Students In Once Major City Are Getting Free Tutors Thanks To COVID Money

Public schools will allocate COVID funds to tutoring programs for Denver students.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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Denver students

Like most cities across the country, Denver students are feeling the effects of the COVID pandemic. Over two years in, test scores are lagging drastically (as they are across the United States), so now the city is looking for ways to help students. To get that boost academically, Denver Public Schools (DPS) is spending some money on tutoring.

Hoping to bring some positivity to the past two years, DPS is using federal and state COVID relief funds on tutoring for math and literacy. Tutoring will take place three times a week for at least 30 minutes a day with the Denver students. Brittany Miller, the DPS’s senior director of expanded academic learning, said via Chalkbeat Colorado, “It’s a big investment and meant to support students with learning recovery.”

But Miller also wanted to point out that “by no means is tutoring meant to be the next silver bullet for education. This is to supplement what happens with strong teachers delivering strong core instruction.” The numbers, unfortunately, show just how bad things have gone for Denver students since the pandemic was introduced to the nation.

Denver student test scores show the large gaps in their learning. District test data that was given to DPS this past December showed that only 46% of children in K-3 were reading at grade level or barely above. This number is a significant drop from the 2020 fall rate of 56% and the 2019 53% fall rate, which came before the pandemic.

Denver students

The trend was similar to the in-state literacy testing from last spring. In grades 3-8, Denver students only tested at 36%, which was a drop from the 2019 literacy scores of 43%. In math, only 22% of this same age group scored at or above grade level. This was down from 33% in 2019.

DPS feels tutoring is one way of helping Denver students. The plan is to spend $205 million of the federal relief funds over the next 2 ½ years to help fill in those learning gaps. DPS also won a state tutoring grant through a state lawmaker program that was passed to help address the massive learning loss created by the COVID pandemic. This grant will award the city $2 million this school year and has the potential for more funds next year.

The city’s approach will focus their tutoring for Denver students on grade-level care. This means that sixth graders will get help with sixth-grade math instead of them going back to review fourth- or fifth-grade concepts. This approach to grade-level tutoring falls in line with the DPS philosophy of accelerated learning. “We want to make sure we’re focused on what kids are learning at the moment and not what we think they might have missed in the past,” Miller said.

Although the funds and opportunities are there, not all Denver students or schools are involved. Schools are allowed to opt-in and this choice began with middle and high schools back in October. The school district then added math tutoring for fourth and fifth graders in January. So far, 16 schools and 840 students are participating in math tutoring. This is a particularly low number as there are over 90,000 students in the district.

Denver students

The focus for DPS with their tutoring programs was on Denver students from low-income families, students of color, students with disabilities, students who are learning English as a second language, and students who COVID adversely impacted. Denver math students are being tutored virtually by Cignition, a California-based company. Local DPS teachers serve as proctors. While most participating schools host their tutoring during school hours, some are also offering tutoring before or after school, if that better fits into a student’s schedule.

Literacy tutoring has yet to begin but DPS plans to start that with K-3 Denver students in the upcoming few weeks. The plan here is to have in-person tutoring that will be handled by tutors from University Instructors, a Virginia-based company. Right now, DPS has 11 schools and 640 students signed up.

As COVID winds down, or so we all hope, this is a great way to use the relief funds. Hopefully, this is something other cities and school districts will look at and emulate. Whatever can be done to help Denver students and others nationwide needs to be done and using these funds to bring tutors in can only be a good thing.

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