Three Promising Practices for High-Impact Tutoring

This is the second post in our series about high-impact tutoring. You can read the first post here and the third post here.

In the course of our HIT work over the past year, we’ve seen a number of best practices in action. Below we’ve outlined three of key learnings that stakeholders can bring to their HIT programs. Although there were more promising practices and lessons learned, these three proved particularly important during the early stages of design and implementation.

Promising Practice #1: Assemble a strong high-impact tutoring implementation team.

We learned from working with our partners that it is important to ask two key questions to ensure the initiative is positioned to be successful.

  1. Where should the program live within the school system? One site partner placed their high-impact tutoring team within the Office of Teaching and Learning, which facilitated direct access to school-based stakeholders. This team was well-positioned to affect policy, make critical decisions, navigate external partnerships, and be near teachers, instructional coaches, and school leaders to monitor and timely adjust implementation efforts. This matters because it allows the high-impact tutoring team to align with the overall vision for teaching and learning within the district and maintain strong communication with school leaders—two groups essential to creating instructional coherence and a better overall student experience. Another district we supported operated their initiative from their Executive Office of Strategic Partnerships—which set up the district to more easily form external partnerships but required extra effort to align the work to the district’s academic strategy. There is no one right answer, but an examination of the strengths and opportunities across your district will allow you to make a thoughtful decision.
  2. How ready are we internally to manage all the pieces of the program? High-impact tutoring requires, among other components, strong relationships with schools, data systems, content alignment, and tutor management. One district analyzed what talents, skills, and capacity existed internally and then determined key places it would need additional support. The district then strategically identified partners to fill the gaps. Alternatively, one pitfall we saw occurred when a district partnered with a full-service tutoring provider without determining which functions the district still needed to maintain to support that partner. This led to ongoing challenges that prevented the provider from being able to implement their full program, communication challenges between the district and the provider, and a lack of alignment between tutoring and instructional programming in the school building.  Spending time up-front thinking about where the programming should sit within the district structure as well as analyzing what capacities exist internally versus what needs to be outsourced could prevent some of the pain points our sites experienced this year.

After asking these questions, districts can pull together a team that has the capacity to provide strategic, tactical, and operational leadership to all stakeholders involved in the initiative.

Promising Practice #2: Consider tutor pipeline capacity when setting goals.

As we’ve written about in a previous blog, tutoring pipeline work is vital to the success of HIT programs. We learned the importance of taking time to think through community and talent pipeline factors when setting initial goals and determining the scale of programming that is feasible. Sites were more successful in reaching their goals when they first analyzed talent data on how many tutors could be reasonably recruited before the launch of the initiative.

Careful analysis of their tutor pipeline enabled one district we supported to set a more realistic and targeted goal. The district assessed the capacity of the local community to supply tutors and set a goal of 7,000 students (about 12% of the student population) when they realized they could recruit approximately 4,000 tutors. This practice enabled the district to more accurately project the number of students it would be possible to reach in their first year. Another partner site set a goal of serving 10,000 students and spent time engaging the community and launching a volunteer match website to connect interested community members with tutoring providers. While they found success in engaging the community this way, that site also learned that it would be able to serve more students per tutor and improve tutor quality if future efforts cultivated a pipeline of adults that were already working in their schools. By investing time in understanding and cultivating your tutor pipeline, districts can set meaningful, ambitious, and realistic goals that will allow them to track success in this initial phase.

While finding tutors is still a challenge, established programs should be exploring the ideal portfolio of tutors needed to meet student needs, prepare for financial sustainability, and ensure that high-impact tutoring is being implemented in alignment with research principles. With current teacher shortages still looming, staffing a high-impact tutoring program with qualified educators becomes even more challenging for school systems. LEAs will need to form partnerships with local organizations already embedded in communities to support these efforts. One example is partnering with institutions of higher education to establish tutor pipelines to staff their programs, like Guilford County Schools’ partnership with North Carolina A&T, where engineering students tutored high school students in math. This innovative approach helped Guilford County Schools build its tutor pipeline with diverse and qualified educators to support program needs. Another promising idea for LEAs is to offer parent academies that train parents to provide high-impact tutoring. Securing a steady source of high-quality tutors through community partnerships is an important area for exploration by emerging and established programs.

Promising Practice #3: Use data systems to scale and refine your program.

Several sites worked to introduce new data systems that give clear data about tutoring activity. However, these groups also learned that they need more from their data. Ideally, tutoring data systems are integrated with districts’ existing systems so that student-level data related to tutoring can be captured and analyzed alongside other critical metrics that districts are already tracking, like attendance and student achievement. Tutoring site-leads must be able to access this data—in as close to real time as possible—to identify emerging problems quickly and continuously improve program quality. The timely and complete collection of in-person tutoring attendance and dosage continues to be a challenge across sites and is ripe for continued testing of change ideas and sharing of best practices. Within our resource library here, you’ll find guidance for tutoring data collection systems.

When considering these promising practices and lessons learned, we hope teams that are implementing high-impact tutoring can reflect on their triumphs and trials in supporting students through these systems of support.  In our final blog, we will share broader messages to the field of high-impact tutoring providers to focus on instructional coherence, the student experience, and other connections to what we’re seeing across our work.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

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Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

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