School officials back plan to cut class size Proposal advocates hiring more teachers in all grades

November 13, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

An article in Friday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly reported the average elementary class size in Howard County for the 1998-1999 school year. The correct figure is 24.6.

The Sun regrets the error.

Howard County school officials proposed last night a plan to reduce class sizes in elementary schools and to hire more teachers in other grades.

Under the proposal, classes would be reduced in size to 19 students in grades 1 and 2 in 17 schools by next school year. Eight of those schools would have a high concentration of students from low-income families.


The average elementary class size for the 1998-1999 school year is 20.3 students, school officials said, which increased in 19 schools and decreased in 16 schools over last year.

School officials reported that the overall average class size in middle school is 23 students.

Under the proposal, class sizes would also be reduced in high TC schools, bringing ninth-grade English, mathematics, American government and biology classes to approximately 18.5 students per class. Class sizes in English 10 and Mathematics 10 would also be reduced to 18.5 students.

The cost of hiring 77.5 new teachers in elementary, middle and high schools for the next year would be $2,402,000, according to the proposal.

In presenting her report on class size in elementary schools, Patricia Tidgewell, instructional coordinator for grades K-12, said that research suggests that small class sizes in primary grades significantly improves student performance.

Smaller classes also lead to fewer referrals to special education classes, fewer suspensions and retentions, Tidgewell said. Teachers, too, have higher morale, less stress, more time with each student and a greater knowledge of their students' needs, she said.

"Having taught first and second grades, I know that if we're really going to make gains with these children, this is the kind of thing we need," said board member Jane B. Schuchardt.

But board member Stephen C. Bounds added a note of caution.

"Ultimately, while I think this makes a lot of sense, we may need to look at pieces of this later," Bounds said. "We may need to look at what resources we're already using."

Also at last night's meeting, Howard County test scores for the Advanced Placement (AP) examination, the Preliminary Standard Achievement Test (PSAT) and the SAT exams in mathematics and verbal skills were discussed.

The results:

An increasing number of high school students are taking the Advanced Placement examination each year.

PSAT scores continue to be above those of other Maryland jurisdictions, the Middle States and the nation. But the mean verbal score was 51.6, seven-tenths of a point lower than the 1996 score of 52.3; and the mean math score was 52.8, four-tenths of a point lower than the 1996 mean of 53.2.

SAT scores for 1998 show a mean verbal score of 535, six points higher than in 1997. The combined mean mathematics score of 549 is four points higher than last year.

Board member Stephen C. Bounds said he found it interesting that a gap between the math and verbal scores on the SATs existed while "that gap doesn't exist on the PSATs. But this is good news overall and it's great to see the numbers going up."

School officials also heard a report on out-of district placement, which allows children to enroll in any school outside their district that is under capacity.

In 1998, the school system received 304 requests for out-of-district placement. Two hundred forty-six of the students, or 81 percent, were approved and 19 percent were denied.

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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