Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
In this guide, tutoring is defined as one-on-one or small group instruction that supplements classroom instruction. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that tutoring programs have consistently large, positive impacts on student learning across a wide range of characteristics, and are particularly powerful when used to accelerate learning for students who are performing below academic thresholds.
In this guide, tutoring is defined as one-on-one or small group instruction that supplements classroom
instruction. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that tutoring programs have consistently large,
positive impacts on student learning across a wide range of characteristics, and are particularly powerful when
used to accelerate learning for students who are performing below academic thresholds.1 However, while
tutoring can improve student learning across a wide range of program characteristics on average, how a
tutoring program is designed matters if we aim to meet the diverse needs of California’s student body.
Recent bills passed in California as part of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as California’s
COVID-19 Relief and School Reopening, Reporting, and Public Health Requirements Act, provide a unique
opportunity. Not only will they enable districts to implement immediate tutoring measures, but also to build
long term infrastructure for evidence-based tutoring programs that will continue to provide exceptional
accelerated learning opportunities for students who may be facing academic challenges in the future.
This guide is written for California's System of There are a variety of ways you can bring evidence-
Support agencies and local educational agencies based tutoring into your district. Depending on your
(LEAs) who are responsible for designing (or district’s capacity and needs, you might consider:
informing the design of) tutoring programs. Its
insights are relevant to anyone who wants to  Developing an in-house district program
understand the evidence-based principles tutoring and institutionalize evidence-based tutoring as a
programs should follow to maximize their long-term service.
potential benefits for student learning recovery.2  Modifying existing school-based
tutoring programs to better align with the
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE principles outlined in this guide.
We recognize that the goals and circumstances  Contracting with an external tutoring
faced by every school and district are different. In provider in your district, for example a
each section on a given evidence-based principle, community-based nonprofit.
we first point to key recommendations relevant  Contracting with a regional or national
to the largest possible number of districts and tutoring provider that is not yet working in
students, and then use call-out boxes to highlight your district, for example a private vendor.
Nickow, Andre Joshua, Philip Oreopoulos, and Vincent Quan. (2020). The Impressive Effects of Tutoring on PreK-12 Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-
Analysis of the Experimental Evidence. (EdWorkingPaper: 20-267). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University:
These core principles are based on J-PAL North America's comprehensive review of 96 rigorous tutoring studies (Nickow et al. 2020) and further informed by
the approaches that individual evidence-based tutoring have utilized.
400 Main Street • E19-201 • Cambridge, MA 02142 • USA
2. considerations that may only be applicable to a subset of districts. Regardless of who is best suited to manage
tutoring on a day-to-day basis in your district, they should plan to operate as closely as possible to these
evidence-based principles. If you have questions about how to adapt these recommendations to your context
after reviewing this guide, we encourage you to utilize the resources of California’s System of Support.
Who Should Provide Tutoring
⇒ Teacher or professional (trained and paid) tutors are generally more effective than volunteer,
peer, or parent tutors.
Tutors can generally be divided into three categories: certified classroom teachers, professionals, and
volunteers. Professional tutors have received dedicated training designed to enable them to meet certain
standards or accountability measures, and are paid for their services, including for time spent in training.
Volunteer tutors may also receive training, but generally a lesser amount. The expertise, oversight, and
accountability standards associated with paid program employment are likely key factors that contribute to
teacher and professional tutor success.
⇒ Professional tutors are trained and compensated program employees, but they do not need to
be full-time, career professionals – in fact, they are often operating in a temporary or part-
time capacity, and can be recruited as part of partnerships with a range of institutions.
Tutoring programs that rely on professional
Districts with existing relationships with
volunteers do not need to artificially restrict
colleges and universities, such as those with an
themselves to full time educational professionals.
existing tutoring program like CSU Fullerton’s
Districts can look to undergraduate students,
College of Education, may want to leverage those
retirees, community group members and service
partnerships to create or build out their tutoring
fellows all as a potential tutoring pool. The key is
for tutors to receive a level of training appropriate
to the curriculum and pedagogy of the program In rural districts where four-year and graduate
they are working at. While evidence is still institutions may be less plentiful, consider partnering
developing on best practices for general tutor with local two-year colleges and other community
training, one of the effective tutoring programs institutions such as libraries, service programs
evaluated, Saga Education, has produced a free managed by religious groups, and community centers
online coaching platform with virtual modules (e.g, YMCA). Additionally, virtual tutoring may
designed to provide tutors with foundational expand the pool of potential tutors.
Frequency & Duration of Tutoring Sessions
⇒ Three sessions per week is the average tutoring frequency found to produce the biggest gains
in learning across grade levels
⇒ The average session length associated with evidence-based programs is 30-60 minutes
Providing two sessions of tutoring is still preferable to providing just one session, but moving from one to
two sessions provides only a marginal improvement relative to moving from one to three sessions. One
possible mechanism through which tutoring improves learning is by simply providing students who have
While the Saga Education model has been found to be effective through rigorous RCT research, the Saga Coach training itself has not yet been rigorously evaluated
by researchers.
