UT Austin Researchers Examine Peer Tutoring to Improve Reading Outcomes for Students in YMCA Afterschool Care

Early academic achievement gaps between children of high- and low- resource families have persisted for a long time, particularly around reading outcomes. Not all students have access to the same instruction and interventions; and the learning loss for beginning readers from suspended and altered educational opportunities, exacerbated by interruptions caused by the pandemic, have made it difficult for schools to address all the needs of students on their own.

To help identify possible solutions in student learning gaps, The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded a five-year, $4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to examine the efficacy of a reading intervention delivered through peer tutoring called Sound Partners.

Led by Principal Investigator Elizabeth Swanson, research professor at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk in the College of Education at UT Austin, the team of researchers will work with approximately 1,800 students across 60 YMCA of Central Texas and YMCA of Middle Tennessee afterschool care locations. As part of the study, 4th and 5th grade students will be trained to deliver literacy tutoring to their 1st and 2nd grade peers. During the first year of the project, the YMCA locations will work closely with the UT Austin team to develop procedures that are feasible in a variety of afterschool programs.

“Partnering with YMCA afterschool programs gives us an opportunity to examine an efficacious intervention—Sound Partners—within a new setting,” said Swanson. “This provides children from a variety of backgrounds access to high quality reading tutoring that they would not otherwise be able to access.”

Sound Partners includes daily 30-minute lessons that include letter-sound correspondence, word reading and connected text reading and is designed for use with early elementary learners struggling with reading.

“Over the last two years there have been serious disruptions to student learning and academic achievement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a leader in our community in afterschool programming, parents are looking to the YMCA for increased support with academic and literacy support. This is why we are extremely excited to partner with the team from UT Austin to specifically target the literacy gap students are struggling with in our schools today,” said Brian Spence, VP of Youth Development for YMCA of Central Texas.

The randomized controlled trial will begin in the fall of 2023 and will end in 2027.