Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Technology Facilitated Tutoring Programs to Accelerate Learning

It goes without saying, challenges caused by COVID-19 in the field of education remain widespread and have the potential to be long lasting. A recent report confirmed that during the pandemic the move to full-time remote schooling was related to a decrease in student achievement, especially in high-poverty districts. Now over two years later, school leaders continue to employ strategies to address learning loss, such as intensive tutoring programs. This is because decades of research support the effectiveness of in-person tutoring to accelerate learning, and recent research also shows positive effects for high dosage virtual tutoring for struggling learners during the pandemic.

While the human-to-human interaction will always be central to a quality tutoring experience, technology offers unique functionalities to enrich and extend tutoring. For example, new models of technology facilitated tutoring programs—

  • Engage students with game-based and multi-media content that adjusts to the level of the individual and generate real-time tips to scaffold learning
  • Employ tools such as virtual whiteboards and data visualizations to enrich the virtual workspace for the tutor and student
  • Use dashboards to present real-time data driven insights for tutors to track student progress and individualize instruction
  • Provide automated professional development and training opportunities to prepare tutors

Technology also enables schools and community organizations to offer remote tutoring programs at scale—to reach students anywhere and anytime, including after school and during the summer. This of course depends on student access to technology and the availability of qualified tutors.  

Four IES Supported Technology-Based Tutoring Programs

In spring 2020, to help address the crisis in education caused by the pandemic, four teams of IES-funded developers adapted and extended their learning technologies for remote tutoring to be ready to be used at scale. The technologies are all research based and offer unique capabilities to strengthen the tutoring experience and to allow programs to reach more students. Each of the following programs described below can now deliver tutoring in schools or remote settings.

A2i by Learning Ovations. A2i (watch video) is a web-based product for students in kindergarten to grade 3 that continually assesses reading and generates data-driven recommendations to inform instruction. A2i is used in hundreds of schools by tens of thousands of students each year. Originally developed for in-school use through multiple IES and other government awards, research demonstrates the efficacy of A2i to improve student reading.

At the beginning of COVID-19, the Community Literacy Support System was designed to extend A2i for tutoring at student homes and other non-school locations. The program provides customized lessons and data visualization tools for tutors and parents. In the past two years, the tutoring program has been used by 9,200 students across 5 different states, at 23 different community sites (such as this one), and within almost 8,000 homes.

ASSISTments by ASSISTments. ASSISTments (watch video) is used by teachers to assign problems to students from curricula, such as EngageNY, Illustrative Mathematics, and Open Up Resources. Students receive real-time instructional feedback while doing problems online, while teachers receive reports with actionable insights to inform instruction. Initially developed through multiple awards from IES and other sources, in 2021-22, ASSISTments was used by over 5,000 educators and 200,000 students at schools around the country. Research by SRI International demonstrated that classrooms that used ASSISTments increased in learning course content compared to a control group.

At the onset of COVID-19, ASSISTments designed TutorASSIST, a tool to present data visualizations for tutors to target specific student needs through remote (or in-person) sessions. More than 750 students across Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland used the tool to support remote tutoring during the pandemic. With a 2021 ED/EIR grant, ASSISTments is further developing its core product and tutoring tool to serve historically underserved students, including starting a school tutoring pilot program in eight schools in partnership with EnCorps Tutors, with a focus on optimizing the technology for tutoring.

SAGA Coach by SAGA Education and Simbulus. SAGA Education and Woot Math (watch video) employ interactive and game-based activities to support student math learning and a dashboard that generates data-driven insights to promote dialogue and discussion of complex topics between teachers and students. The school-based intervention reaches approximately 75,000 students per year. Woot Math was developed through an ED/IES SBIR award and through other sources. In 2021, Woot Math was acquired by and integrated within SAGA Education’s online math program.  

During the pandemic, SAGA Coach was designed to extend Saga Education and Woot Math for remote tutoring through the addition of an interactive whiteboard shared by tutors and students, and online training materials for tutors. During the 2020-21 school year, 5,500 students used SAGA Coach for high-dosage remote tutoring, and in 2022-23, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America will use SAGA Coach to deliver a remote tutoring program.

Lightning Squad by Sirius Thinking and Success For All. Lightning Squad (watch video) is a multimedia platform where pairs of students in grades 1 to 3 who are struggling readers collaborate to read stories and play games that are presented by the computer, while a tutor provides targeted support. Developed through an ED/IES SBIR award, the product is currently being evaluated through a multiyear efficacy trial and will be used in 50 Baltimore City elementary schools in fall 2022.  

At the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, Lightning Squad was adapted for remote delivery in eight Baltimore City schools serving principally low-income students. In the remote version, tutors use a video platform (for example, Zoom) with pairs of students in their respective homes. Students proceed with the activities of the software and respond verbally while a tutor types responses on the screen in real-time for each team member to see. In the 2020-21 school year, 16 Baltimore City schools used Lightning Squad with over 800 students, most for remote tutoring. Research conducted during the project by Success For All (not yet reviewed by the Department) found that students who were able to maintain consistent participation with remote tutoring gained 1.5 years of progress as measured by their initial placement and end of year placement, double the expected gains in reading during the period of school closures.  An additional 1,200 students were served remotely using Lightning Squad in other states during this same period.

Additional Related Resources on Tutoring to Accelerate Learning

  • Lightning Squad and SAGA Coach are part of Proven Tutoring, a coalition of technology-delivered tutoring programs with a mission to help educators learn about and access tutoring programs. These evidence-based programs have the potential to increase the achievement of students performing far below grade level due to COVID school closures or other factors.
  • In June 2021 during the ED Games Expo, IES partnered with AmeriCorps to host a webinar focusing on government and community partner initiatives to support remote tutoring to accelerate student learning during COVID-19.

In April 2022, AmeriCorps partnered with ED to produce a webinar on lessons from the field on the topic of high-dosage tutoring. AmeriCorps and the Department, along with Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center, are partners in the National Partnership for Student Success (NPSS). Launched in July 2022, the NPSS is committed to engaging 250,000 adults as tutors, mentors, and coaches in evidence-based programs designed to accelerate students’ recovery from the pandemic. 

Stay tuned to @IESResearch for news and updates on research, initiatives, and project updates in the area of tutoring to accelerate learning.

Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Melissa Moritz was the Afterschool and Summer Learning Fellow in the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. She currently serves as the Director of Policy for the STEM Next Opportunity Fund.

Please contact with questions or for more information.


Comments are closed