Class sizes dip in county high schools Elementaries show slight rise, board is told

Trend had been upward

Middle school study discussed

one of authors distressed

November 15, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The average size of classes decreased this fall in Howard County high schools but increased slightly in elementary schools and remained about the same in middle schools, school officials reported last night to the Howard County school board.

The board also began tackling the community evaluation of Howard middle schools yesterday, holding a work session that left at least one of the report's authors angry over what she considered board members' failure to act decisively.

In the report on class sizes, the decline in the average number of students in high school classes contrasted with a recent countywide trend toward increasingly larger classes.

"I hope these class sizes do continue," board member Sandra French said of the high school statistics.

The size of classes in many of Howard's high schools has increased in recent years as schools have switched to four-period schedules, which allow students to earn more academic credits. But teachers typically are not assigned additional classes.

This fall, six of the 10 Howard high schools showed smaller average class sizes than they did last year. The average class size at Atholton and Wilde Lake high schools increased this year. Long Reach and River Hill high schools were not open last year.

Fewer than 29 percent of the county's high school English, science, social studies, math and foreign language classes have more than 30 students, down from 31 percent last year. By contrast, in 1992-93 fewer than 14 percent of classes in those subjects were larger than 30 students.

Eugene Streagle, the school system's instructional coordinator for kindergarten through 12th grade who specializes in high schools, credited some of the decrease in class sizes to more centralized scheduling. He said he worked with high school

principals in the spring to try to find ways to share teachers and reduce the number of large classes as often as possible.

In elementary schools, the average size of classes increased in four of five subject areas: language arts, social studies, health and science. Only the average size of math classes declined compared with last year.

But the average size of elementary classes in all five subject areas remains lower than it was two years ago and ranges from 21.8 pupils in math classes to 25.2 students in science classes.

Although the average size of Howard middle school classes remained at about 23 students this year, more than 28 percent of classes in reading, language arts, foreign language, social studies, science and math are larger than 25 students.

Last year, a quarter of the classes in those subject areas had more than 25 students.

Alice Haskins, the county's kindergarten-through-12th instructional coordinator who specializes in middle schools, said larger classes tend to be those in more advanced subjects, including algebra, Spanish and gifted-and-talented math.

Principals try to keep remedial classes smaller to give teachers more time for one-on-one instruction, she said.

In beginning to tackle the middle school report, board members started what they said will be a long process of examining the evaluation's findings and recommendations and deciding what to do with them.

The study -- conducted over 18 months by 16 parents and other community members -- recommended sweeping changes in Howard middle schools to improve academic achievement. Two university consultants were hired to study the county's middle schools, and their conclusions frequently differed from the committee's.

"It took the committee 18 months. It is going to take us a while to respond to it," said board Chairwoman Susan Cook.

Board members spent almost two hours yesterday afternoon discussing various areas, including gifted-and-talented classes, whether the middle school philosophy stresses self-esteem over academics and the staff development opportunities for teachers.

The board did not take any action. A response by school officials is to be presented at the board's Dec. 12 meeting.

One of the authors of the report, Deborah Schultz, said last night that she was frustrated and disappointed by the board's response.

"There were a number of things that we found out and set forth and I didn't hear anyone talking about these problems," Schultz said. "I feel there is a large constituency for at least most of the things said in the report, and there needs to be action taken."

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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