Providing students with tutoring in addition to in-class learning time is an oft-prescribed remedy for both catching up students who are behind and accelerating students who are capable of even higher performance. Two common sticking points to providing that remedy are finding additional time in the day, week, or year for the intervention and finding enough qualified personnel. A new study from the National Student Support Accelerator (NSSA) evaluates a promising program that could reduce both of these sticking points to manageable levels.
Chapter One is a nonprofit group (formerly known as Innovations for Learning) founded thirty years ago to help leverage emerging technology and volunteers in an effort to boost the reading skills of children in Chicago. Today, its reach is international, but it remains dedicated to helping students in grades K–2 become fluent readers. During the 2021–22 school year, Chapter One partnered with a large, unnamed school district in Florida to conduct a randomized controlled trial of its tutoring program. Fifty-six percent of students’ families in the district qualify for free and reduced priced lunch, and 12.6 percent of students are English learners. The district chose forty-nine kindergarten classes across thirteen schools to participate. While the report covers only the first year of results, students who remained in the district were expected to receive Chapter One tutoring during first grade (2022–23), as well, and those results will be published later. Researchers plan to follow all participants who remain in the district through the end of third grade.
The first year of the study consisted of 818 kindergarten students, roughly half of whom were randomly assigned to receive Chapter One tutoring. The two groups were similar in terms of demographics, although the treatment group did have slightly lower initial scores on the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS). This was controlled for in the final analysis.
The Chapter One tutoring model embeds part-time early literacy interventionists (ELIs) in schools. These ELIs meet with students one-on-one in the back of their classroom during the school day, thus eliminating the sticking point of “finding additional time for tutoring.” One ELI serves multiple classrooms in a building and tutors individual students in five to seven minute sessions during blocks of reading instruction or at other opportune moments. The short sessions are intended to forestall loss of student attention while allowing each session to focus on a progression of discrete skills. The length of a given session and the number of sessions per week is determined by student need and rates of progress. For instance, students who are making adequate progress may only meet with their tutor once or twice a week, whereas students whom the tutors identify as in need of more support may meet daily.
ELIs follow a digital curriculum created by Chapter One, facilitating the assessment and tracking of student performance over time and allowing less-experienced individuals to serve as ELIs. While some ELIs are former classroom teachers, most have no teaching experience or teaching certification. All ELIs have earned at least a bachelor’s degree and undergo an extensive series of online training courses. All of these efficiencies combine to maximize the number of students one ELI can serve—thus addressing the “finding enough personnel” sticking point—and to squeeze the most instruction into the shortest amount of time.
The tutoring curriculum moves students through phonics development, learning to segment and blend short and long vowel sounds, learning sight words, and learning strategies to fluently read both texts that are readily decodable and those that include words that can’t be easily sounded out. Its format is said to draw on a strong evidence base. Students in the treatment group are also given tablets with the Chapter One software and asked to work independently for fifteen minutes each day, with the assigned work being precisely aligned to their most recent tutored instruction. ELIs also regularly meet with teachers, reading coaches, and principals to share information on student progress.
How did it work? Treatment group students were 38.1 percentage points more likely to reach the target reading level (or higher) by the end of kindergarten than their control group peers (nearly 70 percent of treatment students versus 32 percent of control students). Treatment group students were, on average, one reading level ahead of control group students at the end of the school year and achieved growth of 1.12 levels during the year. Importantly, native English speakers and English learners in the treatment group both showed similar levels of achievement and growth. Treatment group students scored, on average, 0.23 standard deviations higher than their peers on a year-end oral reading fluency assessment. Scores on the district’s kindergarten reading assessment were not fully available, but among the available data, evidence suggests a small but statistically significant boost for students who received the Chapter One tutoring treatment. The lack of full data likely contributes to this lackluster outcome, but we cannot discount the possibility that the new tutoring program may not be fully aligned with existing district assessments.
The NSSA researchers conclude that Chapter One is an effective, scalable, and affordable model for one-to-one tutoring. More data—which are on the way—are likely needed to fully support the claim of effectiveness, but first-year results certainly seem promising. Ditto for the model’s efficient use of time and talent. As to affordability, the researchers note that Chapter One cost the district $375 per student, a price tag that covers ELIs (pay, background checks, training, etc.), all the necessary technology, and other indirect costs for implementation. In districts with more than 5,000 students, the cost increases to $450 per student to fund an ELI manager position. The researchers assert that this is “substantially lower than the vast majority of other tutoring programs.”
Committing millions of dollars per year for multiple years is no small ask of any school or district, especially as federal Covid funding dries up. But much worse remediation efforts have been bought and paid for before, and the early data for this program certainly seem promising.
SOURCE: Kalena Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb, and Carly D. Robinson, “A Scalable Approach to High-Impact Tutoring for Young Readers: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial,” National Student Support Accelerator (February 2023).