Learning Acceleration

High-dosage tutoring pairs technology with personalization. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Justin Serrano

The focus in K-12 education these days is on acceleration, and no wonder: Pandemic-related disruptions have set back students’ academic progress by months or even years, and the impact has been greatest on poor and underserved communities that already face extra hurdles to success. The availability of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars, along with philanthropy-backed initiatives, has education leaders shopping for solutions, and they’re in a hurry.

While urgency is appropriate, it’s equally important that those making decisions for their schools and districts understand the options available and choose those that will serve their students best. Tutoring is a perfect example: A growing consensus holds that it is effective in accelerating learning, and districts want to provide it for all students — not just those whose parents can afford it on their own. But what kind of tutoring, from which vendors? The options are proliferating and there is no broad consensus on a “best model.”

‘While urgency is appropriate, it’s equally important that those making decisions for their schools and districts understand the options available and choose those that will serve their students best.’ 

What we do know from the ongoing conversation around tutoring is that different approaches serve different needs, and just one approach — high-dosage tutoring (HDT) — is backed by research demonstrating its effectiveness. 

Key Components

Despite the media buzz around HDT, there’s confusion about what it actually is. By definition, HDT requires vetted, research-based content that aligns with a district’s own curriculum. It’s delivered by a consistent tutor multiple times per week with a student-instructor ratio of no more than 3-to-1. It can be delivered in person or via real-time video and audio; what’s important is that students and teachers be able to interact — to navigate difficult content together, but also to converse and to build the rapport and relationships that are so essential to learning, especially for younger students. For edtech innovators, this presents an opportunity to overcome any negative perceptions of remote learning. 

Data and Assessments

Regardless of whether a district chooses in-person or remote tutoring, the ability to compile and report data is essential. With individual assessment data, schools can tailor HDT to a student’s needs; before-and-after assessments provide a valid measure of the program’s effectiveness.

Quality by Design

HDT is distinctly different from the chat-based homework-help apps that are proliferating in the post-pandemic edtech market. Chat-based “tutoring” may be relatively easy to implement, but it lacks the design features and assessment data that research says are critical to accelerating learning among disadvantaged students. Whatever value on-demand homework help may provide for some, it’s inadequate for students who have neither parental support nor a home environment conducive to schoolwork. Some education scholars have even suggested that offering only homework help may actually make inequities worse, because it would help students who already are advantaged but would be useless to those who need the most assistance.

Experiencing Its Success

For the unprecedented challenge of post-pandemic learning recovery, HDT has unique promise. Even better, as districts experience its success, HDT can become a permanent engine of equity, empowering districts to finally begin to close learning gaps that have persisted for generations. For educators, this could be the ultimate pandemic silver lining.


Justin Serrano is CEO and Founder of Littera Education, an academic support platform helping districts set up, staff, and monitor ELA and math tutoring. Contact Justin through LinkedIn.


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