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Ensuring Equitable Student Outcomes With High-Impact Tutoring

Equity is often a central theme in a school or district’s decision to implement tutoring. But what does it actually mean to implement an equitable tutoring program? Read our key considerations for developing tutoring programs that ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

The Center for Education Market Dynamics • June 09, 2023

Equity is often at the heart of the decision to implement tutoring in a school or district. While tutoring is an effective tool to address unfinished learning for all students, leaders across the country have identified tutoring as a way to accelerate learning for students who were most impacted by the pandemic, recognizing that the pandemic had disproportionate impacts on historically underserved student groups and students who were already behind academically.

Given equity is a driving force behind many district tutoring initiatives, it’s not surprising we hear the term referenced often. But what does it actually mean to implement an equitable tutoring program?

The National Student Support Accelerator (NSSA), a research and thought leader in the tutoring field, has identified “Equity” as a foundational element to high-impact tutoring programs: “Tutoring programs should work toward equitable outcomes for students. Therefore, decisions regarding access and participation should be rooted in equity” (NSSA Toolkit for Tutoring Programs). In order to achieve equitable outcomes for students, equity should be at the center of all tutoring design, implementation, and measurement decisions. Below, we outline a few key considerations for developing equitable tutoring programs.

When evaluating program model options, access does not equal equitable impact.

In order for a tutoring program to be equitable, it must be accessible to students who need it most. However, equitable outcomes aren’t achieved unless these students are able to actually attend and engage in the tutoring sessions. A 2022 report from NSSA (The inequity of opt-in educational resources and an intervention to increase equitable access) that analyzed a school system’s implementation of on-demand tutoring (during which students had 24/7 access to an online tutoring platform) found that take up was low. Only 19% of students ever accessed the platform, and struggling students were far less likely to opt in than their higher-achieving peers, inciting concerns that this program model could indeed exacerbate achievement gaps rather than close them. These results underscore that access does not lead to equitable impact. When evaluating program model options, consider models that are likely to reach the students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, such as high-impact tutoring offered during the school day.

Tutor recruitment and training are key mechanisms for driving equity.

Tutors are at the core of implementation. It follows that the tutors themselves are key to ensuring students feel a sense of belonging and empowerment while participating in tutoring. One way to achieve this goal is to have a tutor pool that reflects the diversity of the local community. In order to create a diverse candidate pool, NSSA suggests:

  • Being explicit about your program’s prioritization of hiring tutors that reflect the diversity of their students: Potential candidates may not assume that this is important to your program. Make it clear on your website and in promotional materials that this is a priority and why.
  • Making the application process accessible: The application tasks might be challenging to complete, but the directions should be easy to understand. The application itself should live on one platform, and completing it should not require too many steps. A convoluted application with confusing directions discourages qualified applicants from getting started.
  • Getting input from stakeholder communities on where and how to recruit: Students, parents, schools, and current tutors can be resources for tapping into pools of potential tutors. Some programs involve members of these stakeholder groups in their recruitment process (e.g. by having prospective tutors lead model sessions under interviewer supervision, then soliciting student feedback).

After tutors are selected, best practice for high-impact tutoring programs includes ongoing tutor training. This provides another opportunity to center equity. NSSA suggests providing opportunities for tutors to “build awareness related to their attitudes towards education and the experiences they’ve had that inform their vision of the type of instructor they want to be”. Initial and ongoing training topics could include:

  • Setting a foundation for exploring identity
  • Building self-awareness through uncovering implicit bias
  • Exploring different forms of privilege
  • Generating awareness around the history of systemic racism, paying special attention to local context
  • Building understanding of the local context

Don’t forget about measurement.

Measurement is an essential component of any tutoring program, and is yet another key program component to design with equity in mind. Equitable measurement plans ensure a wide range of stakeholders are able to provide input on their experiences with the program, including tutors, teachers, families, and the students themselves. They also disaggregate both outcomes data and experience data by demographics to identify any discrepancies in the outcomes and experiences of those who have participated (this includes tutors, too!). In developing a measurement plan, ensure there are opportunities to reflect on feedback and data throughout the program, not just at the end. This creates essential opportunities to adapt the program in real time in order to achieve the equitable outcomes you seek.

These three considerations alone don’t make a tutoring program equitable — that determination is left ultimately to the outcomes the programs produce. Nevertheless, these programmatic considerations provide opportunities for district leaders to effectively leverage tutoring as a tool to drive equitable outcomes for students.

For more resources, visit studentsupportaccelerator.com.

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