As The New York Times (the newspaper that owns this site) and other news outlets have reported, tutoring has become widespread. In today’s academic climate, private and public school students receive outside help not only with standardized tests but also with their academic work. While struggling students sought help in the past, now, even students in the middle or top of their class have outside tutors. The growth of academic tutors has led schools to question how students use these types of outside support. While the right type of outside support can help students bolster their skills and knowledge, other types of tutoring leave students worse off. Here’s why tutoring has taken off and how students can best work with outside support.
Why Tutoring is Widespread
Students turn to tutors in the face of relentless competition. Students who want to attend private or parochial schools must take tests such as the ISEE, SSAT, or COOP, while students in public schools have to take state-mandated tests in specific subject areas to be promoted to the next grade. In some areas, students’ admission to middle school depends on the scores they receive on fourth grade tests. As one wise 10-year-old girl remarked, “I’m too young to have so much pressure!” Even very young children who want to be admitted to some private schools in grades Pre-K through 4 have to take admissions tests referred to as the ERBs, which are modified forms of intelligence tests. There is now even tutoring available for these tests, though many experts feel that children cannot be coached or tutored for such tests. Schools who are interviewing children for admission do not want to test overly prepared children, as they feel that they do not get a good sense of these children, so some schools are starting to put less emphasis on these tests. In addition, there is always the worry that children who are overly prepped may become more stressed than is appropriate for their age. In the older grades, students feel pressure to do well on college admissions tests such as the SAT, ACT, and AP or Advanced Placement tests, and they often turn to private tutors to help them.
Tutors to Help with Standardized Tests
Tutors who are experienced with these tests can help students learn not only the content of the tests but also with strategies for understanding and answering the questions. Many students, particularly those who attend progressive schools, may not have had much experience taking standardized tests and understanding the questions. Students, even though they are bright, may need help taking practice tests and learning how to answer questions under timed conditions. An experienced tutor can help children with these skills, which, for better or worse, are a feature of modern education from the youngest grades through graduate school.
The Right Way to Use Tutors for Academic Work
Struggling students may need to get help outside of school, though students should always continue to work with their teachers even if they receive outside tutoring. After all, their teachers know the curriculum best and are in the best position to help their students. Students can also often benefit from the help of a learning specialist, either inside or outside of school. Many private schools have learning specialists or reading specialists on staff, and these professionals are trained to help students learn study and time-management skills. Working with a learning specialist is particularly critical for students with learning disabilities, but direct instruction in how to study efficiently and effectively is beneficial for most students, even those without learning issues.
Students can also benefit from working with subject matter tutors who know the students' school well and who understand how to help students develop not only the ability to do well in the subject but also to learn life-long skills. For example, tutors and learning specialists should not only work with content but also help students develop better study skills, test-preparation strategies, and discipline. Tutors should never do the work for a student. In addition to being dishonest and in violation of schools’ honor codes, such behavior does not allow students to develop their own skills for life-long learning.