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The proportion of Utah public school 4th graders who scored at the highest two levels in reading on national assessment tests increased by 25% between 1998 and 2005.

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Policy Center

Focus on Class Size

Teachers and parents have long recognized the benefits of teaching students in small classes,allowing for individualized instruction.  In its continuing effort to support and improve public education in Utah, UTPS has organized a dynamic Class Size Taskforce which continues to study the issue and determine the best approach to reducing class sizes in Utah's public schools. You can share in their research and monitor their progress at their website.

After more than 20 years of research, class size continues to be at the forefront of the educational and political agenda for schools, school districts, and school boards.  Since the late 1970s, research has indicated that reduced class sizes are associated with increased student achievement in specific situations, particularly when small classes are implemented in the primary grades and students participate in small classes for more than one year . Read more…



Utah Class Size Report 2007: A Performance Audit of Class-Size Reduction (CSR) Funds by Utah Legislative Auditors

"Funds Have Maintained CSR Efforts But Not Reduced Class Sizes
Several factors have prevented the CSR program from achieving reductions in class sizes. The CSR funds over the past few years have maintained teachers who had been previously hired for CSR efforts, but no new significant class-size reduction efforts have been possible since 2000."

Audit reviews the uses of class-size reduction (CSR) funds. Full Report - A Performance Audit of Class-Size Reduction Funds

Why Do Smaller Classes Make a Difference?

The higher student achievement brought about by class size reduction may result from some of the ways in which reducing class size naturally alters the classroom environment. On being assigned to smaller classes, teachers report that the classroom atmosphere is better, that students can receive more individualized attention, and that the teachers have more flexibility to use different instructional approaches and assignments.28 One unanticipated result of the Burke County reduced class size initiative was that the teachers found themselves with more classroom space to work with, because they were using the same classrooms with smaller numbers of students.29 Class size reduction also changes the educational opportunities beyond the classroom, insofar as teachers have a larger portion of time to devote to working with each of their students’ parents.

Class size reduction changes numerous features of the classroom situation. There are fewer students to distract each other. Each student in a reduced size class gets more attention on average from the teacher, and more time to speak while the others listen. Reduced class size also reduces the level of noise in a class. One theory offered to explain the positive effects of class size reduction on student achievement simply argues that in smaller classes each student receives a larger portion of the educational resources represented by the teacher's instructional time, and consequently, learns more.30

Other researchers have drawn attention to the quality of teaching in smaller classes, rather than the quantity. The SAGE evaluation study used teacher interviews, classroom observation, and other data-gathering techniques to study what happens in smaller classes, and these researchers suggest that students are benefiting from more individualized attention. The teachers know each of their students better, and can keep track of how each student is doing on the learning task of the moment. This knowledge enables the teacher to intervene more effectively to help the individual student make progress.31

Researchers also have suggested that smaller classes are more likely to be "friendlier" places, where students develop better relationships with their classmates and with the teacher, encouraging students to become more engaged in classroom learning activities. The smaller the class, the harder it is to escape the positive influence of the classroom educational experience. The explanation for why reduced class size is especially beneficial in the early grades may derive from the fact that in the early grades children are learning how to be students in classrooms where the number of people is larger than the number of people in their families and students are learning a new routine.32 This socialization theory is also consistent with the research finding in both Project STAR and SAGE that the largest increase in student achievement occurs in the first year of a student's experience in a smaller class.33

These various explanations for why class size reduction increases student achievement are not incompatible with each other, and they do not preclude other potential influences. It may be that class size reduction improves student achievement because there is more time for learning and more individualized attention and a better introduction to classroom routine. And if teachers were trained to adapt their teaching in other ways that are suited to smaller classes, such as initiating different kinds of student activities that are possible in smaller classes, this might produce an additional benefit.

The focus on class size reduction in the early grades also suggests that smaller classes represent a preventive, rather than a remedial, approach. If smaller classes help students start off on the right foot in learning how to adjust to the classroom situation and get engaged in learning activities, then students avoid the more difficult educational path of falling behind, finding help, and catching up to their schoolmates. ( Reducing Class Size, What Do We Know? – March 1999)


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