OUR ANSWER FOR CATCHING REFUGEE STUDENTS UP TO GRADE LEVEL? HIGH DOSAGE TUTORING.
"T" is one of my favorite students. He is bright, funny, and a hard worker. Like many of our students, he speaks five languages. Unfortunately, his reading skills remain low even though he has been in the United States and American public schools for a few years.
Students like "T" struggle because they missed years of foundational learning while refugees. Moreover, because of political oppression in their homelands, their parents do not read and write and, therefore, do not know how to traverse the U.S. educational landscape or provide needed at-home academic support. These students face inordinate difficulties. One of the few academic research papers investigating the status of SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Education) students found that less than 1% graduated high school (Ross & Ziemke, 2016).
We simply cannot give up on a 12-year-old who has so much potential. He deserves a fair chance to become fully literate. The oppressors who deliberately targeted his (Rohingya) ethnic group by denying schooling must not be allowed the triumph of another generation deprived. He, and all others like him, need and deserve an actionable plan to become fully literate.
High dosage tutoring (HDT) is a practical solution that can unlock the potential of millions of unschooled refugees. This tutoring is the heart of what we do at FORA. HDT is strongly associated with high rates of learning, so much so that recent research from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University recommends high dosage tutoring as the most effective response to address pandemic learning loss (Robinson, Kraft, Loeb, & Schueler, 2021).
In academic literature, HDT is typically defined as 5 or more tutoring hours per week at a ratio lower than five students per tutor. Because we at FORA serve the most marginalized of youth in the world, we go several steps further. Our HDT strategy is distinguished by: (1) at least ten hours a week of tutoring with (2) no more than two students per tutor, (3) using high quality, individualized, foundational curricula, (4) while testing regularly to identify educational gaps and to monitor progress, and (4) continued at least through high school. To our knowledge, we are the only organization in the United States delivering this high-power combination of HDT specifically targeted at refugee students.
This schedule requires a huge commitment from tutors and from the students and families, themselves, but the results are worth it. For example, after returning to in-person learning this summer, we had a super-charged, two-hour-per-day summer reading program for our elementary children. These children gained approximately six months of academic improvement in the eight weeks of the summer program! Low-income children typically suffer from summer learning loss, so our kids' outcomes are doubly impressive (Kim & Quinn, 2013).
But these remarkable results are not the full picture. What you can't see from just the data is the children’s overwhelming joy. The best moment of the day for us is when the children arrive, so excited to be here with us. One student summed up for her cohort how they feel about FORA, saying "at FORA, we are safe; FORA is our second home." FORA’s greatest strength is the relationships that our students build with their volunteer tutors and our staff. For our tutors and for our students, the friendships they develop usually feel like the most valuable result of their efforts. A focus on relationships is critical to sustaining student motivation through the years that are needed to catch up to their American peers and to flourish at grade level.
High dosage tutoring provides a realistic opportunity for kids like "T" to reach grade level and aspire to college. It also provides the time and space for tutors and students to learn from mistakes, appreciate the gains made, and build resiliency so that learning is transformed from a confusing wilderness into a joyous discovery of both the world around us and ourselves.
Kim, J. S., & Quinn, D. M. (2013). The effects of summer reading on low-income children’s literacy achievement from Kindergarten to Grade 8. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 386–431. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654313483906.
Robinson, C. D., Kraft, M. A., Loeb, S., & Schueler, B. E. (2021, February). Accelerating Student Learning with High Dosage Tutoring. EdResearch for Recovery. Annenberg Institute of Brown University. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/EdResearch_for_Recovery_Brief_9.pdf?mc_cid=cda9d108dd&mc_eid=abbc078f18.
Ross, D. B., & Ziemke, L. (2016, April). Promising literacy practices for students with interrupted formal education in achieving competence with academic language across disciplines. NSUWorks. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/fse_facarticles/242/.