ESSER Update: Tutoring bridges the gap  

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Learning acceleration has become Dallas ISD’s top priority to help students recover from any learning loss due to disruptions during the pandemic. Thanks to federal stimulus dollars provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, the Office of Tutoring Services is working hard to ensure that all students who did not pass or did not take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, get the additional support they need to succeed.

So far, Dallas ISD has hired tutors who have provided almost 138,000 hours of federally-compliant, grade-specific supplemental accelerated instruction in reading and math to help students recover and accelerate their learning. While the district’s tutoring efforts are still ramping up, each hour makes a difference.

“Some of that unfinished learning is big,” said Jason Wallace, director of Tutoring Services. “So it’s bridging that gap of where students need to be in response to the barriers and obstacles that we’ve had over the past two years.”

The district plans to invest $95 million of the available ESSER funds into high-quality tutoring over the three stages of ESSER program implementation. The Office of Tutoring Services has $35 million encumbered for the current school year, which is being used to purchase software, secure curriculum, hire tutors, provide assessments and otherwise help the outside vendors meet their instructional goals.

In a presentation to the Board of Trustees, Chief Academic Officer Shannon Trejo explained some of the challenges that have kept the district from fully implementing tutoring, including time-intensive fingerprinting and background checks, low student attendance for after-school tutoring, hiring shortages and federal purchasing compliance requirements for the use of ESSER funds.

These challenges don’t mean that tutoring has not been happening for students who need it. Dallas ISD teachers have been working hard to tutor students since the beginning of the year to help them catch up; however, those hours may not always count toward compliance with House Bill 4545, which went into effect on June 16, 2021. The bill states that all students in grades three through 12  who did not pass or did not take their assigned STAAR have to complete 30 hours of supplemental instruction in that subject. To comply with HB 4545 and ESSER funds, tutors who must be trained and provided with specific instructional materials from the state, and their tutoring hours must be tracked.

As the district approaches the end of another school year, the Office of Tutoring Services is putting new ideas and solutions into practice to provide additional tutoring opportunities. These solutions include completing the procurement process in the summer, bringing on additional vendors and receiving a ratio waiver to allow the tutoring groups to increase in size. Not only will these steps increase the number of available tutors, but they will also help the district’s efforts reach more students, Wallace said. 

Other solutions include training all relevant staff members so their hours are House Bill 4545 compliant, estimating costs to provide families with after-school transportation so attendance increases and refining the hiring and retention systems for district tutors. 

“What we’re learning through our state and national conversations is that these are challenges across the nation,” Trejo said. “We recognize that tutoring is our essential strategy for students, despite the challenges that we’ve experienced, and our gratitude goes to our campuses for continuing to maintain the tutoring that they’ve been able to provide.” 

The new and improved tutoring programs are scheduled to kick off in September. In the meantime, all students from prekindergarten to eighth grade will have the opportunity to participate in Dallas ISD’s summer school program—Summer Cool—that will take place in June. Students in Summer Cool will receive supplemental instruction four days a week, Monday through Thursday, which translates into 32 House Bill 4545-compliant tutoring hours in both reading and math.

To learn more about Dallas ISD’s tutoring services and their current strategies, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/Page/77609.

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