CEO of High-Impact Tutoring Discusses K-8 Student Learning Loss in New Jersey

After the challenges of remote learning during the pandemic, Katherine Bassett believes that high-impact tutoring is the most effective way to improve math and literacy skills for New Jersey students.

Bassett, the CEO of the New Jersey Tutoring Corps, emphasized the need for high-impact tutoring, especially in high poverty areas where schools often lack resources and adequate staffing.

“It helps students improve their skills, boosts their confidence, and sets them up for success. This is not just my opinion, it’s backed by research,” Bassett told The 74.

Currently, NJTC serves over 40 schools in 17 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, supporting around 1,300 students from both urban and rural districts.

Thanks to the efforts of NJTC tutors, the percentage of K-8 students performing at grade level in math increased from 16% to 40%, while in literacy it improved from 23% to 40%.

As the New Jersey Department of Education allocated approximately $41 million in grant awards to 240 school districts, the tutoring company aims to expand its reach to nearly 80 schools.

“There is a sense of urgency at this moment, and our goal for the past few months has been to establish a reliable institution that teachers and school leaders can depend on,” said Basset in a statement.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

New Jersey’s spring 2022 student learning assessments revealed a decline in test scores, particularly in math and English language arts. Considering this, how would you describe the educational needs in New Jersey schools?

The pandemic has certainly resulted in learning gaps, especially for students from low-income backgrounds and schools that lack resources and staffing. However, these learning gaps existed even before the pandemic. Our organization focuses on these students who need additional support beyond what a classroom teacher can provide to a large number of students. Therefore, I don’t expect miraculous improvements when the new 2023 student learning assessment data is released. (Note: This interview was conducted prior to the release of the 2023 student learning assessments. Updated test scores can be checked out here.)

Which school districts or areas in New Jersey have students that require particular attention and support?

We have worked in 17 out of New Jersey’s 21 counties, including urban, rural, and suburban areas. I want to emphasize that our rural schools require just as much assistance as our urban schools. In many cases, they face similar challenges and need similar types of support. We shouldn’t overlook struggling suburban schools either.

Is there a specific subject in which you have observed a greater need for support in the state?

Both math and literacy are areas of critical need, but based on the data I have seen, students require more help in math compared to literacy. However, they still need assistance in literacy as well.

I understand that the New Jersey Tutoring Corps focuses on K-8 students. Are there particular grade levels that you have noticed need more attention and support?

There’s a book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” that humorously highlights the social-emotional skills young children need to develop, such as collaboration, resilience, and curiosity. Additionally, foundational academic skills are established in kindergarten, first, and second grade. These grades are crucial for learning phonics in literacy and developing number sense in math. We want to help students at these early stages since they form the basis for all future learning. Therefore, these three grades hold great importance for us.

What about third through eighth grade?

Third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders are also significant because they were the most affected by the pandemic. They often lag behind and need to acquire foundational skills without feeling belittled. For example, teaching phonics to a fifth grader requires a different approach than teaching it to a kindergartner. We need to provide leveled libraries in New Jersey with age-appropriate reading material.

In seventh and eighth grade, students are preparing for high school. This is their last chance to solidify their skills before moving on to high school and achieving success. Our goal is to support every student in their journey towards high school readiness, encompassing math, literacy, and social-emotional skills.

Can you share any stories that highlight the significance of high-impact tutoring in the schools you work with?

Our partners at the Boys and Girls Club have conducted year-end surveys, and tutoring consistently emerges as the students’ favorite activity. They prefer it over swimming, gaming, or coding. This preference arises from the personal attention and relationships tutors build with the students.

During a visit to the Trenton Boys and Girls Club, a reporter spoke with a couple of math students in fifth and sixth grade. She asked why they enjoyed tutoring, as she had noticed other students eagerly waiting for their turn. One student replied, “I didn’t understand math until I worked with Miss Hawk” — one of their tutors. He explained, “Before, numbers didn’t make sense to me, and I couldn’t grasp what I was being asked to do. But now, math is simply about piecing things together and taking them apart. It’s that simple.” Thanks to tutoring, he now understands math, and that’s why this support matters.

New Jersey allocated approximately $41 million in grant funds to implement high-impact tutoring. How will this initiative help address pandemic learning loss across the state?

When high-impact tutoring is implemented correctly, research shows that it works. It improves student skills, boosts their confidence, and leads to success. This is not just my opinion; it is backed by research. We describe our tutoring program as research-based and evidence-rich. Our approach is grounded in research, and we have abundant evidence proving its effectiveness.

We make it a priority to align with teachers’ instruction and get to know the students academically and socially. This allows the same tutor to work with the same students consistently, fostering a sense of continuity and familiarity with a trusted adult.

How does the need for high-impact tutors relate to the broader conversation about teacher shortages in New Jersey and across the country?

Looking at the national education landscape, fewer people are choosing teaching as a career. This is a significant and impactful issue that needs to be addressed. Increasing teacher salaries is one approach, but it is equally important to enhance respect for the teaching profession and treat educators as professionals. These actions would make a significant difference in attracting more individuals to the profession.

The New Jersey Tutoring Corps aims to serve as a stepping stone into the teaching profession. We employ pre-service educators as tutors who have completed at least 60 school credit hours. For many of these pre-service educators, working one-on-one or in small groups with students and witnessing the difference they can make is their first hands-on experience. It often validates their desire to become teachers.

Several of our tutors have been hired by the districts where they worked. Thus, high-impact tutoring serves as a pipeline for addressing the teacher shortage in New Jersey.

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