As school district administrators and policymakers turn to planning for the future, they are increasingly focused on potential interventions for remediating learning and developmental setbacks due to pandemic-caused schooling disruptions.
Tutoring interventions have been discussed on the blog in past posts, and a Brookings Institution piece in October summarized evidence on tutoring effectiveness. As the authors highlight in their paper and accompanying executive summary, the evidence suggests that tutoring is often impactful with more than 80% of the 96 randomized evaluations included in the review demonstrating statistically discernible effects. Some key conclusions of the summary are that who serves as tutors makes a difference for tutoring effectiveness, and the effects are often strongest among younger students. Recent evidence from experimental studies in international contexts also points to promising avenues to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on students.
Contributing to this conversation is a recent randomized study of a free, online tutoring program in Italy, which involved university student volunteers tutoring middle school students from disadvantaged backgrounds for three to six hours per week, for roughly five weeks. The working paper reports that students assigned to tutoring increased their performance on a standardized test covering math, Italian, and English by 0.26 standard deviations. In addition, these students improved their scores on (1) a composite index of social-emotional skills, based on survey measures of perseverance, grit, and locus of control, and (2) an index of psychological well-being. The authors note some concentrated effects among immigrant children and children from families of lower socioeconomic status.
What other cost-effective and scalable approaches exist for addressing student learning disruptions? A recent working paper offers an example, an intervention implemented in Botswana during COVID-19. The “low tech” program involved text messages and phone calls to parents that encouraged supporting learning at home and provided basic “problems of the week” to work through with their children. In the randomized study of the program, families were assigned to receive only text messages, to receive text messages and a phone call from an instructor, or no contact. Compared to the no contact group, children whose parents received both the phone and text messages showed higher scores (0.12 standard deviations) on an assessment created from the ASER test. The text-only group did not realize similar gains.