Larger classes worry board

More than 30 enrolled in many classes starting with 6th grade, study says

School official `just floored'

Some note schedule shift to four periods to explain student-teacher ratio rise

Carroll County

November 13, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County school board members expressed concern last night at a new report showing that an increasing number of children from sixth grade and up are being taught core academic subjects in classrooms with more than 30 students.

About 325 middle school academic classes, or 27 percent, and about 615 high school academic classes, or 30 percent, have more than 30 students this year, according to the staffing analysis and class-size report presented to the board last night. None of Carroll's 21 elementary schools has any classes with more than 30 pupils.

"I am just floored," board member Laura K. Rhodes said. "I know we've got some very serious financial times coming up, but ... this, I think, is detrimental to our staff and to our students and it is something we have got to put on our priority levels."

Board President Susan G. Holt hinted that that employees may need to decide during coming contract negotiations whether they want raises or want that money to be funneled toward hiring more staff - a suggestion to which teachers union President Barry D. Potts objected.

Holt also suggested that school administrators might need to re-evaluate the way they schedule high school classes and consider returning to the seven-period day that most Carroll high schools abandoned in recent years in favor of a "four-mod day," which doubles the length of classes but reduces the number of courses teachers instruct each semester.

"In a seven-period day, you can teach five to six classes," she said. "In a four-mod day, you can teach three classes. It doesn't take much to do the math. We need to maximize our resources."

Average academic class sizes in Carroll middle and high schools have remained stable for the last five years, hovering between 26 and 27 pupils for each class in middle and between 25 and 27 students in high school. But during the same period, the number of math, English, social studies, science and foreign language classes with more than 30 students has skyrocketed - from 197 to 277 in middle schools and from 377 to 613 in high schools.

"That trend data alarms me more than the one-year snapshot," Rhodes said. "It has not gone down at all. It has not leveled out at all. It just keeps getting phenomenally higher."

But some board members questioned whether the number 30 is an appropriate measure of whether a class has grown too large.

"It might not be a reasonable threshold," board member C. Scott Stone said. "It might be a good emotional threshold because it will certainly get parents' attention."

Board member Thomas G. Hiltz expressed similar concerns.

"Mr. Stone is right," he said. "I looked at that number and I thought, `Wow, that's unsatisfactory.' But is it really unsatisfactory?"

Cautioning that "data without analysis is not always very helpful," Hiltz said he wondered whether students in courses with more than 30 classmates were getting any worse education than those in classes of 25.

School administrators responded that research has shown there is little difference in the success rates of students in classes of 20 to 40 students and that instruction noticeably improves only when class sizes drop below 20 students.

The amount of time teachers can spend with each student does decline, however, in larger classes, which could mean that students who need more help run a greater risk of failure when they must compete for a teacher's time, high schools director Gregory Eckles told the board.

But Holt, the board president, warned that there could be less tangible risks.

"It concerns me when I look at [Westminster High's] English classes and 53 percent of them have over 30 students," she said. If one teacher has three classes with more than 30 students in each of them, "when do you get to the point that you say, `I don't want to assign that research paper because I don't want to have to read more than 90 papers?' That's when it does make a difference."

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