A proven solution for learning loss

An Opinon Editorial Written By: Isaak Aronson, SmartStart Founder/CEO
June 23, 2023

Education is a cornerstone of a civilized and thriving society.  Our education system is tasked with developing, inspiring, and nurturing the minds of our future leaders, innovators and our global workforce.

It is, therefore, disheartening to read the recent findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress report, which clearly and disturbingly highlight the persistent challenges faced by our education system resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The learning loss from school closures and long-term attempts at remote instruction are perhaps even more profound than we initially realized, as revealed by the most recent NAEP report.

The NAEP report serves as a wake-up call, revealing a concerning trend in student performance in the subjects of reading and math throughout the grade levels. It reveals a decline in proficiency rates, raising questions about the effectiveness of our current educational practices. 

The report indicates that reading scores are at their lowest since 2004, and math scores are faring far worse, with scores at their lowest since 1990.  With such systemic learning loss, students are not able to meet grade-level expectations and are left behind and frustrated. 

These results are alarming and should not be taken lightly.  They harken the need for a comprehensive evaluation of our educational policies, pedagogical approaches, and our investment in the future of our children.

One of the report’s most troubling revelations is the persistent achievement gap that disproportionately affects minority and low-income communities. It is a stark reminder of the deep-seated inequities that persist within our education system. We must acknowledge that the ability to access a quality education should not be determined by one’s socioeconomic status, race or ZIP code.

High-Dosage Tutoring Offers Personalized Attention:

One of the most promising solutions to address the COVID-related inadequacies of and inequities in our educational system is High-Dosage Tutoring, or HDT; also known in some locals as High-Impact Tutoring (HIT).  The value of HDT programming lies in the ability to provide personalized attention, tailored instruction and ongoing support to students who require additional assistance. By focusing on individual needs and leveraging evidence-based instructional strategies, HDT has shown remarkable results in improving student outcomes, boosting confidence, and narrowing achievement gaps.   A quality HDT tutoring program strictly invokes the following seven tenets:

  1. HDT tutoring programs should be run in-person and during the school day, whenever possible.
  1. HDT tutoring programs should be offered at least three times per week (five times per week is optimal), with sessions running from 30 to 90 minutes per day.  
  1. HDT tutoring sessions should be conducted one-on-one or in small groups (maximum 4:1 student:teacher ratio) to provide in-depth help for each child. 
  1. Instructors should be high-quality, college-educated professionals, with teaching experience and demonstrated content mastery.  HDT outcomes are most profound when there is a strong and long-lasting bond between instructor and student, so finding high-quality, committed educators to provide tutoring is critical.
  1. HDT instructors must be carefully selected, monitored, supported and provided with ongoing training. 
  1. Tutoring material and pace should be guided by student assessment data, so that tutoring can be custom-tailored to each student’s individual and real-time identified areas of need.  Assessments should be performed frequently, and future instruction informed by recent assessment results.
  1. HDT instructors should use engaging materials that are aligned with state standards, student’s home school curriculum and prevailing research on effective educational techniques, in order to help students quickly grasp concepts and apply their knowledge in the classroom setting.  Tutors should communicate liberally with student’s classroom teachers and families to ensure alignment and support for tutoring.  

The Focus of High-Dosage Tutoring:

HDT tutoring focuses on scaffolding academic content, unlike that of informal tutoring, which happens less consistently and often by less qualified tutors. HDT has proven to be an effective strategy for increasing student academic outcomes, but its value extends beyond academic gains, as it instills a sense of empowerment, resilience, and a love for learning in students, ultimately equipping them with the tools they need to succeed in their educational journey and beyond.

The challenges highlighted by the NAEP report serve as a sobering reminder that our education system requires immediate attention and reform. It is incumbent upon us to view this report not as a cause for despair, but as a catalyst for change.  HDT is a well-researched tool that can be employed to address pandemic-related learning loss, educational inequities, foster student engagement, and instill a love of learning.  The time for action is now, and we must seize this opportunity to create a transformative education system that empowers all students and prepares them to thrive in the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.