Reading Partners is a nonprofit that provides volunteer tutoring in reading to kindergartners through fourth-graders in Title I elementary schools across the country. The traditional Reading Partners model transforms a dedicated space at a partner school into a reading center, provides a full-time AmeriCorps member on site to manage day-to-day operations, and recruits a corps of 40-100 community volunteers to work one-on-one with students in pull-out sessions during the school day or after school. MDRC’s multiyear evaluation of the Reading Partners tutoring program found a positive and statistically significant impact on student reading proficiency.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated disparities in students’ reading outcomes, and the lack of access to in-person instruction put students further behind in reading during their crucial early elementary school years. To tackle this problem, Reading Partners launched an online tutoring platform, Reading Partners Connects (RPCx), to more easily connect tutors with students, expanding its reach into new communities. RPCx uses a similar framework as Reading Partners’ traditional in-person tutoring and incorporates a Reading Partners-specific curriculum with scripted lesson plans and tutor guides. Using video conferencing in an established Reading Partners school reading center, volunteer tutors provide virtual tutoring to students at least once or twice a week for 45 minutes.
Reading Partners won a federal Education Innovation and Research grant in 2021 to scale and evaluate the RPCx tutoring program. MDRC and the University of Michigan are conducting an evaluation of the impact and implementation of RPCx, using a student-level random assignment design. The study will take place in 10-15 schools over two school years, 2023-2024 and 2024-2025. Students in grades 1-4 who are eligible for reading support will be randomly assigned to receive tutoring through the RPCx program or to receive their schools’ typical literacy supports in a business-as-usual control group. All students will be assessed at the end of each school year on fluency, reading comprehension, and sight- efficiency, and outcomes between the two groups will be compared. The study will also examine the fidelity of implementation of the program model, as well as the factors that facilitate and hinder the successful implementation of this online tutoring platform.