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Online tutoring effective at making up for COVID-19 learning loss

San Diego Unified was among 10 districts with the most schools with suspension rates of 10 percent or lower.
KPBS News
Undated photo shows students in classroom.

A pilot program intended to measure the results of online tutoring for K-12 students has shown promising results in helping them recover from pandemic-driven learning loss, researchers at UC San Diego announced Wednesday.

Conducted in partnership with the volunteer mentorship nonprofit CovEducation, the program matched students with volunteer student tutors from research universities.

"Our program explores the possibilities of a low-cost model with volunteer tutors which has the potential to reach more students in need," said Sally Sadoff, associate professor of economics and strategic management at UCSD's Rady School of Management and one of the study's co-authors.

"The pandemic has been a seismic and ongoing disruption to K-12 schooling," Sadoff said. "We find the tutoring offered during our study helped participants close about a quarter to a third of the learning loss during COVID."

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According to Sadoff and her colleagues, disruptions to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic have increased interests in expanding online tutoring to K-12 students. However, expanding virtual academic support across public schools is constrained by high program costs and limited local supplies of tutors.

According to the findings, students who got more hours of online tutoring experienced better results.

"Our results show consistently positive effects," Sadoff said. "They're promising enough to suggest that online tutoring should be tested at a larger scale so the impact can be estimated with more confidence."

The CovEd college students worked one-on-one with predominantly underserved students twice a week for 30 minutes for 12 weeks. Tutoring focused on building personal relationships with students and supplementing their learning in math and reading. Around 230 tutors participated in the pilot program from across 47 U.S. colleges and universities. They mentored 264 students.

"Our study also serves as proof of concept that low-cost online support with volunteer tutors can be integrated into the regular school day during both remote and in-person learning," Sadoff said. "We think there's reason to be optimistic about the prospect of online tutoring, given the positive results we achieved with a significantly lower-cost program that was delivered within the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Findings from the study are slated for publication in the journal American Economic Association Papers and Proceedings.