Approximately six million students between the ages of 5 and 13 transfer to new schools each year. Many of these are scheduled transfers for children graduating into elementary, middle or high schools; at these times schools generally offer an orientation program for entering classes.
Many other transfers, however, are unscheduled, and these students receive few or no support services in their new school. Unscheduled transfers — especially for students whose families move frequently — place children at risk for academic and social difficulties and are associated with other psychological and physical problems.
Over the last 10 years, researchers at DePaul University have been designing and evaluating orientation and intervention programs for transfer students. These programs include familiarizing students with their new school and providing a peer guide, matching students with a class “buddy” to help establish social networks, and tutoring students who appear to be at risk academically.
Individualized tutoring helps
Studies carried out in parochial elementary schools determined that transfer students who received individualized, school-based tutoring twice weekly for the first year showed higher achievement scores than those who received no tutoring.
In these studies, a portion of the new transfers received home tutoring from their parents in addition to tutoring in school. Teachers reported that students tutored at home as well as at school coped even more successfully with both the social and academic demands of their new school.
The benefits of such support services were further analyzed in research conducted by Andrew M. Weine, Karen S. Kurasaki, Leonard A. Jason, Karen E. Danner and Joseph H. Johnson, DePaul University. Four hundred third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students who transferred into 31 ethnically diverse, urban, parochial schools were included in the study. One hundred and seventy-four of these students were identified as being at risk for academic problems.
Factors determining risk included socioeconomic and academic background and a personal history of two or more stressful life events. One-third of these children were randomly assigned to an experimental program that involved home- and school-based tutoring. Another third received only school-based tutoring and the remaining third served as controls and received no tutoring at all.
All students, however, participated in the orientation and buddy programs and were given tests to assess achievement and self-esteem. Students were tested again at the end of the school year.
Individual intervention programs
Reading comprehension, phonics, vocabulary, spelling and arithmetic were assessed and individual intervention programs were designed for each student. Individual 40-to-60-minute tutoring sessions were conducted twice weekly. Tutoring included direct instruction, extensive practice, immediate corrective feedback, positive reinforcement and teaching to criterion level. Classroom materials were used.
Parents involved in home tutoring were introduced to the rationale and objectives for parental involvement and then practiced using the Science Research Associates Reading Laboratory materials used in school as well as basic corrective feedback and behavior management techniques. A contract made between the tutoring staff, parents and children detailed the responsibilities of each and established a daily homework schedule and weekly homework goals.
Both tutored groups made significant gains in reading and spelling as measured on the achievement test. Neither group, however, improved its classroom reading grades although the reading skills of both groups increased significantly. Researchers speculate that the reading levels of these students had been so low that two sessions a week had not been enough to raise their performance to grade level.
The program did not specifically teach social skills, but children who received tutoring outperformed control students on several social and behavioral measures. In particular, teachers noted a decrease in withdrawal and inattentiveness among students who received both home and school tutoring.
Weine et al. believe that orientation and tutoring services hold promise for high-risk transfer students, but report that they were able to show only modest success for their home- and school-based tutoring programs. They hypothesize that more intensive and age-specific interventions may be necessary to make significant improvements in the class performance and adjustment of transfer students. Because difficulties appear to be compounded over time, they recommend early intervention.
Furthermore, these researchers conclude, no amount of tutoring can substitute for a supportive school environment. They recommend that schools faced with large numbers of transfer students establish intervention plans as regular school practice, and that these plans focus not only on improving academic skills but also on strengthening social skills, widening peer networks, fostering a welcoming classroom environment and rallying family support.
“An Evaluation of Preventive Tutoring Programs For Transfer Students”, Child Study Journal, Volume 23, Number 2, pp. 135-151.
Published in ERN March/April 1994, Volume 7, Number 2.