Tutoring with the Lightning Squad Program Description

Part D. Maximizing State-Level Funds to Support Students

The Department recognizes that States have an extraordinary opportunity to address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on underserved students through the ARP Act’s required State set-asides to address the academic impact of lost instructional time, provide summer learning and enrichment programs, and provide comprehensive afterschool programs. In this section, SEAs will describe their evidence-based strategies for these resources.

Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: Describe how the SEA will use the funds it reserves under section 2001(f)(1) of the ARP Act (totaling not less than 5 percent of the State’s total allocation of ARP ESSER funds) on evidence-based interventions to address the academic impact of lost instructional time by supporting the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year programs, and ensure that such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. The description must include:

1. A description of the evidence-based interventions (e.g., providing intensive or high-dosage tutoring, accelerating learning) the SEA has selected, and the extent to which the SEA will evaluate the impact of those interventions on an ongoing basis to understand if they are working;

Description of the Evidence-Based Intervention

The State of Ohio has identified high-dosage tutoring as an evidence-based intervention to address lost instructional time. Research-proven one-to-one and one-to-small group tutoring has been shown to be the most effective method of accelerating reading and math achievement. In fact, proven tutoring models that provide their tutors with structured materials and guidance with professional development and in-class coaching have demonstrated greater effects on student achievement than other strategies, including summer school, after school, and extended day programs (Gersten et al., 2020; Neitzel et al., in press; Nickow et al. 2020; Pellegrini et al., 2021; Wanzek et al., 2016).  One such program, Tutoring with The Lightning Squad (TwLS), has been selected by Ohio as a grades 1-5 reading intervention because it is a unique program that incorporates the benefits of a tutor and technology. TwLS is a technology-assisted one-to-four tutoring approach for students in grades 1 to 5 reading at grade levels 1 to 3.  TWLS helps struggling readers develop skills in phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary, using game-like activities. It was developed and is disseminated by the non-profit Success for All Foundation, in partnership with internationally renowned children’s media producers Sesame Workshop and Sirius Thinking.


Tutors in Lightning Squad are teaching assistants with a four-year college degree and successful experience working with children. Tutors are usually hired by school districts, or school districts may contract with AmeriCorps agencies, with Success for All Foundation, or with other organizations to hire and support the tutors. A full-time tutor should be able to provide 9 30-minute sessions daily (serving 36 children each day, and about 72 children per tutor per year). Tutors usually tutor in person, but may also work online when in-person tutoring is not possible.


Lightning Squad was designed for students in grades 1-5 who are reading below the fourth grade level, including students with IEPs or reading disabilities. Students work in groups of four, with two pairs each sharing a computer. The pairs should be at about the same reading level. Students receive 30 minutes a day of tutoring, usually for about a semester, depending on their rate of progress.


Lightning Squad provides tutors and students with extensive software, which uses graphic content from Sesame Workshop’s Electric Company, as well as other graphics made by former Sesame Workshop developers. The software can work on any modern computer, and all of it can be used remotely as well as in-person.


Lightning Squad curriculum materials, adapted from Success for All, can be accessed entirely on the computer. The curriculum emphasizes the five areas identified by the National Reading Panel as critical: Phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.

Program Operation

In each tutoring session, students work in pairs, sharing a computer. One student in a pair is designated as “coach” and one as “reader,” with roles alternating in each activity. The “reader” reads the text, and answers questions from the computer. The “coach”, cued by the computer, indicates whether the answer is right or wrong, and may offer assistance. The tutor individually assesses each student at designated points in the activities and celebrates progress. If a student has problems, the tutor explains, gives additional examples, or otherwise helps the student get over a difficulty. When a pair completes a series of tasks, they can earn the right to watch a brief Electric Company or SFAF educational segment as recognition of progress.

Professional Development, Progress Monitoring, and Follow-up

Lightning Squad coaches provide tutors with two days of initial training, either in-person or online, provided by experienced Success for All coaches to all tutors and lead tutors. SFA coaches also provide ongoing coaching throughout the school year to observe, review student progress data, and provide feedback to strengthen implementation. Lead tutors in each district or region, usually hired by local districts, complete coaching visits to observe tutors in action. Data from all participating students are summarized electronically and shared with tutors, lead tutors, and SFA coaches. These data are used in regular coaching conversations or observation visits to help make sure that all students are on track to success.

Evidence Base

Three studies have evaluated the reading outcomes of Tutoring With the Lightning Squad (then called Tutoring with Alphie). Two of these (Madden & Slavin, 2017) took place in high poverty schools in Baltimore using the Success for All whole-school approach. About 80% of students were Black, and 20% Hispanic. One of the Baltimore studies had a mean effect size of +0.46, and one a mean of +0.40. The third study of Lightning Squad (Ross, Laurenzano, & Madden, 2017)   took place in Title I schools near Minneapolis and rural schools in Bedford County, VA. The two Minnesota schools averaged 49% free lunch, 14% Black, 31% Hispanic, and 37% White. The four Virginia schools averaged 35% free lunch, 85% White, 7% Black. This study has a mean effect size of +0.15. Averaging across the three studies, weighting by sample size, the mean effect size was +0.39.

