Spring in our household is marked by late night softball practices, lacrosse tournaments, and the annual well-child visit with the pediatrician. A requisite for summer camps and school attendance in the fall, it is a can’t-miss appointment that involves advanced planning and an endless round of questions from my kids regarding the number of shots they will get and how much they will hurt.
Admittedly, it is easy to forget that well-visits with the pediatrician are a foundational part of the medical care provided to our children. For many of us caregivers, the visit may feel like a conversation about our child that involves some strategizing over how to best deliver shots with minimal fallout, but it is actually a rather structured, evidence-based process grounded in years of research on child development. Well-visits are designed to address the holistic needs of a child by incorporating developmental, behavioral, and physical assessments, as well as screenings, vaccines, and guidance. When a health concern arises beyond the scope of primary care, a specialist may be necessary. But well-trained, invested pediatricians committed to science can successfully meet most health care needs through well-visit and sick child appointments.
In education, similar evidence-based, tiered approaches can effectively meet the needs of students. A high-quality, rigorously researched core instructional program delivered by an invested, trained educator can be enough to get most students to grade-level and beyond. There are many well-researched resources that have proven track records for teaching diverse groups of students to be independent readers and skilled mathematicians. For students who need extra support, there is tutoring, which is widely considered one of the most effective interventions. Like a specialist’s care, tutoring grounded in research can effectively target individual needs. Research-proven tutoring is built around a model with a constellation of strategies that includes a consistent human tutor using a structured program, meeting with students during the school day three to five times a week. Tutor coaching and assessment tools aligned to a set of materials and procedures are designed to support the process. These models have been proven effective in helping students master crucial foundational skills. Our mission at ProvenTutoring, an evidence-to-practice initiative housed at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education, is to help schools access these research-proven models because they provide the greatest promise of impact.
The need right now for effective tutoring intervention is enormous, and federal funds have been made available to support it. Our best bet for meeting the needs of struggling learners is to provide what the research shows to be effective tutoring. Because of the urgent need, some have looked to the adoption of broadly available web-based platforms. While it seems like a logical solution, as they can be accessed anytime from school or home, on-demand virtual platforms have not been proven effective, and only a small fraction of students who need support actually log-on regularly. Tutoring that happens outside of the regular school day often doesn’t reach the students who need it. The kind of tutoring proven to increase achievement is structured, sequential, and targets the learning goals of each student. Implementing a tutoring system does require time and attention from school staff to identify tutors and space, create the tutoring schedule, engage students and parents, and problem solve the inevitable early glitches. Its success will be contingent upon staff buy-in and support. Once underway, the value–dramatic gains in achievement–become evident
Research-proven tutoring will be a powerful tool for the long-term, but the role regular classroom curriculum and instruction play in reducing the need for intervention is also critical. If ¾ of a class are performing below grade level, it would not be cost-effective to use tutoring as the only response. Research-proven core instruction can also help close the achievement gap. Think of core instruction as similar to pediatric primary care: it should be enough for most kids. Thanks to federal and philanthropic investments in research over the last twenty years, there are many high-quality, proven approaches for all tiers of instruction. Adoption and faithful implementation of these programs will ensure that all kids receive effective regular classroom instruction, and high-quality tutoring is successful with the group of students who need additional support. To support practitioners with program selection, ProvenTutoring and Evidence for ESSA vet programs for evidence and provide detailed information about each program for both tutoring and core classroom instruction. These programs are replicable, scalable and are being implemented in schools across the country. ProvenTutoring also offers free support in exploring and selecting programs that best address a school’s needs.
Madden and Slavin, 2017, https://www.successforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Evaluations-of-Technology-Assisted-Small-Group.pdf; Neitzel et al., 2022, https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.379;