In late August, newspaper editors splashed front-page headlines about a report card released by the National Assessment of Education Programs that showed 9-year-old students had fallen significantly behind in math and reading, some of the largest drops in decades.
Then, just last week, a newly released report showed the high school Class of 2022 had the lowest composite ACT scores in 30 years. Forty-two percent of test takers failed to meet any benchmarks for the subjects of English, math, science, and reading.
While both reports swiftly became sources of debate about the country’s response to the pandemic, a more pressing issue is how students are going to catch up. Will students be able to repair educational deficits before those learning gaps compound? How will schools, parents, and students meet the challenges that lie ahead?
Matthew Pietrafetta is CEO of Academic Approach, a Chicago-based organization that provides one-on-one tutoring services for students to prepare them for standardized tests and works with public schools to help assess and teach large cohorts of students.
Pietrafetta says that while the recently released data is concerning, it is also illuminating. The data can be used to tell specific stories—student by student—for how to catch up.
“If a score report reveals specific gaps in a subject like geometry, for example, students will say, ‘Well, that makes sense; when I took that class, I was remote and not really engaged.’ Or if we see deficits in reading, students will often say, ‘Yeah, I didn’t like reading online,’ or ‘I never really understood how to write a thesis.’ As families and schools begin to reengage with testing data,” Pietrafetta says, “they’re engaging with us more to analyze, interpret, and tell the story of what happened and, most importantly, identify what needs to happen next instructionally.”
Academic Approach analyzes a lot of data, including the recent national reports that have been published as well as other regional and local education test results. It also has collected its own data since Pietrafetta founded the company in 2001, and he was struck by one recent finding.
“We have collected and analyzed our data since 2001, and we could make certain assumptions based on that data. For example, approximately 20 hours of instruction and two practice tests equated to about five points of improvement on the ACT. Now, that’s an average, so it needs to be contextualized, but it was a stable average for many years. Most recently, those five points take more time and more testing to achieve—approximately 25 hours of teaching and 3 practice tests,” Pietrafetta says. “In short, students, on average, need about five more instructional hours and one or two more practice tests to get the same growth previous cohorts of students experienced for many years.”
Pietrafetta sees this data in context of larger national testing data trends; taken together, it appears that the starting line for students may have been pushed back.
“We’re building on foundations that are not as developed as they had been pre-pandemic,” Pietrafetta says. “Current juniors and seniors did not go through the typical 8th, 9th, and 10th grade learning experiences. Whether they missed reading time, breadth and depth of content review, or some key personalization of instruction, they need something more instructionally now to attain their highest potential.”
In addition to ramping up personal tutoring services for students, Academic Approach has deepened previously established relationships with public schools. The company’s work with public schools focuses on data collection, professional development for teachers, and classroom course instruction. Recently, it started an innovative approach with some public high school partners to provide personalized tutoring for all students.
“With many schools we have a decade of testing data on their students, so they can clearly see that this year’s entering 9th graders, for example, are testing far below historical benchmarks. Some school leaders are so committed to reversing this trend that they are adding one-on-one tutoring for all of their students, in addition to our traditional services. This is exciting work because these students do not have access to personalized, one-on-one learning, and our data shows that one-on-one tutoring is the most efficacious form of instruction in helping students grow the skills and scores they need most.”
The program involves having an Academic Approach staff member pull individual students out of class throughout the day and provide more personal instruction based on the data the company has collected from that particular school.
“Students receive consistent small group or one-on-one tutoring in the school for the entire school year with one of instructors,” Pietrafetta says. “That to me is some of our most exciting programming. How much ground can we make up with consistent, data-driven instruction, personalized to the needs of each student? The visionary leadership of these schools and their commitment to tackling the issue head-on will make a huge difference for these students.”
He adds that the one-on-one tutorial allows teachers to drill down from classroom course instruction, which must appeal to a common denominator within the class, to the individual needs of every student.
“It’s satisfying to see both one-on-one instruction and large-group school services in place at a school and know that we’re addressing student learning loss from multiple angles. By allowing the analysis of testing data trends to drive solutions, we work with educators and families to innovate instructional programs that will strengthen educational deficits and maximize scores, skills, and learning.”
For more information, visit academicapproach.com/nsweekend or call 847-558-7468.