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NCLB Outrages

$50 million -- for what?

TUTORS | Law calls for after-school help, but CPS study shows students gain little.

Does anyone consider that there is only so much skill drill a kid can take in a day?

By Kate N. Grossman

The Chicago Public Schools spent $50 million in federal money on after-school tutoring for 56,000 students last year but test scores show it got limited bang for its buck.

Tutored elementary students showed only slightly more gains in reading on state tests in 2006 than comparable kids who were eligible for tutoring but didn't get the extra help. Researchers called that a small but "significant'' uptick. There was a "negligible" gain in math, according to an analysis by the Chicago Public Schools released to the Sun-Times.

CPS officials even wonder whether the tutoring is worth the money. It's mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law for any low-income school that misses testing goals for three years. The state approves the tutoring firms and can remove them after two years of poor performance.

"It's a minimal impact, at best," said Erica Harris, who oversees tutoring for CPS. "On the micro level, I believe there are kids who need it and it's doing great things. But at the macro level, for the amount of investment, I would want to see more output."

Forty-one private firms, plus CPS -- which won special permission by the feds to tutor -- worked in 324 schools. CPS analyzed data from about 24 firms, mostly the larger ones that tutored at least 30 hours. The small-group tutoring mostly ranged from 30 to 80 hours.

The results varied from firm to firm. Several significantly outperformed the average and many fell far behind. Among the firms, CPS' program ranked in the middle in reading and near the top for math.

Firm blames drop on schools
Some providers blame CPS for poor results. Joe Lockavitch, president of Failure Free Reading, says CPS didn't let him run his program properly. His firm ranked third of 18 firms for reading gains in 2005, but last of 24 firms in 2006.

Failure Free is computer-based, but in 2006, Lockavitch said, CPS put his tutors in a classroom with 40 kids and eight computers, most of which didn't work. In 2005, his students worked in a fully outfitted computer lab. CPS should have factored that into its analysis, which he called unfair and irresponsible.

"You want to know why we didn't do well?" Lockavitch fumed. "They denied us access to the computer lab and there was total disorganization in the schools."

Low-performing One-to-One Learning Center said some of its student scores were left out. The firm pointed to a 2005 parent survey where it earned top marks. Other firms said the analysis was unfair because it didn't note when firms targeted particularly challenging students.

Curtis Jones, who wrote the report, said all tutored students were low-performing -- nearly 61 percent ranked below the 25th percentile in reading. He also painted a rosier picture of the results, saying it's hard to make gains when kids start so far behind.

"It's important to note [the students] showed some recovery," said Jones, who works for Harris' department. "We don't know how much farther behind they would have been" without tutoring.

CPS much cheaper than others
Jones used 2005 Iowa test scores to predict student performance on the 2006 state ISAT tests. In reading, tutored kids beat that prediction more often than students eligible for tutoring who weren't helped, by an average of .8 ISAT points on a 200-point scale. Jones called this gain "a small but significant improvement."

For math, tutored kids gained .2 more points, a result Jones called a "negligible improvement."

The lowest performing and youngest students produced the best gains. Tutored students who scored below the 25th percentile on the state reading test gained 1.3 more points on the ISAT reading test than kids who weren't tutored.

CPS tutored the most students, about 23,000. It was also the cheapest, at about $375 per student. The other firms mostly charged between between $1,000 and $1,900. CPS outperformed several much pricier firms. In reading, CPS-tutored kids gained .22 more on the ISAT than non-tutored kids; in math, they gained .72 more.

Four firms ranked among the top five firms in student gains in reading and math: EdSolutions, Unparalleled Solutions, School Service Systems and Score! EdSolutions produced the best results in reading, with students gaining 4.43 more ISAT points than kids who weren't tutored. The State Board of Education hasn't fired any firms yet.

Which tutoring firms helped students make the biggest gains in reading?
The list ranks firms from best to worst. Test score gains for students tutored by each firm were compared to gains by other low-income, low-achieving students who weren't tutored.*

1. EdSolutions, Inc.
2. Educational Specialities, Inc.
3. School Service Systems
4. Unparalleled Solutions, Inc.
5. SCORE! Educational Centers, Inc.
6. Brainfuse Home Tutoring (online)
7. Catapult (online)
8. Cambridge Educational Services
9. The Princeton Review, Inc.
10. One-to-One Learning Center
11. Newton Learning
12. Progressive Learning
13. Platform Learning, Inc.
14. A.I.M. High - CPS
15. PLATO Learning
16. NCLB Tutors
17. Education Station, A Sylvan Partnership
18. Brain Hurricane
19. Club Z! Tutoring Services
20. Brilliance Academy of Math and English
21. Brainfuse (One-to-One)
22. CS&C, Inc. - Julex Learning
23. A+ Tutoring Service, LTD
24. Failure Free Reading

* Source: Chicago Public Schools. The full report should be available this week at www.cps.k12.il.us

Which firms helped students make the biggest gains in math?

The list ranks firms from best to worst. Test score gains for students tutored by each firm were compared to gains by other low-income, low-achieving students who weren't tutored.*

1. Unparalleled Solutions, Inc.
2. EdSolutions, Inc.
3. SCORE! Educational Centers, Inc.
4. Cambridge Educational Services
5. School Service Systems
6. A.I.M. High - CPS
7. A+ Tutoring Service, LTD
8. Catapult (online)
9. Brainfuse Home Tutoring (online)
10. Educational Specialities, Inc.
11. Newton Learning
12. PLATO Learning
13. Platform Learning, Inc.
14. Club Z! Tutoring Services
15. The Princeton Review, Inc.
16. Education Station, A Sylvan Partnership
17. Brain Hurricane
18. Brainfuse (One-to-One)
19. Progressive Learning
20. Brilliance Academy of Math and English
21. One-to-One Learning Center
22. NCLB Tutors

* Source: Chicago Public Schools. The full report should be available this week at www.cps.k12.il.us

— Kate N. Grossman
Chicago Sun-Times


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