Saturday, July 20, 2024

A tutor helps an elementary school student in October 2017. (Photo: Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association tutoring via Flickr)

Plans to offer specialized tutoring to eligible Cambridge Public Schools students were unveiled Tuesday, when School Committee members wondered how students are selected, how hiring is progressing and how to encourage students to study after the day’s final bell rings.

The Excel Afterschool Tutoring program is a “high-dosage tutoring” methodology based on academic research that has the potential to remediate learning loss from the Covid pandemic. It’s rolling out to school communities with more than 25 students who are two or more years behind grade level, said Karyn Grace, interim assistant superintendent at the district’s Office of Student Services.

“There is a sense of urgency that I want to underscore about students that are still not meeting grade-level expectations” despite increased staff levels and intervention, Grace said.

The Excel program will be offered to eligible students in grades 3 through 8, who will be invited to join based on i-Ready diagnostic test data collected over the past nine months. Teachers may also recommend students.

The i-Ready tool will identify where each student needs support and personalize lessons and monitor progress, making adjustments as needed.

The program offers up to 50 hours of tutoring per semester to students who accept an invitation. It’s offered as an additional aid to a student’s Individualized Education Program services or other in-school interventions, Grace said. Most tutors will work in-person with groups of up to four students, collaborating with the district’s English-language arts and math departments to tailor instruction.

Online-only instruction may be offered as well, but most tutoring sessions are in-school and twice a week for up to two hours after dismissal, ending in time for students to catch late buses. Other sessions will be held at community-partner locations.

Inviting students

The district plans to roll out the program to upper school students first, with winter sessions beginning in late November and ending mid-February. The spring session runs from early March through mid-May.

Committee member Fred Fantini and co-chair Rachel Weinstein asked why tutoring is being offered only to students who are more than two years behind.

For those kids, “it takes a little bit more time and intensity in that intervention that oftentimes can’t happen all during the school day,” superintendent Victoria Greer said. For students up to a year behind their peers, “high-quality instruction and intervention” during the school day can be “enough to get them caught up.”

If a school does not meet the criteria of 25 eligible students, no after-school tutoring will be offered. Students will be assigned to in-school “Win block” periods where teachers provide tutoring, Grace said.

The expectation is that the i-Ready assessment scores of students in the program will “increase dramatically” after the winter session, Grace said.

Weinstein said she expected consideration of expanding the program to students less than two years behind grade level as program data becomes available.

Setting up the system

The Community Partners Portal, a secure data system that contains sports, after-school and summer program data from many community partners, will connect students’ extracurricular activities to student identification numbers. The district’s Information, Communication and Technology Services department worked with the Cambridge Agenda for Children Out of School Time to build the system and populate data for CPS, the city’s Department of Human Service Programs and other community-based program providers.

“Families won’t have to decide between soccer or tutoring,” Grace said. “We want to make the best effort not to disrupt the students’ schedules.”

Agenda site coordinators will provide student data to tutors, monitor student progress and identify problem areas to help personalize lessons, Grace said.

Khari Milner, co-director of the Cambridge Agenda for Children, said the information can be used for “even more granular types of case management work” to support the district’s overall goals.”

Recruiting staff

The district is recruiting staff through October for the winter session, Grace said, though program job listings were posted in mid-September for both sessions. Priority goes to “regularly appointed teachers from Cambridge Public School District,” particularly those with developmental-reading experience. Retirees and out-of-school partners could be tapped too.

District staff can earn a stipend tutoring. Committee members Ayesha Wilson and David Weinstein (no relation to Rachel Weinstein) wanted assurances that payment would be equitable for all tutors. The district is working on the payment structure, Milner said.

Tutors will be paid $60 per hour, capped at 60 hours or $3,600 dollars for each session, according to the district’s listings.

Games and grammar

Persuading students to focus on academics after school ends was on Wilson’s mind: “How do we get that buy-in for young people to really want to do extra academic work in their fun community partner programs?”

It’s a challenge for summer programming too, Grace said, but students who are connected socially tend to do well in the program.

“Books and ballers” at the Kennedy-Longfellow elementary school, a program that combines targeted tutoring with soccer, is an example of how to keep students engaged with the method: Find “something your students love and incorporate it into your programming,” Grace said.

Raffles and swag are another way to keep students’ interest, and Grace said some programs had surprise prizes for participation and attendance.