The tutors, who are college graduates working for the nonprofit AmeriCorps, work with two students at a time in a class teaching the Saga Education curriculum, and 9th-grade math is targeted because students who fail algebra are at greater risk of dropping out of school.
Students who received the tutoring during the 2013-14 school year learned up to two years' more math than their peers who weren't tutored. They also improved math grades by half of a letter grade or more and performed 20% better on standardized tests.
The positive impact tutors have on students’ grades is no surprise. The problem has always been the expense. However, Saga Education and other programs like it are increasingly allowing lower-income students to reap some of those benefits.
Saga’s results show interventions as late as 9th grade can have significant impacts on student outcomes. The program serves about 3,500 students in about 24 schools in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. It costs about $3,100 per student per year, and up to this point, schools have used Title I money and philanthropy funds to pay for the program. Researchers are also looking at whether the positive effects continue when the student-tutor ratio increases to 4 to 1.
Chicago found similar success using the Match Charter Public School in Boston model. It ran a randomized, controlled trial of 2,718 boys in 9th and 10th grade from 12 of the city's poorest high schools. Tutors — college graduates with 100 hours of training — worked with students and brought their test scores and grades up significantly in both math and non-math classes.
Antonio Gutierrez, co-founder of Saga, found his own success through the Match Charter School in Boston. Gutierrez, the first person in his family to go to college, says tutoring was the key to his own academic achievement.
The need for tutoring and assistance is growing as average reading scores for 4th- and 8th-grade students have dropped since 2017. Math scores went up by one point for 4th-graders, but fell by a point for 8th-graders. The average reading score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ scale fell by 2 points from 222 in 2017 to 220. But English language learners seem to be bucking the trend, with reading scores rising slightly.