Tutoring can be an effective way to bring a struggling reader up to grade level. But, as I discovered when I volunteered with one highly regarded tutoring program, it isn’t always easy. And it may not be the whole solution to a problem that is at the root of the achievement gap.
If a child isn’t reading on grade level by third grade, chances are she’ll never catch up. And in D.C., only 23 percent of fourth-graders were reading on grade level, according to national tests given in 2013.
One method that has been shown to work with at-risk readers is one-on-one tutoring. It’s expensive to have professional tutors work with all the students who need help. What about using volunteers?
According to a recent rigorous study, at least one program that uses volunteers actually works. Students got the equivalent of one-and-a-half to two months of growth in sight-word reading over the course of a school year, as compared to a control group. The study also found statistically significant results for comprehension and fluency.
The program, called Reading Partners, is active in seven states and D.C. It works with about 600 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the District, and deploys about the same number of volunteers. This past school year, I was among them.
I decided to volunteer for two reasons. First, and most obvious, I wanted to help a child in need. Second, I had learned from a previous tutoring experience how important it is to spend time in schools if you’re interested in education, and especially if you’re writing about it.
Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.