What You Need to Know Before Hiring A Tutor

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Let’s face it — these are tough times.  Los Angeles has been especially hard hit by cutbacks in funding for public education. This translates to  larger class size and reduced student services. The reality is your child may not be getting the kind of attention necessary for academic success.

Frequent interactions between student and teacher are a very important factor in learning, and ultimately a critical component in academic success, but no matter how wonderful a teacher is, most often the demands are too great for the teacher to sufficiently reach all students. In public high school, where classes have 30 plus students, the likelihood of positive student-teacher experiences is diminishing as schools struggle to operate with less and less money.  Private school may have a smaller ratio, but it is still difficult to meet the needs of every student.

So what is a parent to do?  Some are going outside the system to help their children succeed academically by hiring tutors or engaging tutoring services which may include getting help for their child in one or more subjects or college admission test prep, like the SAT.

I want to pass along some helpful guidelines and information that may assist in your decision making process when it comes to hiring a tutor.

When you first approach the idea of hiring a tutor, get into the mindset of a consumer interested in purchasing a product. Keep in mind that although tutors or tutoring companies are about education, but they are also in business to make money.  With this in mind, approach the process as you would if you were going to purchase any type of service.  Dealing with your children’s issues can be an emotional time, but try to remain rational.

According to the Educational Industry Association (EIA) there are four main reasons parents have for wanting to hire a tutor:

REMEDIATION:  As in “surprise” when your child comes home with a “D” on his/her report card in a certain subject.  The goal, according to EIA, for getting a tutor in this situation is “to focus on filling gaps in specific skills in specific subjects, usually in math, reading or writing.  As more basic skills are mastered, tutoring sessions can be spent teaching more grade level skills, thereby increasing achievement and self-esteem.”

MAINTENANCE: You may want to hire a tutor, for example, as your child makes the transition from middle to high school.  Often this comes as rude awakening to a student in terms of academic expectations, study skills and the like.  A tutor can assist in areas such as study habits and time management skills.

ENRICHMENT:  This may be helpful for a gifted child, who for example, needs to be a little more challenged and would benefit from an acceleration of “skills development in certain subjects or skill area.”

TEST PREP:  For the purpose of this article I will focus on college admissions test prep.  This is an area that causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in both parents and students.

When hiring a tutor, the EIA suggests the following:
1.    Check with other parents in your neighborhood. Chances are a good tutor is
working right next door!
2.    Check with your child’s teacher or school principal.
3.    Look in the yellow pages for learning centers.
4.    Check flyers in the local library, pediatrician’s offices, children’s consignment
stores etc.
5.    On-line searches may result in locating tutors in your area
6.    Check with the local Better Business Bureau for a list of tutoring programs. In
addition, the BBB maintains a list of businesses that consumers have lodged
complaints against. You can check to see if a local company has been flagged
with complaints.

When you have a person or company(s) in mind.  Here’s the kind of questions EIA recommends you should ask:
•    How many years have you been a tutor?
•    What are your qualifications?
•    Can you provide references?
•    What assessments do you conduct?
•    What supplies and materials do you provide? What will my child need to
•    Will you provide private tutoring?
•    What is the cost?
•    Are there hidden fees?
•    Will I have a contract?
•    How can I get out of the contract?
•    How will you know what my child’s needs are?
•    Do you have a particular teaching philosophy?
•    How will you communicate with me?

Hiring a tutor for a college test prep, like the SAT and/or the ACT, takes further investigation. The National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) recently released a discussion paper titled, “Preparation for College Admission Exams.”  The report states, “The existing academic research base indicates that, on average, test preparation efforts yield a positive but small effect on standardized admission test scores.  Contrary to the claims made by many test preparation providers of large increases of 100 points or more on the SAT, research suggests that average gains are more in the neighborhood of 30 points.”

Alana Klein, a spokesperson for College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, further corroborated that “studies show that short-term, commercial test preparation does not help students become more prepared for the test or increase test scores significantly.  There are no shortcuts, tricks or ways to cram for the test.”  In addition, Klein stated that “scores tend to increase about 30-40 points upon taking the test a second time.  That research includes all students including those who take prep and those who do not.”

Certainly, an important part of taking a test is having a relaxed, confident student. If any kind of  test prep can help improve the student’s self esteem regarding test taking abilities, then it was a positive and worthwhile experience.  Always remember, “Knowledge is power.”  Be a careful and cautious consumer because it all boils down to the fact that it is your money, and most importantly, your child.

Melanie Rome, M.A. is a College Admissions Counselor in private practice. Contact her at melaniemrome@yahoo.com or visit her website: www.melanierome.com.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.