Class size increases in high schools Principals credit shift to four periods

December 10, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Class sizes have gone up in Carroll high schools, a rise two principals said they expected as a result of going to a four-period day.

An annual report that goes to the Board of Education tomorrow says the average high school class size went up from 23.5 students last year to 25.9 this year. Elementary and middle school class sizes went down by a fraction.

Although high school principals had not seen the report yesterday, they said class sizes have increased slightly at their bTC schools as an expected result of changing to a four-period day.

The report says 409 high school classes have 30 or more students. Among them is senior Nora Koch's advanced placement American history class at South Carroll High School.

"That's more than there should be in an AP class," said Nora, president of the Student Government Association at South Carroll.

She said class size was the biggest issue she and other student leaders brought up with Superintendent Brian Lockard when he visited the school in October.

But Nora said she wouldn't want to give up the four-period day, which has resulted this year in a longer honor roll and more than double the number of straight-A students in the first marking period at all three schools that switched this year.

"We were expecting a small increase," said Sherri-Le Bream, Westminster High School principal. "We're also in a growth stage, too, where we expected some increase for that."

The same was true at Francis Scott Key High School, said Principal George Phillips.

Westminster, Francis Scott Key and South Carroll high schools all made the change this year from the traditional seven 45-minute periods to four 90-minute classes. A typical class lasts one semester, and students get new schedule at midyear.

The change means students can take eight classes a year instead of seven. But each full-time teacher still teaches six courses a year. The combination results in larger classes.

In Howard County, high school class sizes went down this year after rising in the previous two years as many schools switched to a four-period day.

"I'm absolutely convinced the four-period day is better instructionally and better for our students, and we've just got to find a way to support it," said David Booz, principal at South Carroll.

The average elementary class size was 24.55, down from 24.7 last year. The average middle school class size was 27.64, down from 27.73 last year.

Those are the statistics. The reality in one fifth-grade classroom at Eldersburg Elementary School is 28 students. Pamela Alexander, a veteran teacher, had just as many students the year before.

Her ideal, she said, would be 20 students. In Carroll this year, there are 128 elementary classrooms that have 30 or more students, according to the report. Alexander said a class of more than 25 starts to cause stress for teachers.

"We're here for the children. We've got to bring them up to par," Alexander said. "It means more take-home work for us. It means less individual attention for the students.

"In group work, it means larger groups and more dissent," she said. "If there are five students in a group, everyone has a job. If you have to go to six or seven students, then you have to rotate."

That means one or two students in the group will not be as engaged as the rest, she said.

The fifth-grade teachers at Eldersburg split up students into five groups for math, according to ability. The high-ability group has 32 students so that the lower-ability classes can be smaller.

The annual Staffing Analysis and Class Size Report will be discussed toward the end of the Board of Education meeting that begins at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Room 271 in the Courthouse Annex, 55 N. Court St.

Pub Date: 12/10/96

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