Supporting Students

A recent study found that PUSD students who used Paper, an educational support system, experienced 11% more growth toward their academic goals than those who did not. (Paper/Submitted)

With the advent of Paper, an online educational support platform designed to give students 24/7 tutoring and support, Pasadena Unified School District students are achieving marked academic growth. 

A recent study measuring the academic growth of PUSD students found that those who utilized Paper experienced significant academic progress compared to those who did not. The study compared Paper usage data to i-Ready assessments, administered three times a year, measuring progress in reading and math. 

“We had about 60% growth toward their goals in students who did not use Paper, versus 71% growth in students who did use Paper,” said Ani Aharonian, senior research analyst at PUSD. 

Before starting the company nine years ago, CEO Philip Cutler was a teacher and noticed the disparity between students who could afford tutoring and extra support and those who could not. “It felt highly inequitable. I started to realize this wasn’t just a problem in my classroom,” Cutler said.

Creating an equitable learning environment and support network with programs like Paper is especially vital in school districts like PUSD, where 57.6% of students are economically disadvantaged, with more than 80% identifying as minorities.

The platform is widely used in school districts across the United States and Canada, with more than 3 million users nationwide, to help students reach their academic potential.

Contained across a single online program, Paper provides one-on-one virtual tutoring — for any subject at any time; feedback on written work, including lab reports, essays, resumes and college applications; and engaging educational videos along with video game-style math challenges. 

Ultimately, Paper strives to contextualize learning for students, demonstrating how classes and ideas translate into potential careers and real-world applications.

“The mission behind (Paper) has always been about preparing students for life after graduation and making sure that they have the resources to be the best version of themselves and successful in whatever they choose to do with their lives,” Cutler said. “The No. 1 motivator for students, particularly high school students, is connecting their courses to careers and job opportunities down the line.”  

Cutler pointed toward PUSD students’ high levels of engagement with the platform as a factor in their success. Indeed, during the past year alone, students using Paper have engaged in 18,060 learning activities and submitted 6,651 written drafts for review, seeking the most help in algebra, arithmetic and essay writing.

“Paper’s 24/7 availability was key because you never know when a kid is going to suddenly decide they want to do their work or when they’re going to hit a roadblock and need guidance,” explained Helen Hill, assistant superintendent of educational services at PUSD. “With Paper, the students are in control, and at the end of the day, we want them to understand their power and have more agency in their learning.” 

Teachers and school administrators are seeing the study’s findings play out in real time, witnessing the platform’s effects on students’ academic performances. “Teachers from grades three on up say they are seeing better writing from their students,” said Dr. Nadirah Nayo, curriculum, instruction and professional development coordinator, PUSD. “And it’s not just in terms of grammar and punctuation, but also the development of their ideas. This is thanks to the tutors’ questions and the feedback they provide.”

Resting on a sturdy foundation of data and firsthand observations, Paper is undoubtedly here to stay. “We really appreciate the partnership,” Hill said. “We feel Paper is just as invested in our kids’ success as we are, and that’s rare.”