As students across the country engage in supplemental education services (SES), minimal robust, experimental research exists to determine the effectiveness of such programs to improve student achievement. A study conducted by Vanderbilt University addresses this knowledge gap by examining the effect of SES on student test score gains and evaluating whether particular subgroups benefit more from SES. The results validate the significant weight the federal government places on after-school programs to improve academic outcomes.
Researchers partnered with a large, urban school district, which enrolls over 70,000 students, 72 percent who quality for free and reduced lunch. The study sample includes information on students enrolled in 3rd through 8th grades from 121 elementary and middle schools over a five year period (SY 03-04 to SY 07-08). Unlike previous research studies, this study accounted for actual attendance, the subject-area of tutoring, and the number of years a student attended SES.
Researchers find consistently significant and positive average effects on test score gains in mathematics. With regards to impact of SES on subgroups, the researchers find SES tutoring does not appear to disproportionately benefit a particular racial/ethnic group or ability level. However, female students and students with disabilities benefit more from SES tutoring. In addition, researchers found that SES has a significant cumulative impact on test scores in both math and reading if a student receives two or more years of tutoring.
The report also presents interesting information relevant to SES providers; reinforcing trends already noted through experience. A few are summarized here. Approximately one in five students eligible to receive SES actually signed-up for tutoring services in a given year. Elementary schools have greater success enrolling students for SES than middle schools. The average student attends 67 percent of his tutoring sessions. The study also finds that the total number of hours attended is significantly related to standardized test score gain in math and reading, highlighting the need for innovative strategies to encourage attendance and program completion. To further explore the issue of attendance within SES, Vanderbilt University has partnered with uBoost to conduct two studies examining the impact of incentives on student attendance and program completion. The results will be published when available.