The K-12 Guide to High-Dosage Tutoring
Learn what high-dosage tutoring is, why school districts are adopting it for accelerated learning, and how students and teachers benefit from it.
What is high-dosage tutoring?
High-dosage tutoring (HDT), also known as high-impact tutoring, is an evidence-based practice that helps school districts address learning gaps—and accelerate learning generally—through more intensive and personalized support for students.
Studies have shown that HDT programs accelerate learning, combat educational inequities, and are highly cost-effective relative to other educational interventions. Not surprisingly, school districts have been adopting high-impact tutoring at unprecedented rates.
Traditional high-dosage tutoring models
Traditionally, tutoring programs are considered “high-dosage” when students receive at least three sessions a week for 10 weeks, with each session lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Specifically, sessions must either be 1:1 or in groups of up to three or four students. In the past, such programs have generally taken place in person and on school grounds, either during school hours or after school. Typically, school administrators staffed and managed them.
While effective, these programs have proven hard to scale because of staffing, scheduling and logistical challenges. In addition, these programs fail to reach many students—such as socio-economically disadvantaged students who lack alternate transportation options and/or work either inside or outside the home.
"Not every student can stay after school with their teachers for extra help. Not every family has the means to hire private tutors to accommodate busy schedules. Not everyone has a sibling, parent, or friend that can help them better understand their biology or pre-calculus assignment, or that can proofread a college essay," says Dr. Tracy Curley, Chief Academic Officer at Fall River Public Schools in Massachusetts.
Newer, more scalable high-dosage tutoring models
Increasingly, school districts are adopting online models for high-impact tutoring because of their extremely flexible, digital versatility.
In particular, programs that are available on-demand 24/7—address some of the principal challenges to scalability, including:
- Scheduling. With tutors available online and at any time, the online model significantly reduces scheduling challenges.
- Staffing. The online model enables access to a much larger pool of tutors, including both experts in a broader range of subjects and tutors fluent in multiple languages.
- Costs. Online delivery models reduce many of the costs associated with traditional models.
- Equity. By enabling anytime access, disadvantaged students with adult responsibilities and/or transportation constraints are more likely to benefit.
- Oversight. In addition to alignment with classroom content, the online model gives teachers and administrators direct insight into student-teacher interactions.
- Measurability. Online models make it easier to track large amounts of data on student engagement and learning progress.
Why are districts adopting high-dosage tutoring?
Districts and regional education service centers are adopting HDT programs for a wide range of reasons, including:
Influx of funding to serve the need to accelerate learning in the wake of COVID-19
The Department of Education released a report on the third round of pandemic relief funding citing high-dosage tutoring as a strategy to make up for lost instructional time over the last two school years. According to the California School Board Association, high-dosage tutoring “drastically improves” learning outcomes in the wake of COVID’s disruptions, which have been steep and measurable, especially among historically disadvantaged students. In response to these challenges, high-dosage tutoring has proven particularly effective for students who have fallen behind—and outperforms many other common learning interventions, from after-school and summer programs to remedial classes.
Student readiness and the widespread adoption of mobile technology
For students and educators alike, the pandemic was a crash course in distance learning, and students today are significantly more fluent in online modalities now than they were in 2019. While much work remains to be done, student access to high-speed internet connections and connected devices increased significantly during the pandemic, thanks in large part to school districts that provided devices to lower-income students and helped fund home internet connections for families that could not afford them. "If our students need to quarantine or teachers have to quarantine, we know that's an option for us now,” says Selena Florence, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning at Atlanta Public Schools. “So the instructional technology piece that we built upon in the last year is something that we will definitely keep and rely on from now on, as we work to innovate and personalize learning for our students."
Widespread, evidence-based research supporting the value of HDT
As a recent Annenberg Institute report details, a review of nearly 200 evidence-based studies found that high-dosage tutoring was one of the only school-based interventions that produced large and measurable positive effects. In addition, research shows that HDT:
Research on high-dosage tutoring (HDT), is substantial and compelling. As such, it’s being touted as the best bet for learning acceleration and long-term K-12 recovery.
But how can district leaders do it right?
What are the key ingredients of effective high-dosage tutoring?
Not all tutoring programs are successful, as studies found in the early 2000s after the implementation of No Child Left Behind policies. Based on evidence-based research, Brown University’s Annenberg Institute has identified 10 key factors that make HDT programs successful.
- Frequency. Tutoring programs are most effective when delivered frequently (at least three times per week), or in more intensive week-long programs.
- Personalization. One-on-one sessions with tutors are generally considered the most effective, though tutors can make positive impacts with groups of up to three or four students.
- Tutor training. Tutors require adequate paraprofessional training in order to be truly impactful. The good news is, studies show that a wide variety of people can make effective tutors, relieving the burden on classroom teachers.
- Focus. Studies consistently show that tutoring can be effective at all grade levels. For early grades, the impact tends to be highest when tutoring is focused on reading skills. For older students, math-focused tutoring tends to be most impactful.
