Tutoring needs a standard approach to assessments

Feb 9, 2023 | Assessments, Data, EdTech, Tutoring Industry, Tutors

The many variations across hundreds of tutoring RFPs

Each year our public school districts issue hundreds of requests for proposals (RFPs) for high-impact tutoring support, but there is no standard approach to collecting feedback and assessments of the tutoring. Many districts require their tutoring providers to administer academic assessments, while others do not. Here at Pearl, our partners typically follow one of these 4 approaches to assessments:

  1. The tutoring provider uses a specific assessment tool (like iReady or NWEA MAP) to assess students at all stages of a student’s tutoring experience.
  2. The tutoring provider assesses each student’s progress (choosing their preferred benchmark, formative, and other assessment types) with no specific assessment tool requirement other than the assessment questions used must meet the state’s ESSA standards.
  3. The tutoring provider supports students but is not required to administer the assessments. In this case, the district runs the assessments and advises the tutoring provider accordingly.
  4. A state-based program serving multiple districts is required to use different assessment tools depending on the requirements of each district they serve. In these cases, the state agency is also left with the complicated task of comparing district progress with varied types of outputs and insights from multiple assessment tools.

The Pearl platform provides the technical scaffolding for state and district tutoring programs, nonprofits, and enterprise-level tutoring companies. For each of these different client types, we take an agnostic approach to how academic progress is assessed. Sometimes our partners have their own assessments, like district-funded programs, and other times they simply follow the requirements defined in the contracts they serve, such as outside tutoring companies responding to RFPs. 

In a “best case” scenario tutoring providers would have: 

  1. A diagnostic or benchmark assessment from the student’s school (or district) to inform gaps in learning and insights into how that student learns most effectively
  2. A viable feedback loop with a student’s school teacher(s)
  3. A formative assessment tool that:
    1. Meets the applicable state ESSA standards
    2. Aligns with the school’s curriculum 
    3. Is agile enough to be used on the fly
    4. Provides a way to regularly measure student academic progress
    5. Informs clear opportunities for tutors to employ an individualized learning pathway for their students
  4. A final “end of tutoring” assessment to measure progress against the benchmark test

If more districts had the resources to increase their level of system interoperability, the above “best case” assessment pathway would be more widely viable. It is common for even sophisticated districts to lack an elegant method for merging assessment data from providers with SIS student records. In addition, tutors may be unable to access useful academic-related data because of security concerns and requirements.

In the absence of a standard assessment methodology, a host of problems arise. To determine learning gaps, tutors often need to conduct several sessions without a baseline. If a tutor does not use a formative assessment approach aligned with the student’s starting point, he or she may be left guessing about the student’s understanding gaps. Also with so many assessment approach variations, it is difficult to compare programs district-to-district or state-to-state. 

To develop a successful tutoring program, four key data categories are needed (attendance, dosage, academic progress measurement, and SEL insights). In the absence of academic progress that relates to individual students, tutor providers are unable to measure the true picture of progress or show clear ROI to stakeholders. With the final ESSER cliff fast approaching it is critical that programs robustly measure efficacy. Only programs that demonstrate evidence of effectiveness will be sustainably funded in the future. 

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