The Special Administrative Board (SAB) for St. Louis Public Schools has approved funneling $5 million in federal money into an intense tutoring program.
The district hired three outside vendors to give the program a try with 2,174 students at 23 schools this past school year. Based on benchmark exams, students who participated in the program on average made greater academic strides when compared to those who did not get the extra help.
“Data also show that relationship between the tutor and young people was seen as positive by the young persons,” said Superintendent Kelvin Adams.
The program was in place at all 18 schools with chronically low academic performance. These schools will receive more resources, including social workers and counselors, under the district’s school improvement plan. The plan divides the district into four tiers based on academic success, and the 18 schools with the lowest level of achievement are on a level called the Superintendent Zone.
“They’re really working together to focus directly on kids,” Adams said. “One on the social-emotional side, one on the academic side with the tutoring.”
The data are based on assessment tools used by the vendors the district hired to provide the tutoring. It remains to be seen whether the program will move the needle on state exams. Those numbers are still months away.
Board member Richard Gaines urged caution when assessing the early results.
“These statistics don’t mean anything,” Gaines said. “And they don’t mean anything because there’s not enough time, there are no control studies, there’s none of that.”
At the same time, Gaines called the tutoring program one of the most powerful weapons the district has when it comes to improving student success.
Adams had asked the board to approve using $4.5 million in federal money available to the district for the program. The SAB approved the same amount last year, but the program ended up costing only $3.9 million.
In response, Gaines moved to add an extra $500,000 to expand the program next school year and request that Adams come back to SAB to extend it again the following year.
“I absolutely believe that we must do this,” Gaines said.
In some schools, the program did not move the needle, and according to a report presented to the SAB, the key factors in its success included attendance rates and training. The early results also show that the most improvement was seen in mathematics. Those findings are in line with data on a similar program in the Houston Independent School District that was part of school turnaround effort called Apollo 20.
“There were several components to the program,” Said Ruth López Turley, who reviewed the program for the Houston Education Research Consortium. “The main component that seemed to be driving the gains was the 'high-dosage' tutoring.”
Much like the report issued by SLPS administrators on Thursday night, she said success ultimately hinged on training and hanging on to the best possible tutors. In the second year of the Apollo 20 program, she said it lost some of the best tutors and a decline in student success followed.
“They were able to really bring in all these qualified tutors for the first year,” López Turley said. “But they had trouble keeping them for the second year.”