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The "Promise And Potential" of High-Impact Tutoring

Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams recent Texas House testimony charts a path forward from the impact of the pandemic

Citing the benefits that high-impact tutoring has on improving student outcomes, Commit Partnership Senior Director of Academic Recovery Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams urged the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Public Education to maintain the foundation of a bill that provides targeted tutoring for students who need it the most, while considering revisions that could make it easier to scale across the state.

Last session, the Texas Legislature took a bold and necessary step by passing House Bill 4545 (87R), sponsored by State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill requires 30 hours of additional instruction for each core subject on which a student did not meet grade-level standards. The bill’s passage made high-impact tutoring a priority in response to the pandemic’s detrimental impact on student learning. Following the data that shows high-impact tutoring is the best way to catch students up academically, Texas led the nation as one of only 10 states to enact statewide tutoring legislation to get students back on track.

Source: National Student Support Accelerator At Brown University

Recognizing the importance of high-impact tutoring and the short runway between the passage of HB 4545 and implementation, the three largest PK-12 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in Dallas County – Dallas ISD, Garland ISD and Uplift Education – accelerated their tutoring work with support from Commit.

The partner LEAs and Commit identified hiring tutors as a top operational barrier and, in response, Commit worked with external partners to help build a supplemental tutor pipeline.

“School districts really believe that this is an effective tool, they just need the support and structure to be able to implement it well,” Horton-Williams said.

After thanking the legislators for taking the impactful step of passing HB 4545, Horton-Williams suggested four actions that could make the bill even more successful in the future:

1. Follow the research on the tutoring ratio: HB 4545 requires a tutoring ratio of three students per one tutor because research shows it has the greatest and deepest impact. The average effect this kind of tutoring program has on academic achievement is larger than roughly 85 percent of other education interventions. Maximizing high-impact tutoring is critical since only 5 percent of students who are not at-grade level in any given year catch up the following year.

Source: Texas Education Agency

2. Allow for greater flexibility for tutoring to happen during the school day: Research shows that tutoring is most successful when it happens during school hours. In fact, incorporating tutoring into the school day promotes coordination with teachers, and a stronger academic culture,” according to a Brown University report. A main benefit is that the student is more likely to attend tutoring during the school day than if it happens before or after school. And the research is clear: consistent tutoring where a student attends multiple times a week has the best chance of catching a student up. Students who were most vulnerable to pandemic-induced learning disruption are the least likely to have access to tutoring outside of the school day. As the Brown University report states: “private tutoring is now a $47B industry, one analysis shows. Yet access to tutoring is inherently unequal because it is only broadly available to those who can afford it.”

3. Narrow the tutoring scope to just math and reading for third- through ninth-graders: Narrowing the scope could help schools focus limited resources on the two areas that have the biggest impact on student success. Tutoring sets the strongest foundation the earliest on. Not only does it pay dividends the year a student is tutored, but it sets the strong foundation for their successful journey to graduation and beyond.

4. Provide additional clarity and direction on data reporting about HB 4545: Currently there are no data reporting expectations, which makes it difficult to quantify the impact of HB 4545 and identify high-quality tutoring providers. Supporting schools in not only collecting and reporting data in a simple way–while also providing guidance on how they can use that data to support students–would strengthen the law and make it easier to scale and implement.

Horton-Williams closed her testimony by highlighting the impressive gains that third- through ninth-graders made on their most recent end-of-course exams as evidence that acceleration practices are working. However, she noted that despite the gains, only half of students read at grade level and about 33 percent are proficient at math.

“While what we have accomplished in the past year has been significant, we still have a long way to go,” she said. “And we think if we continue the direction we are going, we will see tremendous growth in our students.”

To learn more, watch Dr. Horton-Williams testimony before the Texas House Committee On Public Education below:

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