The Transformative Potential of Tutoring for Pre K-12 Learning Outcomes: Lessons from Randomized Evaluations

In the United States, millions of students are behind grade level—a number that will only continue to grow as COVID-19 disrupts the learning landscape nationwide. These realities are particularly troubling as once students are behind, it can be very difficult to catch up. Among the most widespread and versatile educational tools, tutoring—supplemental one-on-one or small group instruction—has been promoted as an effective method for helping students learn, particularly those who have fallen behind. But how can we know what types of tutoring are most effective and for whom?

As the education system works to stabilize and adapt in the wake of COVID-19, effective methods to help students catch up are essential. Tutoring is a proven and agreed upon strategy that education leaders can be sure works.

J-PAL’s Tutoring Evidence Review aims to serve as a resource as education leaders, policymakers, and funders work to combat the COVID-19 learning loss, improve student learning outcomes, and minimize the growth of academic disparities.

The review summarizes a recent meta-analysis of randomized evaluations of tutoring programs, focusing on literature from high-income countries. Key findings from the Evidence Review include:

  • Across all studies included in this analysis, tutoring programs consistently lead to large improvements in learning outcomes for students, with an overall pooled effect size of 0.37 standard deviations. This impact translates to a student advancing from the 50th percentile to nearly the 66th percentile. 
  • Tutoring programs led by teacher or paraprofessional tutors are generally more effective than programs that used nonprofessional (volunteer) or parent tutors. Paraprofessional tutors include, among others, school staff members, undergraduate students in education, and service fellows.
  • The effects of tutoring programs tend to be strongest among students in earlier grades, though a smaller set of programs at the secondary level were also found to be effective at improving learning outcomes.
  • While overall effects for math and reading tutoring programs are similar, reading tutoring tends to be relatively more effective for students in preschool through first grade, while math tutoring tends to be more effective for students in second through fifth grade.
  • Tutoring programs conducted during school tend to have larger impacts than those conducted after school.