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Virtual Learners
Virtual Learners

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image provided courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools


Which students have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

The school closures caused by COVID-19 revealed a difficult truth:  all students are expected to have some learning loss. But those who most need direct instruction and support from a teacher – low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities, and Black and Brown students – are likely to have experienced the most dramatic losses. 

Virginia’s Department of Education found that after one semester of at-home learning, more than one-third of low-income kindergarteners (36%) and nearly half (49%) of kindergarten English learners in the state are at high risk of reading failure. Black students, students with disabilities, Latino students, and low income students were similarly struggling. Results for first graders were nearly the same. Research tells us that readers who struggle in early elementary school often do not make up that lost ground

In Fairfax County and many counties across the nation, failing grades have increased across all grade levels for underserved students who lack the resources that support online schooling. The pandemic has had a much larger negative impact on the academic performance of vulnerable students and therefore worsens the documented achievement gap between historically underserved students and those with means. 

A study by McKinsey & Co. found that remote schooling last spring led to students of color falling behind by 3-5 months while white students only lost 1-3 months. Research from NWEA found that the lowest achieving and most at risk students may be two years behind academically. As remote education has persisted, this disproportionate learning loss has only worsened. 

The students who have been most affected by the pandemic are those who were already vulnerable and generally lack the means for private support. Direct intervention is critical to address the widening learning gaps for these students. 

Why is tutoring necessary and how effective is it?

Targeted intervention is critical to address the widespread learning loss and growing achievement gaps for underserved students due to the pandemic. Researchers from The Hamilton Project found that “students who fall behind grade-level material tend to stay behind. When these students miss developing crucial foundational skills, they can have major difficulties in subsequent learning tasks, which worsens the gap between them and their grade-level peers as they move from one grade to the next. This persistent mismatch between the learning needs of students and what classroom instruction delivers can seriously undermine students’ chances of success in the workforce and beyond.”

Students who are falling behind in the current classroom environment will not succeed without individualized instruction. Tutoring has proven to be a potent remedy for struggling students. Analysis by the Brookings Institute found that tutoring is almost universally effective. For struggling students, targeted tutoring has never been more important. 

What tutoring model works best?

Small group tutoring and one-on-one tutoring have both been found to have significant positive impacts for students. In math tutoring, one-on-one tutoring and small group tutoring with 2-3 students were equally effective. In literacy tutoring, one-on-one and small group tutoring netted similar gains for students, and for English language learners small group sessions were more effective than individual tutoring. In group tutoring, students perform best when placed with students of similar ability levels. For students who need intensive intervention, one-on-one tutoring is the most effective. EduTutorVA provides one-on-one tutoring and small group tutoring with up to 3 students per tutor to maximize the reach of each tutor and the efficacy of each session. 

Tutoring is also most effective when lessons occur frequently and consistently, and when sessions are tailored to a student’s attention span. Best practice research indicates that 2 to 3 tutoring sessions per week is optimal and lesson duration should be between 30 and 45 minutes for younger students and up to an hour for older students. EduTutorVA schedules a minimum of two tutoring sessions per week with students. Early elementary schoolers participants generally meet for 45 minutes, while middle schoolers attend 60 minute sessions.

What is the importance of pre- and post-testing?

EduTutorVA provides diagnostic pre- and post-tests tests for all students. Pre- and post-testing allows EduTutorVA to measure the improvements students have made. Data about students’ progress gives parents, teachers, and tutors a powerful window into a student’s current abilities and areas for growth. Furthermore, pre and post testing allows EduTutorVA to analyze the effectiveness of tutors and make changes to improve the quality and efficacy of tutoring moving forward. Using data to drive decisions has the potential to vastly improve educational outcomes, and EduTutorVA uses the data from pre and post tests to improve the quality of tutoring sessions for students and tutors alike. 

The pre-test also serves as a diagnostic test which allows tutors to tailor their instruction to students’ individual needs. With the information that the diagnostic test provides, tutors can focus only a student’s area of weakness which leads to faster progress and greater overall achievement. 

EduTutorVA’s goal is to provide the highest quality tutoring possible to students. Pre- and post-testing enables EduTutorVA to best support student’s needs as well as measure the effectiveness of tutoring and improve the program. 

How does EduTutorVA select its tutors? 

EduTutorVA’s mission is twofold: to support underserved students in key academic areas and to bolster the teaching workforce. EduTutorVA wants to give potential future teachers a positive introduction to the profession and help develop their skill set. EduTutorVA currently draws tutors from the education programs at George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. These tutors have a demonstrated interest in education and teaching and want to work with students. Tutors are paired with students in the grade levels they eventually want to teach and receive invaluable hands-on experience. Furthermore, a significant portion of EduTutorVA tutors are bilingual which allows them better serve their diverse group of students, including English language learners. 

Extensive research indicates that trained tutors with a background in education are the most effective tutors. Furthermore, numerous studies have found paid tutors to yield the best results. EduTutorVA pays tutors in order to provide the best tutoring possible to students and to support the future of the education workforce.

Why is preparing a diverse group of teacher candidates important? 

Just as there is a learning gap for students of color and low income students, there is a teacher diversity gap. The diversity of students across Virginia and the nation is not reflected in their teachers. In Virginia, only 48.9% of public school students are white, but 70.6% of teachers are white. Nationally, 53% of U.S. students are people of color, but 80% of teachers are white. 

Having a diverse population of teachers enhances every student’s education. Research demonstrates that having teachers of color combats negative stereotypes and leads to higher engagement and achievement. Additionally, when students are the same race as their teachers they are “more likely to complete high school and go to college, less likely to be suspended, and more likely to be referred to gifted and talented programs.” For students of color, having a teacher of color could change their trajectory. 

The lack of teacher diversity begins in the education workforce pipeline. The majority of people in teaching preparation programs are white. Creating a teaching workforce that truly reflects the diversity of the student population is a massive challenge. Closing the teacher diversity gap requires an additional 1 million teachers of color. EduTutorVA seeks to support and uplift students of color who are considering a career in education. Through EduTutorVA’s paid tutoring positions, education candidates gain valuable experience in the field with the necessary financial support and inspiration for a future teaching career.