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Unformatted text preview: How many students are there in a class, on average? That is the question. In response to results from a few controlled studies in various states showing that smaller class size improves student achievement, Congress incorporated the Class Size Reduction Program into the Title II Teacher Quality block grant. These, in turn, became part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This initiative gave school districts $1.6 billion to recruit, hire, and train 30,000 new teachers for the 200102 school year in order to reduce class sizes. According to the Class Size Reduction Program's web site, some school districts supplement the funding and hire even more teachers. As a result, class sizes continue to decrease. Class sizes have been decreasing since the 19931994 school year. But, will class size reduction boost student achievement? In countries that tested in the top 5 in mathematics proficiency on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, 19941995 (TIMSS), average mathematics class sizes were equal to or higher than the U.S. average for that year. In Korea (ranked 3rd), the average math class had more than 41 students. The average U.S. math class had 2130 students.16 Class size reduction programs in Tennessee and California have yielded mixed results. Tennessee's Project STAR17 included 79 schools, more than 300 classrooms, and 7,000 students. The project followed students for four years. A followup study was done in 1989 after the students had returned to larger classes. The study found that students in the smaller classes "substantially outperformed"18 students in the larger classes on standardized and curriculumbased tests. They were less likely to be held back a grade. The higher achievement persisted (although at increasingly lower levels) until the 8th grade. Low income and minority students experienced gains twice as high as those of other students did. An added benefit: 4th grade students who had been in smaller classes from kindergarten through 3rd grade were better behaved than those from the larger classes were. California's Class Size Reduction initiative (CSR) involves all schools in the state (voluntarily) and nearly 1.9 million students in kindergarten through 3rd grade (K3) in the 20002001 school year. CSR, a part of S.B. 1777, passed in 1995. It mandated that there should be no more than 20 students per K3 classroom. Although the program is voluntary, the school district receives $850 for each student in a reducedsized classroom. By the 20002001 school year, about 95% of K3 classrooms had implemented this program. With what results? Behavior problems decreased. Student test scores rose. From the 19971998 to 20002001 school years, standardized test scores19 rose 13.4 points for the 2nd grade cohort, 12.1 points for the 3rd grade cohort. Test scores rose for those in 4th through 6th grades also: 8.7, 5.1, and 4.9 points, respectively. The positive effect of lower class sizes seems to carry over when students return to larger classes. (The Tennessee study had similar results.) But, can this be attributed to CSR? During the years of CSR's implementation, many other educational reforms were taking place in California. Reading initiatives and the Standardized Testing and Reporting System (STAR) were both implemented the same year. "Evidence from other states indicates that test scores rise as teachers and students become more familiar with the test. An increase equivalent to 25 points on the SAT9 (Stanford Achievement Test -- 9) scale has been observed in other states that have implemented the test under conditions where stakes were lower than they are in California. The gains in SAT9 scores in California are well within the range that might be associated with 'normal' score inflation". Tennessee's Project STAR program was a controlled study with adequate space for small class sizes. Qualified teachers were on hand to implement the experiment. California school districts lack these two ingredients. So do many districts in the country. Before the implementation of CSR (19951996), nearly 30% of California schools reported taking space from Special Education to make room for K3 classrooms. After CSR, in the 19992000 school year, nearly 45% of schools reported raiding Special Education; nearly 40% of schools reported taking space from music and art classrooms to make room for smaller K3 classes. Before CSR (19951996), 1.8% of K3 teachers were not fully certified. By 20002001, the fifth year of the CSR, the percentage of K3 teachers without full certification had soared to 13.3%. Overcrowding and more underqualified teachers? Is this the real consequence of lower class sizes? Some California principals and superintendents seem to think so. In a survey conducted by the CSR Research Consortium in Spring 2000, principals and superintendents in California were asked whether they would prefer "none," "some," or "a lot" of the $1.5 billion now spent for CSR to be channeled into other programs. Over 50% of principals and close to 40% of superintendents supported having "some" or "a lot" of the CSR funds used to "hire more reading and math specialists" and to "upgrade teacher training" (Stecher). What do California teachers think about CSR? Eightythree and onehalf percent of teachers in reducedsize 3rd grade classrooms say that they would like to give more individualized attention to their students but they don't have the time to do it. And 69.8% of teachers in reducedsize 3rd grade classrooms find it difficult to meet the instructional needs of their students. Two of the arguments in favor of smaller class sizes are that smaller classes will allow teachers to provide more individualized instruction and that the needs of students will be met better than in larger classrooms. According to the teachers surveyed, smaller class sizes are an improvement (6.5% and 22.0% more K3 students are benefiting, respectively). But is this enough? ...
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- Summer '08