER Fact Sheet, states were directed to disburse at least 90% of funds to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) to “[h]elp meet a wide range of needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including reopening schools safely, sustaining their safe operation, and addressing students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs resulting from the pandemic.”
From their respective allocations, LEAs must use at least 20% of the funds granted to “address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and ensure that those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups.”
These underrepresented subgroups are defined on the fact sheet as:
Each major racial and ethnic group
Children from low-income families
Children with disabilities
Students experiencing homelessness
Children and youth in foster care
But how are schools using their ARP ESSER funds to “address learning loss?” What are the “evidence-based interventions” being implemented, and how do administrators ensure those interventions are sufficiently responding to the myriad and complex needs of so many different student groups?
As mentioned, tutoring has proven itself to be the best solution for these issues. That is why so many schools are using ARP ESSER funds to ramp up their tutoring programs on such large scales. They’re literally altering the landscape of the tutoring profession.
How is APR ESSER tied to tutoring?
In the past, when the nation’s educational system faced troubles, the federal government tried to solve things by throwing money at the problem. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a fair example. Even though there were “pros” to the initiative, the list of “cons” overwhelmed the positive results. As posted by the NGO Vittana, “the structure of NCLB was more about money than student learning.” In fact, there were even instances of districts declining federal funds to avoid “bureaucratic nightmares” or being “liable for the outcomes.”
Obviously the Department of Education wants schools to be comfortable accepting ARP ESSER funding, and it wants administrators to feel secure knowing what is expected when they do. That is one of the main reasons why access to ARP ESSER funds come with the strict criteria it does — so that schools don’t run afoul of the same mistakes again. Hence the need for utilizing “evidence-backed” strategies like tutoring.
In the race to address learning loss in the face of twin predicaments — a pandemic followed by a national teacher shortage — tutoring has emerged as the clear winner, with plenty of supporting research behind it.
How to implement effective, high impact tutoring with ARP ESSER funds?
One educational center leading the charge for tutoring research is the National Student Support Accelerator (NSSA), run by The Annenberg Institute based at Brown University. NSSA declared its mission to “accelerate the growth of high impact tutoring opportunities for K-12 students in need.” Indeed, the Accelerator’s core values of “student-centered acceleration,” “equity-based,” and “evidence-backed” align perfectly with the demands of the ESSER.
Tutoring, as defined by NSSA, “is a form of teaching, one-on-one or in a small group, towards a specific goal.” But, more specifically, NSSA advocates for high impact tutoring, which it claims “leads to substantial learning gains for students by supplementing (but not replacing) students’ classroom experiences. High impact tutoring responds to individual needs and complements students’ existing curriculum.”
How do districts integrate high impact tutoring effectively? The National Student Support Accelerator lists five key features of effective tutoring which can serve as steps for districts to take when implementing programs. These steps are:
Embed tutoring into school days (or immediately before or after)
Schedule at least three 30-60 minute, high-impact sessions per week with 1-4 students per group
Maintain tutor consistency and ensure tutors receive oversight and coaching
Inform sessions via use of student progress data, when available (note, Pearl’s tutoring software is able to collect data points to help programs improve and show impact)
Aligning tutoring sessions with the classroom curriculum
Quality engagement during sessions
School leaders should take note of both sets of guidelines as they go about putting their ESSER funds to good use. In its High Impact Tutoring Toolkit, NSSA offers advice to LEAs to ensure their programs are established “with fidelity and equitably across student populations.” LEAs are encouraged to create teams of key players who can set vision and strategy, monitor progress, and ensure district needs are being met.
These teams are also responsible for finding and partnering with appropriate tutors who can match those high impact tutoring needs. In many cases, schools should consider online tutoring providers. After all, tutors don’t always have the flexibility to come out in-person three times a week for only a half hour at a time. When searching for quality tutors, it’s important to keep their interests in mind and not just the schools’.
But the online format gives extra flexibility to students, too. Sometimes tutoring sessions must be done before or after school, making an online lesson more manageable, especially when parents’ schedules don’t allow them to alter the pick up and drop off times of their children. The key to effective tutoring is to make it accessible and convenient.
