HomeTop StoriesHigh-impact tutoring in DC increases attendance, research shows

High-impact tutoring in DC increases attendance, research shows

High-quality tutoring programs not only help students learn reading and math quickly, but can also reduce absenteeism, new research shows.

The preliminary results, focused on schools in Washington, DC, show that middle school students attended three additional days and students in lower grades improved their attendance by two days when tutored during regular school hours.

But high-impact tutoring (defined as at least 90 minutes per week with the same teacher, spread over multiple sessions) had the greatest impact on students who had missed 30% or more of the previous school year. Their attendance improved by at least five days, according to the study from the National Student Support Accelerator, a Stanford University-based center that conducts tutoring research.


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Susanna Loeb, who directs the center, called the data “the first evidence of a strong causal link between specific tutoring and attendance.”

Hedy Chang, executive director of the nonprofit Attendance Works, says it makes sense that students are more likely to come to school if they keep up in class and get good grades.

“Part of the reason why kids don’t show up is because they don’t feel successful in school,” she said. Forming a bond with a teacher over several weeks or months can also make students more motivated to participate, she added. “I really think it’s an impact of high-dose tutoring, and not necessarily just tutoring.”

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The initial findings, which will be expanded in a future article, reinforce the benefits of offering high-impact tutoring during the school day. The additional instruction time will help schools address two of their biggest post-pandemic problems: learning loss and chronic absenteeism, the researchers said. The White House has urged districts to not only focus remaining federal relief funds on those areas but also explore ways to continue those efforts if they dry up.

Districts that continue to provide tutoring programs will likely “put student achievement first,” Loeb said, “with increased engagement — including increased attendance — as another outcome they hope to see.”

DC’s experience with tutoring also showed how to successfully integrate tutoring sessions into the school day. The state education agency, which has spent $35 million on the program, has charged staff members with rearranging the schedule to accommodate the sessions and tracking data on student participation.

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“They took that from the principal,” D.C. State Superintendent Christina Grant said at a January conference hosted by Accelerate, an organization working to scale up high-dose tutoring. She added that working with researchers like those at Stanford can help districts communicate the impact of federal relief funds. Without these partnerships, she said, “we would look back three years later and not be able to tell the authentic story of what happened to $35 million.”

Christina Grant, left, state superintendent of schools in the District of Columbia, attended the Accelerate conference in January with Joanna Cannon of the Walton Family Foundation.  (Accelerate)

Christina Grant, left, state superintendent of schools in the District of Columbia, attended the Accelerate conference in January with Joanna Cannon of the Walton Family Foundation. (Accelerate)

The district, which had a chronic absenteeism rate of more than 40% last school year, started its tutoring program in 2021. Officials awarded grants to several providers, including Saga Education, which focuses on high school math, and American University’s teacher preparation program.

Sousa Middle School, in southeast D.C., partners with George Washington University’s Math Matters program, which pays students interested in STEM or education to work as tutors.

“My challenge when this program first started was to get students to come and not see it as a form of punishment,” said Sharon Fitzgerald, Sousa’s tutoring manager. Now students who have “graduated” from the program are asking why they can’t come back.

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Sousa Middle seventh graders practiced their math skills during a tutoring session.  (DC Public Schools)Sousa Middle seventh graders practiced their math skills during a tutoring session.  (DC Public Schools)

Sousa Middle seventh graders practiced their math skills during a tutoring session. (DC Public Schools)

The students responded well, she said, because it is “a break from seeing their regular teachers every day” and because they look up to the students. The teachers, she added, also have a clever way of giving students a preview of how much more they will learn at their next meeting and when they go to class every day.

“It was what the teachers left them at the last session that encouraged them to come to school,” Fitzgerald said.

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The results are likely to spark greater interest in how guidance and attendance initiatives can work together.

“We didn’t intentionally use teachers as a way to address attendance. I imagine it would help if some of their work focused on that,” said AJ Gutierrez, co-founder of Saga Education. “I see potential.”

Attendance Works’ Chang says the results are “on the right track” but don’t go far enough. During the 2022-2023 school year, several states still had chronic absenteeism rates above 30%, including Alaska, New Mexico and Oregon.

Tutoring doesn’t address all the barriers that keep students from going to school, such as health problems or bullying, she says. But teachers can refer students to school visiting teams if these concerns surface.

“What more could we get,” she asked, “if tutoring were tied to a larger strategy, a more comprehensive approach?” ”

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