Friday Institute Partners with The ASSISTments Foundation on Award-Winning Grant to Scale and Expand Tutoring Technology for Pandemic Recovery

In 2005, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation was founded with a unique mission: to advance K-12 education through innovation in teaching, learning and leadership with the vision of seeing every learner equipped to succeed in a rapidly changing world. In the decade and a half that followed, Friday Institute researchers and educators rolled up their sleeves—identifying solutions, developing ground-breaking programming and cultivating equitable educational outcomes across educational systems nationwide. And in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought sweeping changes, that mission became especially significant.

In its most recent effort to address and improve educational challenges resulting from the pandemic, the Friday Institute partnered with The ASSISTments Foundation (TAF), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and WestEd on a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education’s Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program. This month, those efforts were recognized with an $8 million grant to support learning acceleration and recovery from COVID-related learning loss among K-12 students. The Friday Institute will receive $700,000 of the project’s overall funding from the EIR grant.  

Led by TAF, the five-year grant entitled, “Recovering from COVID-Learning-Loss with a Platform to Support Human Tutoring,” will be used to further develop ASSISTments’ online tutoring system, which provides coached practice problem-solving support for students and cognitive diagnostic reports to teachers, empowering them to target class instruction, monitor learning and intervene to keep students on track. 

To keep up with increased demand resulting from the pandemic and better meet the needs of its users, the EIR grant will allow ASSISTments to scale the reach and impact potential of human tutoring, develop new product features and improve the user experience. TAF will also extend its tutoring infrastructure with features to support program administration, enhance tutoring sessions with artificial intelligence (AI) support and train tutors on intervention methodology to increase student autonomy. 

“Tutoring is one the few instructional interventions proven to close learning gaps, and ASSISTments is one of the few educational programs proven to increase student learning according to the highest standards of measurement in education research,” says Malinda Faber, a research associate at the Friday Institute . “The Friday Institute is very excited to be a part of a project that brings together both tutoring and the ASSISTments online instructional tool in an effort to help students complete the unfinished learning that so many are facing due to pandemic-related disruptions in their education.” 

In the program’s initial phase, Melissa Rasberry, Ed.D. and Brittany Miller from the Friday Institute’s Professional Leading and Learning Collaborative (PLLC) team will design the online training course for the tutors who, upon course completion, will serve as tutors in the larger “TutorASSIST Program.” Their work will be done in collaboration with TAF, who will further design and develop the TutorASSIST software that will be the foundational materials used by the tutors and students.

Once the tutors have begun working with students, the Friday Institute’s Program Evaluation and Education Research (PEER) Group will serve as formative evaluators for the online tutor training course, evaluating how effective the course was in preparing the tutors for their work with students. Using a mixed methods approach, PEER Group members Shaun Kellogg, Ph.D., Malinda Faber, Kevin Winn, Ph.D., and Jamie Gillespie, Ph.D., will collect data and provide midyear and annual evaluation reports to the design team to support iterative program improvement.

“Our team’s combined expertise in online instructional design for educator professional learning and education evaluation and research will add a significant contribution to this project,” said Kellogg, senior director of the PEER Group at the Friday Institute. “We are excited to be a part of such important work addressing not only academic content learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also engaging in forward-looking work building human-led tutoring systems supported by cutting edge artificial intelligence technology.”

In addition to the Friday Institute’s work, WPI will lead the development of an artificial intelligence feature and WestEd will direct program evaluation. The project is scheduled to commence in mid-February 2022 and will focus on high-needs middle school math students and their teachers at more than 150 schools around the country. 

“The Friday Institute is proud to partner with TAF, WPI and WestEd in this nationwide effort to support learning acceleration and recovery,” said Hiller Spires, Ph.D., executive director of the Friday Institute and associate dean in the NC State College of Education. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption in our education system, and we are thrilled to be a part of a solution that expands access and resources to those who need it most—equipping our young learners with the tools they need to succeed in an ever-changing world.”


The ASSISTments Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established in 2019 with generous funding from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and Schmidt Futures and sponsored by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The organization is dedicated to scaling the reach and impact of ASSISTments in classrooms nationwide, driven by the belief that every student deserves the opportunity to be good at math. The ASSISTments Foundation works with WPI to conduct cutting-edge research on the learning sciences.