Janette McQuarrie became sick when she saw her first-grader's reading scores on the state core assessment.
"It was way below average," the Heber mother said. "It's not that he had neglectful teachers. He's had exceptional teachers."McQuarrie spent hours daily helping Colton with words, but the sessions often resulted in tears. The following year, the boy's second-grade teacher reported Colton filled in answers without looking at his test book-let.
Fearing Colton had a learning disability, McQuarrie phoned a university and a Salt Lake tutoring center. A diagnostic test found he needed phonics instruction. Following a year of tutoring, Colton is a top reader in his third-grade class.
"The biggest difference was his self-esteem. He really felt like he was dumb," said McQuarrie, who commutes to Salt Lake City's Sylvan Learning Center twice weekly. "He feels like he's smart now and doesn't want to give that up."
Wasatch Front tutoring centers, like those across the country, are gaining popularity, partly due to crowded classrooms.
"A lot of it is that the needs of students in the classroom are not necessarily being met," said Millicent Jacobson, a former schoolteacher and director of Oxford Learning Source in Holladay and Sandy. "You're restricted in what you can do (as a teacher). You see all these little people in a group who need certain things and you just can't get to them all."
But tutors also are increasingly serving students who seek an extra edge to get into exclusive universities. That edge, however, is pricey. Some centers charge up to $35 an hour, or $270 a month. Major credit cards are accepted.
"People who can put their kids in there are the ones who have money," said Bonnie Morgan, director of curriculum and instruction for the State Office of Education. "I just don't think public education can afford one-on-one teaching, but I think we can afford to do remediation for some children and groups of children."
Utah's average class size is 23.5 students, the nation's second highest behind California. The national average is 17.
The Utah Legislature this year added $9 million to reduce class sizes in middle schools, complementing such efforts in kindergarten through third grade. The $9 million will cut classes by about two students.
While overcrowding may help create tutoring needs for secondary students, the issue in elementary school may boil down to time, Morgan said. Those teachers cram core curriculum, music and several other programs into a day. While many find time for one-on-one remediation, others lack needed training. And the state lacks the funding to train them.
Low-income families and those in rural areas are unlikely to tap private tutoring resources, Morgan said. Many inner-city schools provide volunteer tutors through partnerships with businesses and government agencies. Parents also are crucial in tutoring, particularly where tutoring is otherwise unavailable.
But some students have surpassed the capabilities of parents. Sylvan Learning Center recently helped a student with calculus; now he's been accepted into Brigham Young University's engineering program, said Bill Hawkesworth, executive director of Utah's four Sylvan Learning Centers. Sylvan has about 700 locations nationwide.
"C's are unacceptable anymore. It's really true," Hawkesworth said. "If students are getting C's, parents feel they're not getting the material."
Several tutoring centers employ certified teachers and are accredited by the State Board of Education, allowing them to offer high school credits. Clients take a diagnostic exam, a national norm reference test at Accelerated Learning Center in Murray and Orem, to help teachers determine learning prescriptions.
Most tutoring centers say positive reinforcement is key. Sylvan, for instance, awards tokens, which may be traded for prizes or money, for a job well done. The center has no discipline problems, and may turn down applicants. "Most kids know it's a privilege to come here. It's not a punishment," Hawkesworth said, "and it's not inexpensive."