The state has chosen 16 organizations that districts can contract with through a competitive grant program to pay for high-intensity math tutoring for middle and high schoolers.
School districts that are chosen for the program — originally announced in March — will receive $2,500 per student per year to contract with one of the organizations, which offer in-person or virtual tutoring. The organizations train and provide tutors to the school districts who will work with middle school students and high school freshmen in small groups.
Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer for the education department, told CT Examiner in March that the decision to focus on math was based on a drop in math scores both on statewide standardized assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.
“The pandemic had had widespread effects, but really middle school mathematics was a huge one, not just in Connecticut,” Gopalakrishnan said.
According to a study by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard, published last October, Connecticut students in grades three to eight lost an average of seven months of learning in mathematics between 2019 and 2022. Districts with high numbers of low-income students tended to see the largest losses.
John Scianimanico, director of special projects for the education department, emphasized during a webinar on Wednesday that the state chose to invest $10 million in federal coronavirus relief funds in high-dosage tutoring because of what he called a “large body of research” showing it can substantially improve learning.
Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at the American Institutes for Research, also told CT Examiner that high-dosage tutoring has been shown to improve students’ learning, according to research done before the pandemic.
“I think that there’s fairly good evidence from pre-pandemic studies that high-dosage tutoring is, I would argue, one of the most research-tested methods to help students accelerate,” he said.
But Goldhaber cautioned that post-pandemic gains have not been as pronounced for a variety of reasons, including pandemic-related school closures and teacher shortages that left tutors in charge of classrooms rather than working with children who needed extra help.
The state education department considers high-dosage tutoring to include sessions at least three times a week for 30 minutes. Gopalakrishnan said that, ideally, tutoring sessions should take place during the school day rather than before or after school.
A paper published in July 2020 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which Goldhaber referenced, found that high-dosage tutoring is most effective during school hours and when the person leading the tutoring is a teacher or a paraprofessional. Tutoring in reading tended to have greater impact on younger students, while math tutoring had more gains among older students.
Scianimanico said districts should focus on getting the tutoring to students who need it most — those who are homeless, low-income, English language learners, have been chronically absent during the last two years, or who scored below grade level on last year’s state assessment.
Goldhaber also cautioned against contracting with vendors for opt-in tutoring, particularly virtual tutoring. He referenced a policy brief that found far fewer students signed up for tutoring than the districts intended, and those who did were students who needed it the least.
Instead, he said, students should receive mandatory tutoring.
“I’m not sure that parents or kids have a good sense of how far behind many of them are,” Goldhaber said. “If they think education and how well kids are doing is more or less business as usual, it’s not clear that they’re going to take the opportunity afforded to them to use this resource.”
According to Scianimanico, tutoring would be successful if all participating students in grades six through eight showed a certain level of growth on state assessments, and if all participating ninth-graders earned at least a B in math.
Gopalakrishnan said in March that the tutoring grants could give smaller school districts, who had not received as much money in federal coronavirus relief funds, to invest in high-dosage tutoring programs. And Scianimanico said he saw the grants as a way to “level the playing field” for students who can’t afford private tutoring.
Districts will need to apply for the funds by Sept. 1, and will be required to start the tutoring programs no later than January. The funds will last through January 2025.