Naturally, online tutors still need to align their work to complement the school’s curriculum. When tutors use only their own materials, it can increase student frustration and potentially lead to confusion. Thus, teachers should share with tutors which instructional materials they’re using, along with details on where the class is currently at and which areas tutored students are behind in.
How is the tutoring industry changing because of APR ESSER?
In Pearl’s recent Pearls of Wisdom webinar interview with Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact, Steck discussed best practices for schools who are receiving APR ESSER funding to hire and train “rockstar tutors.” Given the large number of tutors needed in many districts, Steck suggests looking for qualified, trainable tutors in areas such as:
In-service teacher pools
Teacher aide undergraduates or graduate students
Undergraduates majoring in subjects other than the ones needed
Organizations that employ tutors
But finding tutors is only the first step. The trick is ensuring they are properly trained and monitored for performance. ARP ESSER funds can help in these areas. The extra funds allow for closer partnerships by providing schools the means and incentives to offer tutors professional development, better feedback for improvement, and better tools such as high-tech, online tutoring platforms (like Pearl).
As Mr. Steck noted in the webinar, tutor training and performance monitoring are vital elements to success. He advises providing on-the-job training (or OJT) similar to in-service teacher coaching, along with timely feedback related to their instruction. The persons providing this feedback to tutors should speak with students and parents to garner their personal insights. Feedback providers may also refer to surveys, which can help schools gain deeper understanding into how well tutoring programs are working in relation to predetermined goals.
Finally, tutoring feedback should be informed by data which can be drawn from using a system to track student growth over the course of sessions. Pearl works with educational institutions and tutoring companies who’ve received ARP ESSER funding to incorporate scalable tutoring software technology into their programs which can help capture such data. Pearl also offers educational institutions direct assistance to help them take advantage of ARP ESSER funds.
These are just a few of the many changes in the world of tutoring, which can continue to evolve and align with district goals when APR ESSER funds are implemented in an informed and timely manner.
Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the combined consequences on health, the economy, and K-12 schools started to take their toll. Students around the country found themselves attending classes online from home, but while some thrived, many experienced hardships and struggled to stay engaged. The pandemic’s effects were especially hard on students from low-income families, with impacts such as more profound learning loss, wider knowledge gaps, and increased absenteeism.
The country is now well into its third year coping with this continuing crisis, and many valuable lessons have been learned along the way. Several academic organizations have researched the above-mentioned impacts that remote learning has had on at-risk students and have explored ways to address the damage of learning loss and mitigate it moving forward. One such institute is the Annenberg Institute at Brown University in Rhode Island, whose director, Dr. Susanna Loeb, is featured in a Pearls of Wisdom webinar on our YouTube channel (full video embedded below).
This article will summarize some of the key points on high-impact tutoring that Dr. Loeb made in the January 2022 webinar with our CRO Nate Casey. In the webinar, Dr. Loeb noted that “studies across the nation have shown that students this year are significantly behind similar students in their pre-pandemic learning.” Among the many studies which support her claim is one from curriculum provider Amplify. Amplify’s research revealed that of ~400,000 kindergartners whose data was reviewed, only 37% were on track in their early reading skills, equating to an 18% drop from pre-pandemic years. It further observed that students’ learning loss “due to COVID may have life-long consequences if they are not provided with additional instructional support.”
The McKinsey report further cited that the “pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest.” Black students experienced particularly harmful effects, with “six months of unfinished learning” in math alone (and seven months for those in low-income schools).
As a result, McKinsey projected that affected high school students are more likely to drop out and seniors are less likely to attend college. As a result, long-term effects might likely include significantly lower lifetime earnings and putting future generations at risk by perpetuating a cycle of educational and economic obstacles.