Extent to Which TWLS Will be Evaluated on an Ongoing Basis

The program’s integrated model provides ongoing computer-assisted assessment so teachers and families can track progress.  A computer-aided assessment determines initial placement in the tutoring program.  Then students engage in story-related activities with a partner, taking turns as “reader” and “coach”.  A tutor supports small groups of students and assesses their progress.  The technology platform provides models of letter, word, and passage reading that allow partners to coach each other to improve. A tutor dashboard tracks the progress of every student. Progress is measured over time against standard grade level competencies.  Each student’s individual progress is shared with the student’s classroom teacher and parents weekly so that learning can be reinforced and progress celebrated.  Individual student progress is measured over time against standard grade level competencies The State will use a standardized measure, the Ohio Achievement Test, to evaluate program impact on a large scale.

2. How the evidence-based interventions will specifically address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain groups of students, including each of the student groups listed in question A.3.i.-viii. When possible, please indicate which data sources the SEA will use to determine the impact of lost instructional time;

How the evidence-based interventions will specifically address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain groups of students

The small group structure of TwLS will allow the tutors to identify and target individual needs of students. TWLS has demonstrated success among disadvantaged students and students from ethnic minorities, which have been hit hardest by COVID-19 (Madden & Slavin, 2017; Ross, Laurenzano, & Madden, 2017).

Data on student learning loss during the COVID school closures indicate that students from ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected. For example, research shows that reading losses due to COVID are the greatest in grades K and I, and mostly among African-American and Hispanic students. (Amplify Education, 2021). On the DIBELS standardized test given mid-year in 2019-2020 and then 2020-2021 to 400,000 matched students in 1,400 schools in 41 states, results showed a 68% increase in the percentage of kindergartners at risk of not learning to read, and a 65% increase of first graders. Within these results, twice as many African-American kindergartners are in the lowest reading category than before COVID, and 59% of Hispanic kindergartners are now in the lowest reading category, compared to 34% pre-COVID. Patterns are similar in first grade (Amplify Education, 2021).

TWLS is used in 16 schools in Ohio, 15 of which are Title I (high-poverty) schools, and encompassed about 2000 students in the 2020-2021 school year. 32% of these students are African-American, 26% Hispanic, and 39% White. Given that the majority of TWLS students in Ohio are African-American and Hispanic, the two groups of students hardest hit by learning losses due to the pandemic, and that TWLS is designed for younger readers, the age shown to have experienced the greatest losses during the pandemic, we are confident that TWLS will continue to demonstrate positive effects on student achievement, especially as the pandemic fades and school routines settle down.

Data sources the SEA will use to determine the impact of lost instructional time

INSERT STATE’S PLANS TO EVALUATE ALL STUDENTS WHEN THEY RETURN, IF ANY. Within TWLS itself, students receive an initial assessment. That is the baseline upon which students will then build their skills. Assessments are ongoing and are shared weekly with students’ parents and teachers. Individual student progress is measured over time against standard grade level competencies. The State will use a standardized measure, the Ohio Achievement Test, to evaluate program impact on a large scale in the spring.

3. The extent to which the SEA will use funds it reserves to identify and engage 1) students who have missed the most in-person instruction during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years; and 2) students who did not consistently participate in remote instruction when offered during school building closures.

TWLS’ individualized approach to placing and tracking progress makes it an ideal program for identifying those students who have missed the most in-person instruction. Students who missed the most in-person and remote instruction will demonstrate delays in reading comprehension. Funding used to adopt TWLS includes identifying the extent of students’ reading delays by the very nature of the program. This is done in several ways. Students are judged as candidates for TWLS if they are in the lowest-level reading classes, if they do poorly on benchmark reading screenings, or are referred by teachers who see them struggling to read.  Step one of TWLS is to measure a student’s baseline abilities. The TWLS software will automatically collect and organize information on children’s current level of reading development, focusing on strengths and weaknesses for initial placement.  As they go through the program, the games children play will produce data on their performance and will immediately affect the pace and level of material they receive. The data will be automatically shared with the child’s homeroom teacher and any other educators involved with the child, and with the child’s parents. The parents will be encouraged to respond to the data and note the reading activities they are engaging in at home to support what is happening in school. Trace data will be collected by the developers to track the daily use of the program.


  • Amplify Education (2021). COVID-19 means more students not learning to read. Author.
  • Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Newman-Gonchar, R., Dimino, J., & Jayanthi, M. (2020). Meta-analysis of the impact of reading interventions for students in the primary grades. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 13(2), 401–427.
  • Madden, N. A., & Slavin, R. E. (2017). Evaluations of technology-assisted small group tutoring for struggling readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 1-8.
  • Neitzel, A., Lake, C., Pellegrini, M., & Slavin, R. (2021). A synthesis of quantitative research on programs for struggling readers in elementary schools. Reading Research Quarterly. doi:10.1002/rrq.379
  • Nickow, A, Oreopoulos, P., & Quan, V. (2020). The impressive effects of tutoring on preK-12 learning: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Pellegrini, M., Neitzel, A., Lake, C., & Slavin, R. (2021). Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis. AERA Open, 7 (1), 1-29.
  • Ross, S. N., Laurenzano, M., & Madden, N. A. (2017). An evaluation of the Lightning Squad computer-assisted small group tutoring program in the reading achievement of disadvantaged students in grades 1-3 (tech rep). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.
  • Wanzek, J., Vaughn, S., Scammacca, N., Gatlin, B., Walker, M. A., & Capin, P. (2016). Meta-analyses of the effects of tier 2 type reading interventions in grades K-3. Educational Psychology Review, 28(3), 551–576. doi:10.1007/s10648-015-9321-7
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