Four days a week, Darlene Allen-Nichols carves time out of her day job to help third graders with reading and math at Burnham Elementary School. The tutoring fits in with my purpose, Allen-Nichols said. Its so important to first get to know the kids, develop rapport and make sure they trust me. We do a lot of games that will produce connectivity so that they will trust what Im teaching them before we even start. Darlene Allen-Nichols tutors a third grade student in reading at Burnham Elementary School in Burnham, March 29, 2023. Allen-Nichols is one of several hundred tutors providing individual or small-group, high-impact tutoring to students across the state as part of the Illinois Tutoring Initiative in collaboration with higher education institutions and school districts. The Illinois State Board of Education is using federal COVID-19 relief funds to match about 1,900 students with about 700 tutors in 59 school districts throughout the state. Christy Borders, director of the Illinois Tutoring Initiative who runs the program out of Illinois State University in Normal, said the central office at ISU creates the systems and infrastructure for the program and develops the training for tutors. And the regional offices work with specific districts to recruit, hire and supervise the tutors. At Burnham Elementary School, in the village of Burnham, just south of Chicago, Allen-Nichols tutors two students right after school from 3 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, working around her counseling schedule at DAN Care Center on 118th Street and Western Avenue in Chicagos Beverly neighborhood. Her center provides counseling services, educational programming and consulting for families, women, children and young adults. When she walks into the classroom, Allen-Nichols starts soft, asking her students about their day, what they learned and what they came across. And then we get into, OK, were going to do some math. And I start gauging what they learned that day and what still needs work, she said. One of Allen-Nichols students recently received the highest math grade shes gotten all school year. Allen-Nichols said the girls teacher excitedly came by to share the accomplishment. That was a huge boost of energy for me a shot in the arm, Allen-Nichols said. According to the Illinois Report Card, 47% of students at Burnham did not achieve performance level, or grade level, math during the 2021-22 school year, a trend seen statewide. In Donovan, about 90 miles south of Chicago, Community Unit District 3 Superintendent Tony Coates said the district saw improvement in math scores as early as six months into the tutoring program. Its made a huge impact, he said. Every elementary student receiving tutoring in math has shown math growth from fall to winter. Thats the name of the game to get kids to catch up from some of the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. Ahead of the 2022-23 school year, only 34% of students in the Donovan district met performance-level math criteria in the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, according to report card data. Test scores across the elementary, junior high and high school levels are anticipated to improve in math, Coates said. Borders said high-impact tutoring allows kids in small groups to get much-needed extra time to sharpen skills in a subject area, but its hard to say how quickly a program like this can fill in the gaps. And there is a key caveat: The tutoring initiative was designed specifically for schools that were under-resourced or schools that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. ITI looked at the percentage of low-income students, among other things, to determine which districts qualified for the program. All students in all districts across the country and Illinois were impacted by COVID, theres no question about that, Borders said. But I think what is really important to convey is that it was intentionally targeted to those who couldnt put something in place on their own to help curb pandemic learning loss through something like high-impact tutoring. Borders said critics often get too concerned about the numbers, and that the 1,900 students within the ITI program is indeed a small fraction of kids who need help. Someone on our team explained it so well recently. They said, Well, would you rather have us deliver it to 100% of kids in Illinois and its a mildly intense intervention, or would you like us to hit this bottom 5% that dont typically get resources and hit them intensely, Borders said. In education, we tend to think about tier one interventions what all kids get and then there are interventions that are more targeted, and thats what this is. ITI also looked at early fall interim assessments to determine district eligibility, and at students social-emotional scores from screenings. Although tutoring is tailored to meet the specific students needs, all tutoring is aligned with district curriculum and meets ISBEs state standards. Borders said districts primarily recommend students who are falling behind, but a select few might enroll students who are right on the edge of being bumped up to advanced placement. We are firm believers that the districts themselves are the experts on their learners. We enrolled the districts to talk about what the program is, what flexibilities there are that they can make decisions on, she said. We try to put that decision where we feel it belongs. Coates and his administrative team at Donovan, for example, chose to focus on math. It was a school improvement goal to improve math achievement, he said. So when we got this opportunity, we wanted to go right after what we thought was our biggest weakness. Tutoring is eligible for every student in the district, which has about 300 students across three schools, Coates said. Donovan didnt close schools during the pandemic and few students chose the remote-learning option. The district saw a large spike in attendance from transfer students from other districts that went fully remote, and those students also benefited from the tutoring program. I physically saw students come to me, catch me in the hallway and brag about their winter math scores, and those kids are in tutoring, Coates said. So theyre starting to pay attention to their scores, which is really cool. Kids are motivated. Tutoring at Donovan Junior High School starts 15 minutes before school and continues through first-period study hall. You assume that in junior high, kids already know basic math facts. I dont have time during class to go back and teach third grade skills, so tutors have been working on things like that, said Michele Gray, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade math at Donovan. Since their confidence level in their actual math skills is improving, theyre not turning in incomplete assignments and they feel better about themselves. ISBE is slated to release new data highlighting the impact of the tutoring initiative later this spring, but