Designing an Evidence-based Tutoring Program: A Guide to Core Principles
3. fallen behind with more instructional time. Additional focused instruction on a specific content area like
math or reading may be what students need in order to catch up. Another potentially important element
of tutoring interventions is the human connection generated by consistent tutor/student relationships.
Three times a week appears to be the optimal number for facilitating these mechanisms.
Tutor:Student Ratio
⇒ PreK-1st grade students appear to benefit more from one-on-one (1:1) tutoring.
⇒ 2nd-5th grade students appear to benefit more from small group tutoring (1:3 or 1:4) rather
than paired (1:2) or one-on-one tutoring.
⇒ Middle and high school students can benefit from one-on-one, paired, or small group tutoring
as long as the tutor:student ratio does not rise above 1:4.
Younger children may benefit more from the one-on-
one connection and bond made with a tutor to fully Where possible, consider adding a fourth or fifth
benefit from the program, while the older elementary weekly tutoring session for PreK-1st grade
school children benefit from customized learning students. Research has found additional
alongside peers. While students in middle and sessions beyond the 3x a week minimum are
secondary school show more flexibility in the types of likely to produce additional learning gains for
tutor:student ratio that they respond to, it is these students. This trend may be due to the key
important to maintain the tutor’s ability to engage in role repetition plays in early learning and skill
relationship building and personalized attention by development and mastery.
working with a limited number of students.
When and Where to Hold Tutoring
⇒ Wherever possible, tutoring should be incorporated into the fabric of a regular school day,
i.e. held on-site and during school hours.
During-school programs have been found to be
As recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continues,
nearly twice as effective as those of after-school
virtual and hybrid instruction may continue to be
programs. Researchers have hypothesized that
a basic fact of our education system. While research on
there are several intersecting factors at play; the
best practices for tutoring in this context is still
school setting makes it easier for instructors and
developing, for those programs where in-person
program operators to ensure that tutoring
interaction is not possible, holding virtual tutoring
actually occurs during the scheduled time and that
during school hours is most likely to enable the type of
students show up; presents fewer distractions to
oversight and predictable routine associated with the
tutees; and is more accessible to students and
benefits of regular during-school tutoring. For
their families because it requires fewer additional
example, one study conducted in Italy during the 2020-
steps to access outside of the regular ones
2021 school year found that offering 1:1 virtual
necessary to attend school. Study periods
tutoring to middle school students while providing the
represent one chunk of time that could
tutors with support and oversight improved both
potentially be adapted for dedicated tutoring
academic and mental health outcomes.4
without subtracting from classroom or break
Carlana, Michela, and Eliana La Ferrara. "Apart but Connected: Online Tutoring and Student Outcomes during the COVID-19 Pandemic." HKS Faculty Research
Working Paper Series RWP21-001, February 2021.
Designing an Evidence-based Tutoring Program: A Guide to Core Principles
Given the urgency to accelerate student learning post-
pandemic, it is crucial to ensure that tutoring programs Students who are English Language
are actually impacting student learning as designed. Learners (ELL) face dual challenges with
Diagnostic assessments can help pinpoint where a student accelerated learning in the sense that they are
is in their academic progression before their very first being asked to work on progression not only on
tutoring session, and as they continue to engage in a given subject, but also language acquisition.
tutoring over the course of the school year. Students Diagnostic assessments are particularly
without strong foundational skills will struggle to important for ensuring that students who are
progress; diagnostic assessments can help tutors and ELL get as much as possible out of tutoring, and
schools identify where and why students are lagging and stay on track academically.
focus accordingly. One randomized study found that 1st grade
students who are ELL benefited academically
ABOUT J-PAL NORTH AMERICA from tutoring that was conducted in the same
J-PAL North America is a regional office of the Abdul Latif language as students’ core reading instruction
Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global network of (English). The program grouped 3 to 5 students
researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer for daily 50-minute sessions and provided
critical policy questions in the fight against poverty. Our systematic and explicit instruction in oral
mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is language and reading by trained bilingual reading
informed by scientific evidence. intervention teachers.
Making tutoring even more effective through
research partnerships
We continue to explore open questions related to how to further strengthen evidence-based tutoring. We
welcome opportunities to develop partnerships with education leaders who are interested in understanding
the effectiveness of new tutoring models. In particular, we are interested in questions of how to increase the
cost-effectiveness of tutoring and improve online and hybrid model tutoring programs, as well as tutoring at
the middle and secondary school level. If you have a program you would like to evaluate, or if you are
interested in learning more about upcoming research opportunities, please reach out to Education Sector
Lead Kim Dadisman at
Designing an Evidence-based Tutoring Program: A Guide to Core Principles