ACE Members Help K-12 Students Catch Up From Pandemic Learning Loss
June 19, 2023

​The Department of Education, in a Dear Colleague letter released last month, is appealing to colleges and universities to partner with K-12 schools to help children recover from learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading this effort is the National Partnership for Student Success, a coalition founded in 2022 by the Department of Education, AmeriCorps, and Johns Hopkins University to help school districts, state and local governments, and nonprofits set up and expand research-backed academic support and recovery services.

P-12 students across the country have fallen behind as a result of pandemic-induced disruptions to their education. Standardized test scores in reading dropped substantially compared to prepandemic scores, and math scores dropped even more. These results indicate that the average student is nine weeks behind in reading and 15 to 24 weeks behind in math.

Without significant intervention, this lost learning could haunt students—and all Americans—years down the line. Research suggests that if they do not catch up, students are less likely to complete high school and enroll in college and more likely to be incarcerated, which could cost the U.S. economy nearly $30 trillion by the end of this century.

A promising strategy for addressing learning loss in both reading and math is called high-dosage, or high-impact, tutoring. It entails one tutor and up to three students meeting three or more times a week during the school day for sessions of at least 30 minutes. Tutors work with the same students for at least a semester and follow lesson plans that complement what students are taught in class.

While effective, high-dosage tutoring also costs thousands of dollars per student and requires hiring additional instructors. A massive nationwide teacher shortage means schools are struggling to maintain normal operations, much less hire additional personnel.

In its letter, the Department of Education proposes that colleges and universities mitigate this cost and staffing issue by training their students to tutor P-12 students. The department also announced 26 institutions that have committed to, over the next two years, multiplying the number of tutors they place in local schools and increasing the amount of Federal Work-Study funds they allocate to tutoring programs. Among these institutions is ACE member Texas A&M University-Kingsville, which plans to expand its existing tutoring program from three tutors to 20.

Several other ACE member campuses have already instituted programs to address learning loss in their communities.

Samford University

Samford University, a small Baptist university just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, joined the BCS Tutoring Partnership as an inaugural member in early 2022. The partnership pairs students at Birmingham public schools with tutors from Samford and five other local institutions.

Samford students, regardless of major, are eligible to participate and receive training in how to tutor kids in math and reading. Tutors provide in-person instruction to students in all grades at each of the district’s schools.

Birmingham students desperately need the help. Forty percent of the district’s students scored below grade level in reading, while 70 percent scored below grade level in math on recent standardized testing.

Anna McEwan, dean of Samford’s Orlean Beeson School of Education, told The Samford Crimson it is imperative that the university help its neighboring schools.

“For students who may have already struggled to keep pace with learning expectations, we have a moral obligation to do everything possible to facilitate their opportunities to be successful,” she said.

The tutors are already making a difference. Third graders’ reading proficiency tumbled during the pandemic, but since the tutoring program began, their reading proficiency has not only recovered, but eclipsed its prepandemic figures.

The University of Oklahoma

The University of Oklahoma (OU) launched its tutoring program in late 2021. Called the Transformative Tutoring Initiative, it delivers math instruction to students at five high schools in the Oklahoma City region.

“We know the inability to pass mathematics cascades and is one of the key factors negatively impacting graduation,” Stacy Reeder, dean of OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, told the University of Oklahoma Foundation. “There’s an absence of intervention programs for older students. If you aren’t on target for math when you start high school, how do you get the help you need?”

Each tutor is assigned two students, who they meet with for three 50-minute sessions at their school every week. More than 150 OU students have participated so far.

The university is analyzing the Transformative Tutoring Initiative’s outcomes in a randomized control study. High school students who received weak math scores on recent standardized testing were either paired with a tutor or assigned to a control group.

Daniel Hamlin, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of education, previewed the findings.

“During the first half of this year, students working with OU tutors showed considerable gains in mathematics—more than double that of their peers in the control group,” he told OU.

Based on the results of its research, OU hopes to determine the optimal methods for students to recover from learning loss and to help Oklahoma introduce an effective statewide tutoring program.

Grand Valley State University

Unlike some other institutions, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) delivers high-dosage tutoring virtually. GVSU is among the 26 institutions that have committed to the Department of Education’s challenge. The university plans to fulfill its commitment through an existing program called K-12 Connect that it rolled out in March 2020. Since the launch, over 1,000 students have served as tutors.

The virtual format has enabled tutors from GVSU, which is outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to reach students at almost every school district in the state. Despite the lack of a physical presence in schools, K-12 Connect partners with school districts to devise tutoring programs that suit each district’s curriculum and schedule.

Since its introduction, K-12 Connect has expanded from offering homework help sessions to providing high-impact tutoring in math and reading, as well as mentorship in college and career readiness for high school students.

Tutors attest to the impact their instruction is having.

“I’ve watched my students transform from kids who don’t want to read because they are so fixed on this idea that they can’t do it, into super-readers who crave a good challenge and know they are capable of reading hard words,” Emma Steeby, a K-12 Connect tutor, told GVSU.

The university hopes that while the program helps K-12 students advance to graduation, it will do the same for GVSU tutors who receive work-study funds, according to Steven Hodas, executive director of the GV NextEd Co-Lab, an incubator that includes K-12 Connect.

“We know that one of the things that is most helpful for persistence and on-time graduation for students with a financial need is having a secure, rewarding source of employment throughout the time they are on campus,” Hodas told GVSU.