Three times a week, Grayson Edwards, a junior at Mississippi State University, drives 60 minutes round trip to serve students in rural Mississippi.
Grayson is an Academic Guide with Mission Acceleration, a high-impact, high-dosage tutoring model using college students as tutors created through a partnership with the University of Mississippi, the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, and the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Designed to address the needs of those most affected by the instructional disruptions of COVID-19, the program includes 113 Academic Guides, representing 13 of Mississippi’s postsecondary institutions, across 16 sites in 7 communities, working with over 400 students in Grades K–5.
In the spring of 2020, almost overnight, classrooms emptied due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mississippi schools were no exception. The resulting learning loss created new achievement gaps and deepened existing deficits. As school campuses have slowly re-opened over the past year, the question of how to address this learning loss remains in conversations and decision-making at every level of education. For many, high-dosage tutoring has been the answer.
What is High-Dosage Tutoring?
What exactly is high-dosage tutoring? It’s an intensive, one-on-one, or small-group tutoring program focused on acceleration or the scaffolding of academic content to provide students access to new learning, improving their ability to participate in grade-level instruction and mitigating the stigma of being part of the tutoring process. While high-dosage tutoring is not new to education, its perception as a valuable tool in providing relief and recovery from the impact of pandemic learning loss marks a change in how rigorously such programs are developed and implemented by states, districts, and schools.
What Does the Research Say?
There’s good reason for the renewed interest. Research on high-dosage tutoring suggests the effect sizes are impressive—some of the largest documented across all of the interventions provided in education (Fryer, 2016). Dr. Matthew Kraft, one of the co-authors of a recent policy brief on high-dosage tutoring, Accelerating Student Learning with High-Dosage Tutoring, stated in a 2021 podcast interview that he would be “hard-pressed to find another intervention that has as wide and as rigorous a body of evidence of its efficacy for improving student performance in both math and reading” (Gov Innovator Podcast, 2021).
The policy brief, part of the EdResearch for Recovery Design Principles series, examines the research evidence for boosting academic achievement through high-dosage tutoring and provides design principles that typify the characteristics of effective high-impact, high-dosage tutoring programs. Though the policy brief cites multiple factors, Dr. Carly D. Robinson, another co-author of the report, noted three key components essential to successful tutoring interventions, especially for underserved populations of students: dosage, training, and relationships (Gov Innovator Podcast, 2021).
The Key Three?
“High-dosage” interventions—in contrast to “low-dosage” interventions that occur one to two times per week—are defined as occurring three or more times per week, 30–60 minutes per day, for at least ten weeks. Mission Acceleration followed a similar dosage model recommended by research (Fryer, 2016) during the fall of 2021, with an average of 145 participating scholars receiving three 45-minute tutoring sessions per week from Academic Guides like Grayson. These sessions were held virtually and face-to-face, with a maximum tutor-to-student ratio of 1:4.
Adequate training is another component necessary for implementing a successful intervention program. While teachers are considered more consistently skilled in tutoring students, recent studies have noted that paraprofessionals and volunteers that are provided appropriate levels of training and continuous support can also be effective in improving student outcomes in both math and reading (Baye et al., 2018). The Academic Guides in the Mission Acceleration program receive an overview of the components of structured literacy and in-depth training on the use of the scripted intervention (based on the science of teaching reading). Tutor trainings are followed by ongoing support from Mission Acceleration staff in the best use of diagnostic and formative data to identify areas of student need, review the effectiveness of the tutoring intervention, and individualize tutoring sessions.
Relationships are also critical to the effectiveness of high-dosage programs. While not technically providing mentoring to students, ensuring they are consistently paired with the same tutor can result in many of the benefits associated with the mentor model (DuBois et al., 2011). As noted in the Accelerating Student Learning with High-Dosage Tutoring report, several studies have also indicated promising results with paid volunteers and college students, like the tutors provided through Mission Acceleration.
Mississippi’s Mission Acceleration can also attest to the positive impact of high-dosage tutoring. In the fall of 2021, Mission Acceleration program activities at nine sites across seven Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading communities resulted in four months of reading growth in just nine weeks (Center for Research Evaluation, 2022). Additionally, the Mission Acceleration program significantly increased the STAR Unified Scores (a reading assessment) of K–5 students by an average of 24.81 points. And the program has no intention of stopping there. Scaling up each semester continues to be a priority. Mission Acceleration is exploring additional funding opportunities and is planning for another summer of successful intervention programming for students.
As for Grayson and other Academic Guides like him? He probably summarizes the importance of high-dosage tutoring best:
The service we provide through Mission Acceleration is so much more than tutoring. Spending a few hours each week with the scholars is not only shaping their academic skills, but it’s also building confidence in themselves. In other words, Academic Guides are playing a pivotal role in the development of each scholar they interact with, and I’m not sure you can find a more fulfilling opportunity than this (Mission Acceleration, 2022).
Well said, Grayson. Very well said.
Authors: Angie Caldwell, Ruth Gumm, Kim McWhirter, and Angela Rutherford, Region 7 Comprehensive Center.
Baye, A., Inns, A., Lake, C., & Salvin, R. E. (2018). A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students. Reading Research Quarterly, (54)2.
Center for Research Evaluation. (2022). Summary of Mission Acceleration Evaluation Data for Fall 2021. University of Mississippi.
DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12(2), 57–91. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100611414806
Feldman, A. (Host). (2021). Boosting student achievement with high-dosage tutoring: An interview with Carly Robinson and Matthew Kraft [Audio Podcast]. Gov Innovator Podcast. https://govinnovator.com/tutoring/
Fryer, R. G. (2016). The Production of Human Capital in Developed Countries: Evidence from 196 Randomized Field Experiments. National Bureau of Economic Research.
Mission Acceleration. (2022, March 8). Academic Guide Spotlight: Grayson Edwards [Facebook Post]. https://www.facebook.com/MissionAccel
Robinson, C. D., Kraft, M. A., Loeb, S., & Schueler, B. E. (2021). Accelerating student learning with high-dosage tutoring. EdResearch for Recovery.
Sawchuk, S. (2020). High-Dosage Tutoring Is Effective, But Expensive. Ideas for Making It Work. Education Week.