To break the cycle, Dr. Loeb has met with educators and education leaders to discuss and identify solutions. Chief among the listed possible solutions is tutoring. “Tutoring rose to the top,” asserted Dr. Loeb in the webinar, “because of the large body of research pointing to its effectiveness in catching students up across grade levels and content areas.” She praised tutoring as a “high-potential option for catching students up, re-engaging them in school, and broadly reducing some of the striking and expanding inequalities.”
However, tutoring is not without its own challenges, which is why Dr. Loeb and others aim to avoid the mistakes of past decades. “Many of us remember the No Child Left Behind era in which billions were spent on a type of tutoring that turned out not to be terribly effective or equitable,” she cautioned. She also acknowledged the challenge of scaling tutoring efforts to a magnitude large enough to make a difference.
To address these hurdles, Dr. Loeb suggests a method known as high-impact tutoring. “Effective tutoring requires more than just high-dosage (the amount of tutoring a student participates in). The consistency of the tutor, the tutor’s training and ongoing coaching, and the use of data and high-quality materials for instruction are also important to ensure effectiveness.”
In the webinar, Dr. Loeb reviewed the hallmarks of high-impact tutoring, which include:
Embedded tutoring – done during the school day, a minimum of 3 days per week
Use of small groups – up to 3 students
Use of student learning data – to inform tutoring sessions and focus lessons on student needs, thus accelerating learning
Consistency – using tutors who are trained and supported, resulting in positive and effective tutor-student relationships
Discussing these highlights, Dr. Loeb noted the key element of maintaining quality while scaling. “The desire to increase scale tends to come with a push to decrease quality, increasing the number of students per tutor or decreasing the number of times per week or not providing coaching for tutors.” For this reason, she emphasizes “high-impact instead of high-dosage” approaches.
“High-impact programs provide a lot of tutoring with quality,” she stated in the webinar. “It is clearly better to give a smaller number of students really high-quality tutoring than all students low-quality tutoring to increase equity.”
“The benefit of tutoring,” she continued, “comes from two mechanisms: the close relationship that students and tutors develop, and the focus on the individual student’s specific needs. The tutor has to have the data and take the time to know what the student knows and doesn’t know.” Homing in more on the importance of data, she pointed out that “high-impact tutoring uses formative assessments to understand what students know and don’t know.” Thus, data is vital “to identify and address issues and to continuously improve.”
In closing, Dr. Loeb reiterated how modern research offers ample proof in support of her proposals. “Rarely in research do we have so much evidence pointing to the promise of a specific intervention. High-impact tutoring is really the only intervention that has proven effectiveness across a range of grade levels, content areas, and locations. The driving force behind its effectiveness is the excellent relationships tutors and students develop. Our goal at the Annenberg Institute is to provide all students with the same access to high-impact tutoring.”
Stay tuned for Parts II and III of our recap of Dr. Susanna Loeb’s webinar with Pearl’s Nate Casey. These upcoming articles will review how the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator aims to help students recover from learning loss (in Part II), and will offer a comparison of online and in-person tutoring effectiveness and how to find the most effective tutoring strategies (in Part III).
You can also watch the full webinar below and be sure to sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars!
Continuity of learning is an important consideration in ensuring students’ performance during an extended absence. Think back to your first day of school after a long summer break. There’s a good chance that you wouldn’t perform very well if you took a test on last year’s knowledge right then and there. This reduction in performance is a well-documented phenomenon known as summer learning loss, and it’s the reason why there are summer classes or intervention programs.
Now scale up the problem to almost a year without school, and you get the learning loss associated with COVID-19. What’s more, besides the lack of schooling, many students were also unable to leave their homes at all during the pandemic, creating listless kids who couldn’t do anything else but stay cooped up at home.
What Is the Extent of COVID-19 Learning Loss?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the response across countries has varied, resulting in differences in how the pandemic-induced learning loss has occurred.
However, according to one study, learning loss is still present even in “best-case scenarios” such as the Netherlands, where lockdown was only 8 weeks long and educational funding and internet access are widespread. Even with these advantages, national examination results revealed that students suffered a loss of approximately 3 percentile points, which translates to about a fifth of a school year.
