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More Illinois students will have access to tutoring services this year. What will happen when federal COVID relief funding expires?

Jack Goodwin was already struggling with math in middle school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, upending his education even further. His mother, Shelly, knew he needed extra help to catch up.

But Shelly Goodwin couldn’t find a tutor in their small town of Paris, about four hours south of Chicago.

“I would ask teachers, ‘Do you know anyone who is a tutor or can you do it?'” Shelly Goodwin said. “They would try to meet [Jack] after school, but they had five or six kids after school and they were like, ‘We don’t really know anybody who tutors here.’ »

Now Jack is a high school freshman and spends an hour three days a week with a tutor provided through a high-impact tutoring program called the Illinois Tutoring Initiative.

His district — Paris Union School District 95 — was one of seven that were part of an initial rollout of the $25 million effort to help students catch up in reading and math using the money federal COVID recovery program, which state officials aim to expand to 60 districts by the end of this semester.

In order to roll out the program, hire tutors, and expand the initiative to districts, the state partnered with local universities and a private online tutoring company called Pearl. But federal relief money supporting the initiative will dry up in two years, raising questions about the effort’s ultimate effectiveness.

The Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Council on Higher Education, and Illinois State University partnered to create the initiative during the semester spring of last school year. The state’s P-20 Learning Council recommended high-impact tutoring in a report in 2021 to help get students back on track.

The program provides tutoring to districts that serve a majority of students from low-income families and have been hardest hit by the pandemic. K-8 students work on reading and math with an in-person tutor while high school students work on math online.

This fall, 300 tutors are working with 800 students in 30 districts across the state. The initiative plans to double the number of districts in the coming weeks.

Chicago Public Schools has invested $25 million of its federal COVID recovery money in a similar program called Tutor Corps, which helps match students with a tutor. The district provided 230 schools with at least one tutor to work with students in math and reading.

As of October 18, the district has hired 662 tutors to work with 9,000 students. The district plans to expand the corps to 20 additional schools, with a total of 800 tutors to work with 12,000 students this school year.

High-impact tutoring could help students catch up

At first, Jack Goodwin was reluctant to find a tutor. He prefers to play football in the summer, he told his mother. But she insisted, and he began meeting in person with her tutor, Cody Sanders, three times a week. Since the start of the school year this fall, he has switched to online tutoring after football practice and has started working with a new tutor.

Like Jack, students in the program meet with tutors individually or in small groups of up to three students for one hour, three times a week for eight to 14 weeks. The program does not give students new lessons to work on, but supports what teachers are already doing in classrooms.

Education researchers call this approach high-impact tutoring and say it’s the most effective way to get students back on track post-pandemic.

Only about a third of fourth and eighth graders in Illinois are considered proficient in reading and math, according to results from the National Assessment of Academic Progress, known as the the “national bulletin”, published yesterday. Fourth-graders performed better on the math test, with 38% rated as proficient.

Miguel Cardona, education secretary, called the national test results “appalling and unacceptable” and said the nation’s reaction would determine “our standing in the world”.

He noted that more than half of districts across the country are turning to high-impact tutoring to recover.

That’s because it’s one of the few programs that shows students progress in math and reading, according to a report 2021 from the Annenberg Institute of Brown University and the University of Virginia.

The report defines high-impact tutoring as more than three days a week or at least 50 hours over 36 weeks. He recommends that students work individually with tutors or in small groups of no more than three to four students.

Tutors don’t need to be current educators to help students, the report concludes, but they do need proper training and ongoing support.

Community members become tutors

When Cody Sanders was first assigned to work with Jack over the summer, Shelly Goodwin was relieved because she already knew the tutor from their Parisian community.

“I overprotect my kids, and they’ll tell you that,” Shelly Goodwin said with a laugh. “It made me feel really good to know him and he’s from the community. He’s a really great person.

Sanders wanted to tutor students after losing his leg to sepsis from diabetes in October 2020. He was feeling out of the ordinary and thought helping people would be good for him.

Sanders has tutored third- through eighth-grade students in the Paris Union School District since the program began in the district in the spring. Tutoring has benefited Sanders as well as his students, he said. “These children also helped me to come out of my shell.”

In addition to placing future educators from partner higher education institutions in the classroom, the program also hires current teachers, retired educators, and community members such as Sanders. Prospective tutors only need a high school diploma. For high school math, program officials review transcripts to see if tutors are proficient in the subject they are teaching.

The program trains tutors to help them adapt to working with students, learn about high-impact tutoring and culturally appropriate teaching, and understand how to support students. Before working with students, prospective tutors are required to pass a content assessment with an 80% or higher.

When the program was initially rolled out in the spring, tutors received $20 per hour for individual tutoring and $30 per hour for group tutoring. Now, tutors can earn $50 per hour, regardless of class.

Christy Borders, director of the Illinois Tutoring Initiative, said raising the pay rate was important because the program struggled to recruit tutors who could work elsewhere for the same amount or more.

While the primary goal of the initiative was to meet the learning needs of students, Borders said, the program also helps bring jobs to communities that need them.

Will the tutoring continue after the COVID money expires?

Shelly Goodwin says the tutoring program has improved her son’s mood and given him confidence. Jack is smiling even now, she noted.

It was the first time Jack’s district was able to offer this type of tutoring and school leaders say they are seeing students make progress in reading and math. Jeremy Larson, superintendent of Paris Union School District 95, said the district saw gains in both subjects in the state’s annual spring assessment for students in grades three through eight.

There are also signs that tutoring is paying off in addition to better test scores.

“We’ve noticed that students who participate have better attendance,” Larson said, “which we believe is a socio-emotional driver of interest in coming to school.”

Even if positive results emerge from the deployment of the tutoring initiative, the program may run out of time.

Federal COVID relief funds are due to expire in 2024, and there’s still a lot of work to do. Since the initiative is still young, there is not enough data to prove that the program has helped students recover from the pandemic and make meaningful academic progress.

For her part, Shelly Goodwin has seen Jack improve in math and hopes the tutoring program will last throughout his high school career. She still remembers the struggle to find affordable tutoring in her rural community and hopes she won’t be left in the same position after federal funding ends.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering state school districts, legislation, special education, and the state Board of Education. Contact Samantha at [email protected]

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