As school districts across Tennessee continue to look for ways to accelerate student learning following the COVID-19 disruptions, SCORE is seeking to learn how districts are addressing learning gaps and share their stories. One such district is Lenoir City Schools (LCS), which recently launched a five-week high-dosage tutoring pilot to address high school math learning gaps.

With the passage of the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) at the end of last year — and the more recent Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act passed during the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session in January — districts must now focus on how to leverage this funding to address learning loss.

High-dosage tutoring is one research-based strategy to help school districts do just that. According to researchers at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, high-dosage tutoring can be effective at all grade levels, but evidence shows it is most effective for K-2 early literacy and high school math. Researchers highlight key features for an effective program:

  • Student prioritization: Prioritizing lowest performing students may be necessary but can create the negative perception of tutoring as punishment. Providing all students with tutoring opportunities is the best approach — though it may be cost-prohibitive.
  • Frequency: Programs should offer significant and sustained time with a tutor, ideally three 30- to 60-minute sessions per week. Once-weekly tutoring is generally not effective. This frequency can be especially challenging at the high school level —  school leaders must avoid conflicts with core content courses during school hours or with students’ work and family responsibilities after school.
  • Personnel: Tutors should be intensively trained and supported to assist students in two important ways: building positive mentoring relationships and providing subject-specific academic support. Ongoing training and support are critical for tutors without a teaching background. Tutors should be provided high-quality instructional materials and trained to use them.
  • Group size: Small groups maximize impact. Two students per tutor is ideal; this can increase to three or four depending on the tutor’s skill level.

With school closures last spring disrupting in-person study of geometry, LCS chose to address high school math learning gaps to help prepare students for the ACT in March. To prioritize students, LCS leaders sent an electronic survey to the junior class and identified about 20 students to receive intensive math tutoring for the five weeks leading up to the ACT.

To address frequency and scheduling challenges, tutoring was embedded during the daily 30-minute homeroom block. For consistency, most students receive tutoring during this block. Depending on a student’s class schedule, elective course time is used to extend tutoring blocks to 50 minutes. For students who can’t participate during the homeroom block, virtual and Saturday sessions are available. 

For personnel, LCS is relying on three experienced math teachers — the district’s math instructional coach, a current geometry teacher, and one who recently retired. In addition to their deep knowledge of math standards and curriculum, these teachers already have relationships with students and staff.

While not the ideal group size, each tutor is working with a maximum of four or five students. LCS leaders hope to scale up this initiative in a financially sustainable way while also attracting talented tutors; they created a tutor pay scale that considers degree attainment and teaching experience.

LCS leaders established clear measures to track the pilot’s success: academic growth, engagement, and implementation. Academic growth will be tracked by ACT pre- and post-tests; engagement will be tracked by daily attendance and student surveys; and implementation will be tracked through observations of each tutor by school administrators.

Now is the time to take research-based data-supported actions to accelerate student learning during the pandemic and beyond. LCS leaders hope to use what they learn through this pilot to scale up tutoring to more students in more subject areas in the coming months.

Dr. Richard Bailey is SCORE’s director of strategic practice and data.