A study by the Asian Development Bank also shows that learning losses are proportionate to the length of school closure. In Pacific regions, schools remained mostly open, and experienced learning losses of about 8%. Meanwhile, South Asian schools were closed for much longer periods of time, resulting in learning losses of up to 55%!
Furthermore, research by McKinsey during the early pandemic illustrated how learning loss may also impact future earnings for American students. Based on an epidemiological scenario where classes did not resume until January 2021 (closely mirroring the real-world results), McKinsey predicted losses of $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings for K-12 students.
Tutoring: A Powerful Tool to Combat COVID-19 Learning Loss
It’s clear that COVID-19 learning loss is a real problem with measurable results. Thankfully, there is a powerful tool in the arsenal of parents and educators to combat COVID-19 learning loss and improve student outcomes: tutoring.
Historically, attempts to scale up tutoring across all students have been met with resistance, owing to the financial resources involved in subsidizing tutoring costs for each student. However, with the threat of learning loss looming over every student in America, the government has begun efforts to expand tutoring programs to curb the learning loss fueled by the pandemic.
One such federal government-led effort is the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a $122 billion stimulus package, of which $25 billion is allocated to addressing learning loss. The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) recommends the implementation of programs that are proven to improve student outcomes, including high-impact tutoring.
What Are the Benefits of Tutoring?
Tutoring has long demonstrated its effectiveness in improving educational outcomes. In J-PAL’s meta-analysis of 96 studies on tutoring models, 80% of studies showed that tutoring causes improved outcomes for students. One standout example showed that two-to-one high school tutoring in Chicago accelerated students’ learning in math by as much as 1-2 years! Overall, students experienced an improvement of about 0.37 standard deviations, which translates to a 50th percentile student being bumped up to the 66th percentile.
And this isn’t limited to in-person tutoring. One study showed how online tutoring can cause improvements in test results for students. Another study of Italian middle school students demonstrated that three hours of weekly online tutoring caused a 4.7% increase in math, English, and Italian test scores. This improvement doubled when the duration of weekly tutoring was doubled as well.
What Can Parents Do For Their Child’s Tutoring Needs?
While the education world is finally catching on to the potential benefits of tutoring students to combat learning loss, government action plans may take some time to implement. If you want to minimize your child’s learning losses now, private tutoring is the best course of action. Here are important steps to take to address this issue for your child:
1. Get Professional Private Tutors
The J-PAL study showed that who does the tutoring is a big factor in student outcomes. Trained teachers and professional tutors showed greater outcomes than tutoring programs that were delivered by nonprofessionals and caregivers. It’s important, therefore, to select a tutoring company that uses trained professional tutors to support your child’s needs.
2. Invest in Frequent, Small-Scale Tutoring
Two factors stand out in determining the success of tutoring—the ratio of students to tutors, where one-on-one is best, and the frequency of tutoring. Research has shown that high-dosage tutoring (HDT), defined as one-on-one tutoring three times a week, demonstrates excellent results in improving students’ grades. In contrast, a study showed that four-to-one tutoring resulted in no effects on student outcomes, on average.
One-on-one tutoring costs more, as do more frequent sessions. However, this is a critical part of ensuring the success of your child’s tutoring and preventing the much more costly long-term effects of learning loss on their educational journey and lifetime earnings.
3. The Earlier, the Better
Saga Education, a nonprofit educational consulting company, found that early elementary students strongly benefited from high-frequency tutoring programs compared to late elementary students in reading tutoring. So even your younger children certainly stand to gain from starting early.
Tackle COVID-19 Learning Loss Now
The effects of learning loss compound with time as they remain unaddressed. At the same time, schools are being met with repeated re-openings and closures due to repeated outbreaks, further interrupting the return to normalcy.
To protect your child against learning loss, it’s best to put them on a tutoring program right away to ensure that their learning is supported continuously.
For best results, you should work with a tutoring company that only provides professionally-trained tutors with individualized learning plans for each student as the best student outcomes come from instruction that is tailored to each child’s particular strengths and weaknesses.