Mobilizing Volunteer Tutors to Improve Student Literacy: Implementation, Impacts, and Costs of the Reading Partners Program

MDRC, 2015

160 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2015 Last revised: 16 Apr 2015

Date Written: March 4, 2015

Abstract

This study is the second report on an evaluation of the Reading Partners program, which uses community volunteers to provide one-on-one tutoring to struggling readers in underresourced elementary schools. At each school, Reading Partners transforms a dedicated space into a “reading center,” places a full-time team member on site to manage day-to-day operations, and recruits a corps of 40 to 100 community volunteers to work one-on-one with students in pull-out sessions during the school day or after school in kindergarten through grade 5.

The evaluation was conducted during the 2012-2013 school year in 19 schools in three states, with more than 1,100 students randomly assigned to the study’s program and control groups. This report explores whether the program is more or less effective for particular subgroups of students and assesses some of the potential explanations for the program’s success to date. In addition, this report includes an analysis of the cost of implementing the Reading Partners program in 6 of the 19 sites.

Key Findings: Despite the myriad difficulties inherent in operating a program whose direct service providers are volunteers, Reading Partners was implemented in the schools with a relatively high degree of fidelity to the program model. On average, students in the study received approximately 1.5 tutoring sessions per week, and spent 28 weeks in the Reading Partners program.

Reading Partners had a positive and statistically significant impact on three different measures of student reading proficiency. These impacts are equivalent to approximately one and a half to two months of additional growth in reading proficiency among the program group relative to the control group and are robust across a range of student characteristic subgroups as well as across groups of students who had different levels of reading comprehension skills at the start of the study.

Reading Partners is a low-cost option for under-resourced schools because a majority of the costs are in-kind contributions, primarily from community volunteers. On average, schools bear only about 20 percent ($710 per program group student) of the total cost of the resources required to implement the program, and over half of these costs are in-kind contributions of space and staff time from the school.

Keywords: elementary school, reading instruction, random assignment

JEL Classification: I21, I22

Suggested Citation

Jacob, Robin and Armstrong, Catherine and Willard, Jacklyn, Mobilizing Volunteer Tutors to Improve Student Literacy: Implementation, Impacts, and Costs of the Reading Partners Program (March 4, 2015). MDRC, 2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2574434

Robin Jacob (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Catherine Armstrong

MDRC ( email )

200 Vesey Street
New York, NY 10281
United States

Jacklyn Willard

MDRC ( email )

200 Vesey Street
New York, NY 10281
United States

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