A new District 65 tutoring program designed to help struggling students catch up to their grade level in math and reading performance is showing positive signs of growth in its second year.

About two-thirds of the students in the district receiving tutoring through the Academic Skills Center this year are on pace to hit their expected grade level proficiency in reading or math within one academic year of tutoring, officials said at a school board committee meeting Monday, May 8.

The program could represent a key breakthrough in the district’s longstanding fight against historical gaps in educational opportunities by race, ethnicity, income and ability status, administrators and board members said. Nationwide, education advocacy groups researching those gaps have found that “high-dose” tutoring, where students work with trained tutors multiple times a week during the school day, is most effective at encouraging participation and making academic progress.

‘A big lift’

“Every headline I see about high-dose tutoring reflects what we’re doing in the district,” said Soo La Kim, the board’s vice president. “It needs to be regular, it needs to be during the school day, in person, with trained tutors who develop relationships with students. … This is a big lift, so it’s really, really exciting.”

The skills center launched in the fall of 2021 and provides research-based, high-dose tutoring to students who score below their grade level on the Measures of Academic Progress test. Tutors recruited and trained by District 65 work with small groups of three or four students at every school districtwide. They meet three times a week for about half an hour each session in either math or reading.

This year, the program serves about 1,900 students, including 975 in reading and 915 in math, according to the district’s Extended Learning Manager Lee Hart.

“We’re trying to address individual student needs and build on their strengths. It is very much based in research,” Hart told Kim and other school board members at the Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting on Monday. “What we are doing is very much in line with some of the larger districts in the country that universities and research networks are investing in.”

Along with more than 100 other school districts nationwide, District 65 is part of a “community of practice” established through the nonprofit Accelerate. The federal initiative raises money for tutoring at public schools across the country and helps train school districts in high-impact tutoring. Participating students spend nine weeks in the program, which aligns with the district’s trimesters. District 65 tracks their progress with pre-tutoring and post-tutoring diagnostic tests through a platform called i-Ready.

The i-Ready tests measure how much the students have learned after one nine-week term, and how close they are to reaching their grade level. On average, 100% progress means that a student performs at or above their grade level. A progress rate of 33% means a student is on pace to reach their grade level after three full trimesters of tutoring.

Two-thirds show progress

So far this year, around 66% of participating students have shown what the district defines as “very high” or “high” levels of progress after one course of tutoring over nine weeks. Students who have made 50% or more progress toward reaching grade level count as making “very high” levels of progress, while students who receive a 33% progress rate are considered as having achieved “high” progress.

As shown below, the majority of students served by the program are Black, Hispanic or low-income – all demographic groups the district hopes to target through the skills center to make up historical gaps in achievement.

White, Black, Hispanic and low-income students enrolled in tutoring so far show similar rates of academic growth. Asian students are further ahead in both reading and math, while multiracial students showed higher levels of progress than their peers in math.

About 30% of the participating students are not on pace to meet their goals for catching up to their grade level in math or reading. Hart did not have specific school-by-school or tutor-by-tutor data pinpointing where those struggling students are, though she said more detailed reports with longitudinal data are “on tap” for the future as the program continues to grow.

Simone Griffin, the district’s director of research, accountability and data, told board members Monday that part of the program’s continued development will involve a “progress monitoring model,” where tutors and classroom teachers identify when a student is failing to make the expected learning growth “so that something is done sooner than later.”

Staffing is also an ongoing challenge when recruiting and hiring part-time tutors paid by the hour, said Hart. This year, the district was able to fill 41 of its 46 available tutoring positions. Almost every school building had enough resources for the program, but Nichols Middle School had just one tutor out of a planned four. Hart said middle school tutoring requires more experience, comfort working with that age group and familiarity with course material.

“Through us just talking and building, we recognize that a really robust program evaluation is one of our key priorities,” Deputy Superintendent LaTarsha Green said in response to a question from Kim about measuring the long-term success of the tutoring. “We really want to make sure that the ways that you’ve inquired about the data, that’s all a part of a broader plan that we definitely have to put in place for this.”

Echoing Green’s point about keeping close tabs on the skills center and its success, Kim and Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan, a fellow committee and board member, agreed that getting the program right is essential if the district wants to chip away at the long-standing gap in academic performance and growth by race and socioeconomic status.

“This is one of the things that I can concretely point to when people are asking ‘What’s going on, and what are we doing to address this gap?'” Lindsay-Ryan said. “This thing right here is working. It’s not perfect, but it is working, and I think we’re very excited about what this could mean five years, 10 years down the road.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. Could I please have someone in D65 explain to me why is it that suddenly this year there are “gaps in educational OPPORTUNITIES” instead of the usual “gaps in achievement?” As a latina myself, and immigrant from S America, I never saw any lack of opportunities for my kids –or any kid who wanted them— in the educational system in Evanston. Maybe Chicago… but not Evanston. Amazing opportunities are here for all if one truly wants them and parents push their kids to grab. The same at ETHS!
    On occasion an employee or teacher tried to direct my kids to some lower classes on account of them being children of a latina immigrant….. But my husband or I promptly redirected the action followed by a swift and energized rebuttal.
    Besides, using that distorted term only accentuates doubts and personal insecurities in some students and parents.!! That there is no hope!!
    Not at all encouraging as a school system should be! We should say, “if you want it you can get it here in Evanston! We will help you if you need it, because it is here for all!

    This is D65’s Mission: “Working together as a community, we will inspire creativity and prepare each student to achieve academically, grow personally, and contribute positively to a global society. EVERY CHILD, EVERY DAY, WHATEVER IT TAKES.” DONT GO BACK ON IT!!

    I would recommend D65 to read stories of people who “made it” and made it BIG while living in very dear circumstances. Like for example Frederick Douglas, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone, Oprah Winfrey…. For a start. And of course PLEASE read the book MARVA COLLINS WAY!!!

    1. I never thought I’d be reading a comparison between Fredrick Douglass and Johnny Depp as people who overcame adversity but here we are….