Small classes help kids learn

Thursday, September 20, 2001

For children in kindergarten through third grade, smaller classes mean better learning.

For teachers of those grades, smaller classes mean they can spend more time and energy on creative teaching, devote more time to the needs of each child, and expend less energy on discipline issues.

Jill Jefferson, who teaches first grade at Harding Elementary in Mason City, has 17 students in her class. "With fewer students in a single class, I can spend a lot of one-on-one time with each child," she says. "I can circulate through the classroom more easily, and I can really learn about the skills

and needs of each student."

The Iowa Early Intervention Program now provides school districts with resources to ensure no more than 17

students in a class in grades K-3. It gives resources for K-3 early intervention efforts in teaching basic skills, especially reading.

Research has shown how much impact reduced class sizes have. A study called the Student/Teacher Ratio (STAR) Project, funded by grants from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, studied more

than 3,000 kindergarten through third-grade students in selected rural, suburban, urban and inner-city schools from 1985 to 1989. In this $12 million study, students were randomly assigned to classes labeled small (13 to 17 students), regular (22 to 25 students), or large class sizes with a full-time aide in the classroom.

The findings from the STAR Project suggest that small-class students are less likely to drop out of high school. In addition, the percentage of students in the small-class group who'd been held back before grade 10 was half that of their counterparts in the regular-size classes.

The study also shows that those from small primary-grade classes scored better in high school English, math and science by more than 10 points.

Students in the small-class group had taken significantly more advanced courses in high school, including algebra II, calculus, advanced-placement

English, and foreign languages. These are classes that students take when they intend to go to college after graduating from high school.

The small-class group had consistently fewer suspension days during their high school years. This same group consistently had fewer absences than the others as they moved through high school.

The STAR Project is part of a growing body of research showing the positive impacts of small classes. But in visiting with teachers across the state, I've found that they aren't surprised by the findings.

"Everything just works better with smaller classes," Jill says. "The classroom is more

enjoyable and less stressful - for the kids as well as for the teacher."