Learning to read and becoming proficient in basic math are two of the essential skills that our students need to master. They are also skills that can require extra support. During the Covid-19 pandemic, interruptions to schooling made the teaching and learning of these basic skills even more challenging, and fueled conversations about how to scale-up targeted skills support and reinforcement so that all students can succeed and thrive.
Fortunately, Baltimore was already home to several proven tutoring programs, including Reading Partners, The Literacy Lab, and Success for All‘s Tutoring with the Lightning Squad. Each of those programs, launched in Baltimore years earlier with Abell support, served hundreds of students in pre-K to third grade prior to the pandemic, and provided high-dosage tutoring, either 1:1 or in small groups, to help support the development of early literacy skills.
As more students returned to school buildings, and federal and state governments dedicated funds to academic recovery, the Foundation published Literacy Tutoring in Baltimore: What we know, where we are, and how to move forward. The report identified tutoring best practices, documented the existing landscape of tutoring providers in Baltimore, and made recommendations for a scaled implementation that would best support the learning needs of children across Baltimore City Public Schools. The report validated the importance of high-quality programs aligned with best practices and reinforced the value of Baltimore’s nonprofit tutoring providers. It also highlighted the need for new approaches to support unmet needs.
Absence to Opportunity
One of the report’s key findings was the dearth of evidence-based programs to support struggling readers in middle school. With Abell funding, the team at Success for All adapted its successful elementary program, Tutoring with the Lightning Squad, for middle schools students in summer 2021 and launched a new pilot program entitled ThemeReads in three schools serving 50 students in the fall. ThemeReads uses a 1:4 tutor-to-student ratio and leverages adaptive computer technology to propel students’ acquisition of skills. Despite the persistent interruptions from Covid-19 quarantines and student absences, ThemeReads has seen 0.82 years of average growth for participants over the six months of the intervention and is poised to expand in the 2022-2023 school year.
The pandemic also highlighted the need for rigorous mathematics tutoring programs. With funding from Abell Foundation, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) Reach Together Tutoring Program (RTTP) launched in fall 2021 to provide high-dosage mathematics tutoring for 350 students across four schools in South Baltimore.
UMBC RTTP seeks to improve mathematics skills by utilizing research-based best practices to provide, personalized small group math instruction to students. The program recruits UMBC students to serve as mentor-tutors, pays them $18 per hour, and tasks them with increasing student achievement in 1:1 or 1:2 tutoring sessions. Tutors meet with students twice a week for two 45-minute sessions during the regular school day. Initial outcomes have been very promising. Participating students have demonstrated growth in percentile rank from 4.994 to 7.522 from beginning of the year to middle of the year on the iReady assessment. When compared to the control group, which saw a percentile rank decrease of 0.52, participating students saw an estimated treatment growth of +2.477 percentiles.
Photos courtesy of the UMBC Reach Together Tutoring Program.