- Measurement. HDT programs tend to be more successful when they track data about usage and when they incorporate ongoing informal assessments. This enables tutors to tailor interactions with students to better meet their needs.
- Consistent relationships. Research indicates that a consistent relationship between tutor and student can improve outcomes. Alternatively, a pool of tutors trained to work in consistent ways with their students can deliver similar results. With online modalities, this can be more effective, since anonymity helps ensure student safety.
- Alignment with classroom curriculum. Tutors have more impact when their instruction is informed by and aligned with classroom instruction. For example, it helps students when tutors use the same terminology and methods as their teachers.
- Scheduling. Tutoring tends to be most effective when it happens during school hours. Interventions that require students to be on school grounds after school hours or during the summer tend to have less impact.
- Delivery mode. While most research has targeted in-person tutoring, there is also evidence that online tutoring is effective, especially when it includes features similar to in-person tutoring.
- Prioritization. Traditionally, educational interventions have been need-based. However, need-based programs risk creating a negative stigma and can even be seen as a form of punishment. Alternatively, tutoring can avoid this problem by making it part of the curriculum, even a required element for all students in the classroom. Finally, tutoring can be universal—available on demand for all students and subjects at a particular grade, school, or district.
Selecting the right vendor for high-dosage tutoring can positively impact your students’ learning. When considering vendors, use our high-dosage tutoring checklist to ensure your prospective partner meets the evidence-based criteria that will lead to the greatest possible outcome for you and your students.
How does high-dosage tutoring support classroom teachers?
Classroom teachers are feeling overburdened, especially in the wake of COVID. “When we were forced into remote learning for a year-and-a-half, many students that needed that human interaction in a much more defined way lost some understanding of concepts. We were looking for additional ways to get that understanding, and it can't all fall on the backs of teachers. We were looking at different avenues that we can address with certified individuals, but without adding one more thing to the plate of a teacher or a principal,” says Dr. Greg Wyman, Superintendent of J.O Combs Unified School District in Arizona.
While in-class teaching assistants can make a big difference, a shortage of qualified staff has made hiring difficult. Alternatively, an effective online HDT program can provide teachers the much needed help they deserve. For example, tutors can:
- Answer student questions after hours. Rather than fielding student messages late into the evening, teachers can grade papers and plan lessons without being interrupted — or simply get the downtime they need.
- Review drafts of written assignments. By helping with grammar and performing a content sweep, tutors can help students turn in papers that are both higher quality and easier to grade.
- Provide in-class support. With an on-demand, online tutoring model, teachers can direct students to work independently during classroom time—and reach out to tutors when they hit a roadblock. This frees up teachers for other activities, including providing individualized attention to students who most need it.
What are the benefits of high-dosage tutoring?
As research has shown, high-dosage tutoring is proving to be an effective remediation tool in general, and an impactful way to address learning disruptions due to COVID. However, HDT has far wider applications, with the potential to significantly benefit all learners. Moreover, it can actually be more effective when deployed for all students, not just those requiring remediation.
The long-term benefits of high-impact tutoring include:
- Improved outcomes for all students. High-dosage tutoring significantly improves outcomes across a wide range of students, not just students who have fallen behind. A meta-analysis by the Brookings Institute found HDT improves performance by an average 0.37 standard deviations, regardless of a student’s achievement levels. For example, that would move a child in the 50th percentile to the 66th percentile. Instructional leaders at one school district reported that HDT supported learning gains across student groups—from English learners that need multilingual tutoring to AP students that want to stay on track.
- Increased educational equity. “Education leaders should expand the use of tutoring as a reliable, workhorse tool in ongoing efforts to cultivate a more equitable society,” write Brookings Institution researchers. Online, on-demand HDT “addresses equity and accessibility because for so many parents, paying for a weekly tutor is a stress on their budget—let alone the difficulty in trying to find a tutor,” says Marlys Davidson, Board President at Los Alamitos Unified School District in California. Online, on-demand HDT removes roadblocks that prevent many socioeconomically disadvantaged students from accessing traditional tutoring programs, from lack of transportation to scheduling conflicts with students’ after school jobs. San Jacinto Unified School District used this model to tackle opportunity gaps and boost graduation rates for underserved students.
- Skills for life-long learning. A well-designed, high-impact tutoring program can be effective in building key skills that support life-long learning, like self-advocacy and metacognition. For example, reaching out to tutors can help build self-advocacy skills. Likewise, tutors can give personalized attention that helps build individual students’ metacognition skills—that is, encouraging students to become aware of their own thoughts and the patterns in which they occur. One Director of K-12 Education explained how their school district's implementation of 24/7 high-dosage tutoring is allowing students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning.
While HDT is not a silver bullet, it can be both a cost-effective and impactful element of an overall strategy for equitable, whole-child academic support.