Tutoring Can Help Struggling Students Catch Up

The following testimony was delivered to the Texas Senate Committee on Education

As we’ve heard repeatedly over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on student achievement in Texas. The Texas Education Agency estimates nearly six months in instructional loss. And low-income students and students of color have been hit even harder by learning loss than their peers. Even before the pandemic, Texas faced a dire situation. According to the Nation’s Report Card, 7-in-10 Texas fourth-graders could not read at grade level, and 6-in-10 were not proficient in math, with wide gaps in educational attainment linked to race, ethnicity and income.

The historic school finance reform passed last session made significant investments in high-yield areas such as early childhood, teacher effectiveness, and college and career readiness. These investments were critical even before the COVID-19 pandemic to improving our struggling K-12 school system and expanding educational opportunities to more students. With COVID-related learning loss impacting students across Texas, these evidence-based reforms have become all the more important, but full implementation will take years meaning we need to take additional steps this session to directly combat learning loss.

Expanding learning time through statewide one-on-one tutoring efforts can help struggling students catch up to peers in critical subjects such as reading and math. In-school tutoring from a highly trained teacher or aide, ideally one-on-one or in a small group, can help students who are behind catch up academically. Research indicates that evidence-based, high-dosage tutoring (tutors work with the same students in regular intervals throughout an entire school year) can benefit students in significant ways. However, all tutoring is not equal making it imperative to establish this framework and ensure funding is spent efficiently and effectively. The “Texas Tutor Corps” program establishes a statewide network of high-quality tutors for hard-to-staff and high-need schools.

Other states have already implemented tutoring initiatives to fight learning loss: for example, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam created the Tennessee Tutoring Corps last May. With roughly $1 million, this program employed 1,000 tutors over Summer 2020, training them and deploying them strategically around the state to work with students. Students participating in the 2020 TTC were assessed both at the beginning and end of the program. Data released in February shows that after completing between seven and eight weeks of tutoring, the average national percentile rank increased across all grades and subjects with the largest gains in grades K-second and in math. On average, students in K-second grade demonstrated the equivalent of a third of a year of academic growth. Across all grades and in both ELA and math, students who scored lower on the pretest had greater average growth over the course of the program.

We must also recognize the immense pressure we have put on our educators and other school staff over the last year. Future teachers, retired teachers, and subject matter experts such as college math majors can augment in-person, remote, and hybrid learning by providing essential support through high-dosage tutoring to students. There are 85,000 individuals enrolled in educator-preparation programs (EPPs) and over 100,000 retired teachers who can help provide critical academic and social-emotional support to students now while gaining experience and income. These individuals can extend the capacity of the current educators and paraprofessionals.

Senate Bill 2023 would ensure a strong educational recovery for Texas, which even before the pandemic was facing a teacher shortage, as enrollment in educator-preparation programs in our state dropped to a 20-year low in 2018. Fewer teachers are entering the profession, and many are motivated to leave because of health concerns and financial insecurity. We can remedy this by creating a strong pathway into the workforce for aspiring educators, giving them high-quality clinical experiences which simultaneously benefit students disadvantaged by the pandemic.

Texas should establish its own statewide tutoring effort to help students get back on track and close longstanding achievement gaps among our state’s students based on race, class, language, and geography, among other factors. The Texas Tutor Corp created by Senate Bill 2023 provides timely access to critical resources for our kids while developing an effective teacher workforce.