New state initiative designed to accelerate literacy, math learning


PITTSFIELD, Ill. — A new state initiative aims to help students regain learning loss tied to COVID-19.

The Illinois Tutoring Initiative offers one-on-one or small group high-impact tutoring, in-person or online, designed to accelerate student learning in literacy and math, with priority given to school districts disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“We are not replacing instruction by any means in this initiative. We are giving some extra boost to what schools are doing in the classroom, and I don’t know a student who couldn’t benefit from that right now,” said Christy Borders, the initiative’s director based at Illinois State University.

Borders sees the initiative as a way to counter what she calls learning disruptions tied to the pandemic.

“I think kids did have learning disrupted, even with the best online instruction, and for many children, it disrupted everything in their world academically and socially,” she said. “This initiative gives us a really deep chance to impact that disruption and support our districts and our teachers.”

Four districts already had the required memorandums of understanding signed by last week, with another 14 in process, as the initiative ramps up statewide. The first tutors were on the job this week, with more expected to start in April.

Pikeland Superintendent Carol Kilver said she’s anxious to see how the initiative rolls out — and whether participating would be a move in the right direction.

“We as a district need to do a little more research,” Kilver said.

Pikeland is eligible for the initiative along with seven other area districts — Central, Dallas City, Hamilton, Payson, Pleasant Hill, Quincy and Western. But Kilver’s hesitant to add more to the district’s to-do list.

“The thought of tutors coming on-site and helping kids sounds wonderful, but it is a managerial thing. It could take one person to coordinate that, and I’m not sure if I have that one person,” she said. “If I become that one person, what other things will go to the side to get this launched.”

Kilver, Central Superintendent Erica Smith and Quincy’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Kim Dinkheller all say they need more information about the initiative.

“If it’s something that would be beneficial, especially to provide training for some of my afterschool teachers and things like that, I’d be interested in looking into it,” Dinkheller said.

“I really want to hear more from the Illinois State Board of Education on this,” Kilver said. “It has been slow to make it to the desk of the superintendents.”

The initiative, one of four statewide strategies for educational recovery from COVID-19, is administered by ISBE in partnership with the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

ISU is the coordinating institution for six institutional partners — including Region 3’s Illinois Central College serving Adams, Brown, Hancock and Pike counties — which hire, train and oversee management of tutors.

“We want to let districts know we will do the hiring, do the training, meet them where they’re at and really try to flex to their specific needs. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to ensure this is not a one-size-fits-all program in terms of implementation,” she said. “Every local district will have a different way to approach it.”

Chatea Green, Region 3 coordinator based at ICC, said tutors can spend an hour working with students three times a week for eight to 12 weeks.

Qualified tutors range from current and retired teachers to teacher education candidates, college students and other community partners. Information about tutoring job opportunities in Region 3 is available online at

“We have to hire 200 to 250 tutors because we’re allowed to offer each district 40 tutors at a time, 20 to do one-on-one tutoring and 20 to do small group tutoring,” Green said.

Green hopes to have tutors working in eight school districts this semester.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to hire this many tutors,” Borders said. “We need to build our tutor pool so we can meet those needs within the communities.”

Key to the initiative will be building sustained relationships between tutors and students.

“We love to see academic outcome changes, but the social-emotional outcome change is just as important to us,” Borders said. “Having that consistent, caring adult work with students over a sustained length of time can do a whole lot for social emotional learning and the confidence level of our students.”

The initiative emphasizes face-to-face tutoring.

“If a district doesn’t have the space, they can do it virtually, or they can ask if our tutors can meet their students at a community center or a church,” Green said. “As long as we reach that district’s students, we can use whatever location they choose to house the tutors.”

Still it may be a difficult decision for districts.

Pikeland, for example, already earmarked some American Recovery Act funding for tutoring with existing staff to target learning loss, leading Kilver to wonder how to deploy both programs at one time.

“We have spent the last three years building systems we didn’t know existed — systems to do remote learning, to do SHIELD testing,” Kilver said. “It’s a little daunting right now to think of building one more.”