Too many Texas students are still experiencing the negative impact of unprecedented learning disruptions over the last few years. Only half of Texas third graders can read on grade level. Even fewer students meet grade level expectations in math. Our kids need strategic interventions, and research shows that high-impact tutoring (or HIT) is one of the best we can offer.
Tutoring becomes “high-impact” when provided frequently, with high-quality materials, in groups of no more than four students. HIT has the potential to recover nearly a year’s worth of lost learning in just one school year – but only if it meets the criteria outlined above. This approach is resource intensive, but it’s also been shown to be among the most effective of all education interventions, making the time, money and effort a wise investment in student success.
That’s important because research also demonstrates that, too often, kids who fall behind are left behind. Only about 5% of Texas students who are not at grade level catch up within two years. This has real implications for the lifetime earnings and future unemployment of these young people. If unaddressed, Texas stands to lose nearly $1 trillion in slowed economic growth, according to the Hoover Institution.
Last session, the Texas Legislature took an ambitious and necessary step by passing House Bill 4545 (87R) by State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill requires 30 hours of accelerated instruction for each core subject in which a student did not meet grade level standards. The bill made Texas one of the first 10 states to prioritize learning acceleration through statewide tutoring legislation, and its passage provided high-impact tutoring to tens of thousands of students who wouldn’t have otherwise had access to it.
Despite this initial success, however, implementation has varied widely across different districts and campuses. I’ve learned a great deal while leading the North Texas Tutoring Coalition with three large urban districts in Dallas County. After countless conversations with educators and advocates locally and across the country, it’s clear: high-impact tutoring can be transformative for students, but requires increased support from school leaders, policymakers and community members alike.
A recent report on national tutoring rates found that two years into wide-scale academic recovery efforts, fewer than 10% of students across the country who need tutoring can actually access it. Of those students, only 11% receive interventions that meet the definition of “high-impact,” including small-group ratios. Students with the greatest academic gaps are even less likely to have access to this transformative intervention.
Simply put, our students struggling academically deserve high-impact tutoring – and our school systems need targeted support to ensure they can continue providing it. State legislators should make some key modifications this session to improve feasibility of high-impact tutoring implementation without sacrificing students’ academic needs or data-driven research around the importance of 1:4 tutor-to-student ratios. A strong majority of Texans agree. In a recent poll, 76% of North Texas voters said they support evidence-backed tutoring ratios for students who are academically behind.
Changes like providing more flexibility, ensuring robust data collection to monitor progress in Texas and inform future policy, and encouraging parental involvement can meaningfully improve the experience of teachers and students alike. With HB 4545 (87R), Texas lawmakers set a goal to provide tutoring to every student who needed it. The intervening years have only increased the urgency of this goal. We don’t have $1 trillion in foregone lifetime earnings to lose.
Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in charter, private, and traditional public schools. Currently, she serves as Senior Director of Academic Recovery at the Commit Partnership, where she supports the work of launching and scaling high-impact tutoring in districts across Dallas County. Learn more at ntxtutoring.com.