From the Field

Research Notes: “Short Bursts” of High-Impact Tutoring Led to Big Reading Gains

Students continue to struggle academically after the pandemic, yet federal relief funds to support their recovery are set to expire soon. As a result, state and school district leaders are searching for the most cost-effective strategies to help students recoup learning. A recent working paper presents the results of a randomized controlled trial of an early reading tutoring program designed to be affordable at scale.

Researchers Kalena Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb, and Carly Robinson of the National Student Support Accelerator randomly assigned 800 Florida kindergartners to receive or not receive tutoring in early reading. Tutoring provider Chapter One specialized in embedding part-time tutors into classrooms for “short bursts” of individual tutoring. Tutors met one-to-one with the assigned kindergartners for five-to-10 minute tutoring sessions over the course of the year. Kindergartners receiving tutoring also took part in 15-minute daily independent practice sessions using a Chapter One tablet. The tutors tracked student progress and met frequently with teachers to review the data they collected digitally. Chapter One used that data to tailor its tutoring to students’ evolving needs over time, adjusting session length and frequency based on each student’s progress over the year.

The researchers measured the students’ reading achievement using the school district’s assessments and compared it to the achievement of kindergarten students who had not received the tutoring. They found that students who had participated in the tutoring program were twice as likely to reach grade-level proficiency benchmarks at the end of the year.

The district paid only $450 per student for this tutoring, a far lower cost than other tutoring services, which charged up to $1900 per student. The researchers note that this form of early reading tutoring provided strong learning gains at a price that school districts could afford for large numbers of students.

A Scalable Approach to High-Impact Tutoring for Young Readers: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Kalena Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb & Carly Robinson

January 2024