As a new academic year unfolds, we are presented with an invigorating opportunity to revolutionize the way we approach education and, more specifically, the fundamental skill of reading. Over the last 30 years, 4th grade reading rates across the country have remained relatively stagnant with just shy of 40% of students meeting benchmark. Virtual early literacy tutoring is a necessary investment, not a fleeting expense, which will yield profound dividends for generations to come.
The Right Approach
The reading wars have been reignited in recent years, with some educators advocating for a phonics-based approach to reading instruction and others arguing for a more balanced approach that also emphasizes comprehension. However, there is growing consensus that a structured literacy approach is the most effective way to teach early literacy skills.
States that have focused on implementing a structured literacy approach have seen significant improvements in student reading achievement. For example, in recent years, Mississippi and Tennessee have championed systematic, explicit, and evidence-based literacy initiatives statewide and both states are reaping the rewards by seeing their reading scores improve.
However, change doesn’t happen overnight. Schools are complex systems, and it takes time to implement new practices and see results. Teachers are working harder than ever post-pandemic to provide quality education and they need support as they shift their practices. This is where investment in early literacy tutoring emerges as a crucial pillar of support for teachers as they implement a structured literacy approach. Tutoring can provide individualized instruction for students who are struggling, freeing up teachers to focus on strengthening their fundamental instruction.
OnYourMark: Improving Reading Skills
OnYourMark (OYM), an advocate for the Science of Reading, serves as part of the support system by providing effective virtual early literacy tutoring. The tutoring ratio ranges from one to two students per tutor, and tutoring is delivered by highly trained and supported tutors. The program focuses on building relationships with students and providing individualized instruction that is tailored to each student’s needs. Last school year, OYM served 1,400 students in grades K-2 at 14 schools. OYM has been shown to be effective in helping students improve their reading skills.
A recent study found that OYM students improved significantly more than students in the business-as-usual control group, with 1st graders and students furthest from the benchmark in 1:1 sessions benefiting the most. The results of the study demonstrate impressive growth in foundational reading skills for OYM students, translating into 24 extra days of learning in sounds for kindergartners and 51 extra days of learning in decoding for first graders. Over the course of a single school year, the percentage of students reading on grade level increased by 23%. The study also found that OYM tutoring was most effective in improving kindergartners’ mastery of letter sounds; these changes in raw scores translate to an additional 3.5 letter sounds recognized per minute.
One incredible student story from this past year revolves around Kate, a second grader at an elementary school in Dallas, Texas. Kate, being an energetic second grader, was eager to learn. However, her teachers and her school started to become worried about her progress as they noticed she was falling behind her classmates.
Kate was assigned an OYM tutor, and they worked together one-on-one for 20 minutes a day, four times per week, for a total of 80 tutoring sessions. Over the course of the school year, Kate made significant gains in her reading skills and is quickly approaching the grade level benchmark.
Kate’s story is just one example of how virtual early literacy tutoring can help students. When students receive the individualized instruction they need, they can make significant gains in their reading skills. Investing in early literacy tutoring is right for our educational ecosystem. It raises high school graduation rates and equips students to navigate complex texts across all subjects.
OnYourMark Education believes in proactive support that paves the way for success. We are on a mission to prove that virtual early literacy tutoring is both effective and scalable. In the coming school year, we will serve 2,500 or more students in seven states across the country. We are hopeful for the opportunity this provides schools, teachers, and tutored students. It is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.
About the Author
Mindy Sjoblom is the founder and CEO of OnYourMark Education. She has a passion for early literacy and deep experience building systems to cultivate and develop educators. While preparing to launch OnYourMark, Mindy served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Charter School Growth Fund where she started her early literacy journey at the nexus of a growing demand for high-dosage tutoring to address pandemic learning recovery and increased need to support schools with foundational skills reading instruction across the country.
Prior to this newest adventure, Sjoblom served as Founding Dean of Relay Chicago. Under her leadership, Relay Chicago became the second-largest and most diverse provider of teachers in Illinois. Sjoblom, an alumna of Teach For America, earned an M.A.T. from Johns Hopkins University, School Administrative credentials from National Louis University, and a B.A. in political science from Butler University.