Virginia Dept. of Ed eyes Zearn, Ignite Reading for statewide high-impact tutoring contract

Agency expects to deploy math tutoring services starting October 1

By: - September 27, 2023 12:03 am

(Matt Cardy / Getty Images)

Virginia’s Department of Education has selected two companies to provide statewide “high-impact” tutoring services for math and reading in an attempt to improve low test results among students in public schools.

Records on the state’s public procurement website show the department intends to award contracts to the nonprofit math platform Zearn and tutoring company Ignite Reading for math and literacy support. VDOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Aug. 8, the Virginia Department of Education issued two proposals to provide “high quality” math and literacy “tutoring and content support services in grades K-8.” Pass rates on the 2022-23 Standards of Learning tests released this September showed stagnant student achievement compared to last year, with scores remaining lower than pre-pandemic levels.

VDOE’s requests for proposals called for providers “who can deliver trained and vetted tutors, a platform with embedded high-quality curriculum, and strong tutoring sessions aligned with … research-backed principles” in math and literacy.

Students in need of tutoring will be prioritized by the Virginia Department of Education based on factors including SOL tests.

The agency required that web-based platforms for each of the two subject areas be “grounded in evidence-based” literacy and math instruction that can be “used in flexible and multiple scenarios, including within and outside of the classroom to help students recover from learning loss tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ignite Reading specializes in one-to-one tutoring and has been in operation since 2021. Zearn Math offers interactive sessions with virtual teachers, as well as visual models and other digital tools.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia and Governor [Glenn] Youngkin are committed to supporting mathematics at high levels for all students,” the agency stated. “Interruptions in instructional time due to the pandemic has resulted in mathematics learning loss for many students, which can be mitigated with a statewide effort to provide opportunities for skill building.” 

Virginia lawmakers have sought to increase resources for students following declines in SOL performance during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2022-23, roughly 69% of Virginia students passed the mathematics test compared to 82% before the pandemic. On reading tests, 73% of students overall passed compared to 78% before the pandemic. Writing rates continued to fall, dropping by 4% for a second straight year.  

The agency suspended testing during 2020-21, when many schools around the state had stopped in-person instruction in response to the pandemic.

On Sept. 7, the Youngkin administration announced the “All In VA” plan to help address learning losses by focusing on tutoring, literacy and attendance. In a press conference announcing the initiative, the governor directed local school districts to begin setting up “high-intensity” tutoring programs by Oct. 16.

Long-delayed amendments to the state’s two-year budget negotiated by the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-controlled House of Delegates also include an additional $418 million in “flexible” funds for schools to address learning loss. VDOE has recommended school districts allocate 70% of the flexible funds to “high-dose tutoring.”

The Youngkin administration has consistently blamed learning losses in Virginia on the closure of schools during the pandemic and decisions by prior Boards of Education to lower cut scores on student assessments and change the state’s standards of school accreditation. Many Democrats and prior board members have defended those choices, noting that Virginia is one of many states to experience learning loss since the pandemic.


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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.