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Analysis: Smaller class sizes, better results
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah schools that met federal testing goals last year tended to have lower class sizes than those that didn't, according to a state Office of Education analysis released Friday.

Each year, schools are expected to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on state tests toward the goals of the federal law No Child Left Behind. According to state office data, Utah schools that made AYP last year had lower average class sizes than those that didn't.

Elementary schools that made AYP had average class sizes of 21.2 students compared with an average of 24.2 students in schools that didn't. Among secondary schools, those that made AYP had an average class size of 21 students versus 28 students in schools that didn't. Class size outliers — those with more than 40 students or less than five — were excluded from the analysis.

The data don't necessarily show that schools met goals or didn't because of class sizes, but the correlation is "interesting," said Judy Park, state associate superintendent.

"There are many, many reasons a school would pass or fail AYP but this is just one look at class size and how that might perhaps ... influence those that pass or fail," Park told State Board of Education members.

Tamara Lowe, a Davis School District board member, said the data don't surprise her.

"It doesn't matter the subject you're teaching," Lowe said. "The fewer students you have, the more you can work individually."

For decades, experts have debated whether class size makes a difference academically. Many educators say it does, but the research is mixed. When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visited Utah in August, he said Florida students' achievement is not connected with a constitutional amendment voters there passed in 2002 that limits class sizes.

The research on whether class size affects achievement isn't definitive, Park said, and can depend on how much class size is reduced, who's in the class and the type of class.

In Utah, the average class size in 2010 was 24 students in elementary schools and 29 students in secondary schools, according to the state office. Many individual Utah classrooms are much larger. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Utah had the highest student-to-teacher ratio in the nation — 27 students per teacher — in 2008-09.

Some Utah districts have raised class sizes in recent years to deal with budget shortfalls.

Debra Roberts, state school board chairwoman, said she doesn't see how class sizes can't be connected to achievement.

"I would love to be able to cut class sizes down in Utah because I think it would make a difference … at the same time I recognize how hard that is now given the budget circumstances," Roberts said.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said he'd like to see lawmakers put more money toward education to fund an additional 14,700 students expected next school year. Lawmakers have made early recommendations that do not include additional money to cover enrollment growth, though that could change as the session progresses.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Elementary school class sizes

The Office of Education released an analysis Friday showing that schools that met annual federal testing goals last year had lower average class sizes than those that didn't. Utah median class sizes in the elementary grades as of October:

22 • Kindergarten

22.5 • First grade

23 • Second grade

24.5 • Third grade

26 • Fourth grade

26 • Fifth grade

26 • Sixth grade

Source • Utah Office of Education

Education • Analysis doesn't say first causes the second, but correlation called "interesting."
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