The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted New Jersey school districts throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Many schools were forced to close their physical doors to ensure student and educator safety, which had a significant impact on student learning across the state, especially in some of the largest and neediest districts.
According to a report released by JerseyCAN in March, New Jersey students lost on average 30 percent of expected learning in ELA and 36 percent of expected learning in math during last school year. And while learning gaps were widespread before the pandemic, with the loss of in-person instruction and equitable access to online learning, the problem only grew. Black students in the state lost on average 43 percent of expected learning in ELA and 50 percent in math, while Latinx students lost 37 percent of expected learning in ELA and 40 percent in math, according to the same report. The losses were also greater than average for economically disadvantaged students, who experienced a learning loss of approximately 40 percent in ELA and 43 percent in math.
In the face of such shortfalls, we knew classroom teaching alone would not be enough. The crisis called for a research-proven, high-impact solution: small-group high-dosage tutoring.
The launch of the NJ Tutoring Corps
This past April, Overdeck Family Foundation partnered with the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), the Y Alliance, and the Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey to create a research-informed, high-dosage, small-group tutoring program to tackle COVID-related learning loss and accelerate learning recovery. The original program was designed for summer, with the goal of scaling it during the 2021-2022 school year if it proved to be successful.
The newly-created NJ Tutoring Corps was funded through a combined $2.4 million grant from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and Overdeck Family Foundation and was aimed at students across the state who were most impacted by pandemic-related learning losses. It incorporated best practices from other statewide initiatives and research that has consistently demonstrated the power of small-group tutoring to address students’ academic and social-emotional needs.
With just four short weeks to prepare this past spring, NJ Tutoring Corps Executive Director Katherine Bassett and her team recruited 95 tutors representing undergraduate students, paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and certified and retired teachers across the state. They also formalized relationships with 23 Boys & Girls Clubs and Y Alliance clubs to serve as tutoring locations. While TCNJ housed the central operations of the tutoring program, on-site coordinators at the Boys & Girls Clubs and Ys provided ongoing coaching and support for the tutors.
All rising K-5 children attending summer programming at participating Boys & Girls Clubs of New Jersey and Y Alliance sites in high-need areas of New Jersey participated in the program free of charge. Across the program, there were 2,000 “scholars,” who were placed in small groups of one to five and received three, one-hour sessions of tutoring per week for seven weeks.
With limited time available and data showing that students have experienced more learning loss in math than in reading, the summer program targeted math recovery. Tutors prioritized units for each grade level with accompanying assessments, utilizing Illustrative Mathematics as the core curriculum and Bedtime Math’s Fun Factor as an experiential supplement. Each site was equipped with Illustrative Math workbooks, printers, iPads, math manipulatives, and traditional classroom supplies, as well as activity-based materials donated by Fun Factor. All lessons blended content, hands-on learning, and formative assessments over the course of the seven-week program.
“Having the activity-based Fun Factor program in addition to the Illustrative Math curriculum gave tutors a substantial toolbox of both core and supplementary math activities,” said NJ Tutoring Corps Executive Director Katherine Bassett. “Watching the faces of scholars light up in smiles as they used the Fun Factor materials and listening to them talk about how much fun math is was a highlight of every site visit I made.”
The impact of summer tutoring in NJ
In addition to increasing math proficiency for scholars, the NJ Tutoring Corps was effective in increasing scholar excitement for math and growing tutor knowledge and understanding of math instruction.
From its conception, evaluation was a critical component of the program. TCNJ employed a two-fold evaluation approach, engaging in an external assessment through the Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services at Montclair State University and conducting its own internal assessment with pre- and post-tests for students; surveys of site directors, site coordinators and tutors; and ongoing tutor performance observations and evaluations.
External evaluation results are expected next month, but internal assessments reveal positive impact after just seven weeks and 14 to 21 days of tutoring. The results, seen in the chart below, demonstrate the growth students experienced within grade-specific units, with the largest growth occurring in grades one and three.
“From the outset we knew any solution we created would have to move the needle, not just tinker around the edges. Our goal was to accelerate student learning while helping students recover socio-emotionally so they could truly re-engage with their education,” said Laura Overdeck, Chair of Overdeck Family Foundation and President and Co-Founder of Bedtime Math. “It’s incredibly compelling to see how effective the program was in just seven short weeks, and how excited the tutors and scholars were about improving their ability to teach and learn math.”
To measure student growth, all scholars took a brief assessment at the start of the program to identify their most urgent skill gaps, enabling tutors to prioritize these topics during the program. Throughout the summer, they took unit-specific assessments to measure progress, as well as guide the tutoring topics going forward.
In addition to the student impact, there were several benefits to the tutors themselves. The Corps was diverse and reflected the student body; additionally, survey data showed that tutors grew in their knowledge and understanding of math instruction. As one tutor noted, “It was a rewarding experience and I learned so much about these communities and the children in these communities. I felt proud to see their scores improve from week one to week seven.”
Bringing the NJ Tutoring Corps to the school year
We’re proud to announce that the NJ Tutoring Corps will expand to the school year starting in January. The program’s goal will be to reach thousands of students at 42 Boys & Girls Clubs and Y Alliance school-based sites across the state through afterschool programming.
“We’re eager to scale the program to the school year and reach even more New Jersey students,” added Overdeck. “We expect that the expansion of the program will not only provide academic acceleration to thousands of additional students, but will also offer the socioemotional support a tutor and consistent adult-student relationship brings.”
The program will run throughout the rest of school year, with students receiving a minimum of three hours of tutoring per week in math and two hours a week in literacy. It will offer a virtual option as well, in cases where there are no in-person tutors available due to geography or health and safety reasons. The specific program model will vary based on the location; the majority of the Y Alliance programs occur in schools, while the Boys & Girls Clubs tend to offer programming at their own sites.
To ensure that the program stays effective, TCNJ is making some programmatic changes to improve student learning based on what they learned from the summer program. This includes:
- Using a core curriculum with a stronger scope and sequence, as well as more robust training and coaching for tutors
- Migrating to a versatile tutoring platform to provide agility to the tutors and coaches when needed
- Adding a literacy curriculum to the tutoring program for K-2 scholars
- Adding coaches to the field teams to work 1:1 with tutors
“The addition of a literacy curriculum for our K-2 scholars is a welcome and needed component. Even in math, reading is a necessary skill. If one cannot read fluently, math becomes even more difficult. We are delighted to continue to work with Illustrative Mathematics and Fun Factor, while adding this much-needed component to our toolbox,” added Bassett.
Based on the impact to-date, we are confident that this program will result in achievement gains for even more New Jersey students. Please reach out if you want to learn more about the NJ Tutoring Corps or are interested in joining us in supporting the program with ongoing funding.